A friend of mine recently went for an interview at a leading MNC. I was sure she would get the job as she has always been a high performer in the past, was exceptionally good during college, is smart and holds a charming personality. But, to my surprise, she did not.
Because she gave the right answers, but to the wrong questions!
Let's face it, since so many years and for so many years to come, job interviewers have been and are going to be untrained at interviewing. The reality is, in business, employees should be paid for what they do best, such as create new services, market new products, optimize internal processes and so on. Despite this, we count on these same people to assess job applicants because these employees are theoretically the ones best suited to assess the "technical knowledge" and the experience of the potential employee.
But, what about other aspects apart from “technical knowledge”?
What about asking questions which lead us to the knowledge of the person’s actual suitability for the job?
Questions, which will tell us if the person holds all the personality characteristics that are best suited for the role?
Bad questioning results in the job applicant providing poor quality data. This same data will be the basis of the employer’s hiring decision. Many a times, the employer assumes that this is the candidate's problem, when in reality; it is a result of poorly asked questions.
1. TELL ME ABOUT YOURSELF.
I was grinning while typing the above question. You, yes, you Miss Interviewer, you own the interview. You are the controller, the conductor. It is actually your job to draw out the most significant information in the least amount of time so your company can decide with a high level of certainty whether to hire the person you are interviewing or not.
‘Tell me about yourself’ is the most common and usually the first question that is asked by most of the interviewers. By asking this, Miss Interviewer, you are letting the candidate take charge and the candidate may give you any information that he/she desires and which may or may not be related to anything you are looking for. I understand that you may be evaluating the person's communication skills, or his/her confidence or perhaps how much he/she knows about your company and position. It is definitely possible, but why would you leave to chance the possibility he/she will waste ten minutes providing possibly useless information?
If you want to insist on something similar as part of your initial questioning, at least direct the candidate to the right vicinity so he/she can provide relevant information. For example, "We are seeking a Regional Sales Head. Can you share how your experience would help you fulfill that position which manages all major sales functions including…....so and so” Or, “We are seeking a Regional Sales Head. How do you think your past experience can add value to the current job role?”
Asking these kinds of questions ensures minimal time wastage and elicits apt responses.
2. WHERE DO YOU SEE YOURSELF IN FIVE YEARS?
I so wish I could erase this question from the history of interviewing. Erase it forever! I understand that the intention of asking this question is to understand about the stability of an employee. But, we need to understand that, in the new era, people are not looking for job security as a priority.
By asking this question, some job interviewers intend to gain insight into the candidate’s ambitions and desires for the future, but most people cannot see past tomorrow, let alone five years from now. Furthermore, today’s job market changes so quickly that new opportunities are created almost every day, and career paths are changed in an instant. Remember, just because he/she is not a fortuneteller, does not mean he/she would not be a great employee!
I think the better questions in this regard would be:
“If you continue to work here for the next 3-4 years, what do you think your most important contribution would be?” followed by probing questions such as: “How would you make sure that your team also contributes to their full potential?”
“If you continue to work here for the next 3-4 years, what would be your strategy to ensure that your department delivers quality work?” followed by probing questions such as: “Share an incident when you demonstrated quality work in your past despite stringent timelines and demands?”.
And if your intention is to gauge whether she will be able to handle a leadership role in the near future, a possible question could be:
“Share an example of when you played a leadership role in an event, a department or work area, or a project” followed by probing questions such as:
“Describe how you lead the efforts?”
“Was there a situation where you had to seek a balanced approach?”
“How did people respond to your leadership?”
3. WHAT ARE YOUR STRENGTHS AND WEAKNESSES?
“I am a workaholic.”
“I cannot delegate my work.”
“I am extra careful and critical of mistakes of others.”
“I trust people very easily.”
“I am hard working”.
“I am a responsible.”
“I am a self starter.”
“I am a good learner.”
Answering these questions takes even lesser time that it takes you to ask them, and you may still not have any valuable information. Then, you have to dig deeper using follow up questions. What if the candidate provides you with a list of strengths and weaknesses that are not relevant to what you are looking for? Are you sure you want to hire the person simply because she did not highlight a relevant weakness? Or a relevant strength?
It’s your responsibility as the interviewer to determine whether the candidate’s shortcomings—as they relate to being a successful employee—are acceptable. We all have “weaknesses!” The more important indicator in determining success is how effectively an individual overcomes those shortcomings. I suggest focusing on that.
There are many good questions that address how an individual overcomes issues, motivates oneself, handles tough situations with coworkers and so on.
Some of the better questions to ask in this regard could be:
“Share with us an incident when you had difficulty learning something complex.” followed by probing question such as:
“What were the specific reasons you could not learn the skill/process/theory?”;
“Did you eventually learn that skill/process/theory?”;
“If yes, how did you go about it?”
“Share an instance where you were asked to complete an assignment where there was very little to no supervision.” Followed by probing questions such as: “How did you feel?”;
“What was the outcome of the assignment/project? Describe.”;
“How was it received by your manager/team leader/supervisor?”
4. HOW ARE YOU A TEAM PLAYER?
The candidates know exactly how to answer this question. Immediately, most candidates assume that you are asking if they have helped someone on the job.
This is a trick question, often towards the interviewer’s side. It is very easy to manipulate and give an apt answer to this one.
In this regard, it is more important to seek whether this person is a trendsetter or needle mover!
I suggest asking questions such as:
“Can you share an experience where you witnessed a disagreement amongst team members while you all were working on a project?” followed by probing questions such as:
“ What was the disagreement about?”
“What role did you play?”
“What were the consequences?”
“Describe an experience where you had to negotiate with someone in a work-related assignment or task whom you did not have a comfort level with.” Followed by probing questions such as: “What did you do?”
“What was the outcome?”
“Will you be comfortable approaching this person again?”
These are some of the questions which can elicit true responses and if the answer convinces you, there is a great possibility that the candidate is a good team player.
If you want to ask the right questions and get the right responses, seek support from Interview Guides like the Mettl’s Interview Guide.
And, as for my friend, I wish she does not get bombarded with the above 4 questions again in future!
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