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Are you still asking those weird interview questions?

Hire for character and culture first and for competence second

Kathleen Quinn Votaw //November 11, 2016//

Are you still asking those weird interview questions?

Hire for character and culture first and for competence second

Kathleen Quinn Votaw //November 11, 2016//

Because Google started asking quirky interview questions a few years ago, so did just about everyone else.

Google soon realized that the answers to questions like, “How many golf balls can you fit in an airplane?” are a waste of time, serving only to make the hiring manager feel smart, and probably smug. Although this was obvious to most professional recruiters, many companies continue to ask dumb interview questions that are useless in predicting someone’s future performance. The result is costly hiring failures.

In a recent ERE Media article, John Zappe lists a number of popular, but pointless, questions that you might recognize, from “What kind of animal would you be?” to things like:

  • “Why do you want to work here?”
  • “What are your strengths and weaknesses?”
  • “Where do you see yourself in the future?”

As Zappe points out, asking widely-used questions like these may help you “weed out the unprepared, the lazy, and the mediocre,” but that’s about it. The problem is that an internet search provides the very same questions to every well-meaning hiring manager as well as tips on how to answer them to every candidate trying to prepare for an interview. Candidates arrive to interviews with their canned answers and a goal of looking as good as possible. Interviewers come to the table needing to fill a position, often failing to mention any factors that would put the company or job in a negative light.

With both parties committed to telling the other what they want to hear, no wonder HR experts like John Sullivan cite hiring failure rates of 46 percent on average, and up to 60 percent for executives, within 18 months of being hired. When hiring managers add their gut feelings into the decision-making process, Sullivan says the interview assessment accuracy rate can be as low as 0 percent.

The path to productive interviewing

There are a number of ways to ensure that your company stays on the other side of these numbers. The most important of them is to hire for character and culture first and for competence second. The usual hiring process begins with a review of the qualifications and experience listed on a resume, and if they’re a match, all else is forgiven.

Reverse this process and assess for cultural alignment and attitude first. Except in the most technical positions, you can teach the skills to a motivated person who fits well into your organization. I’m not saying that competence isn’t important, it is. I’m saying you can’t change attitudes or make up for a lack of common values, but you can improve competence.

When you get to the actual interview process, leave out the common and weird in favor of behavior-related questions. Ask candidates to solve real problems they may face in their new job. Ask them to describe how they handled a particular situation or person in a previous job.

Behavioral questions give you two kinds of insight. One is the real-world action taken to get a job done, the actual experience. The other is a deeper sense of character, based on what was important or difficult for them, how decisions were made, and similar details. Try asking Yashi CEO Jay Gould’s favorite question, “Why shouldn’t I hire you?” Gould believes this question gives immediate insight into a candidate’s self-awareness, integrity, and honesty.

Train your hiring managers to ask behavior-related questions. Educate them about why their favorite questions may not give them the right answers and insights. Identify your most successful hiring managers, ask about their process and enlist their help to train others. And don’t leave the hiring decision to the hiring manager alone. Hiring should be a collaborative, team effort that includes leadership whenever possible.

Google has learned and moved on. Laszlo Bock, the company’s SVP of People Operations, says their philosophy is to hire smart, curious people rather than people who are deep experts in a particular area. They find that experts tend to create answers that replicate what they know instead of striking off in new, potentially better, directions. You can’t distinguish these traits from resumes or with weird questions.

I would add to that, seek people who are “jazzed by chaos,” because what business today isn’t living in an unpredictable environment? If you’re growing, you need people who are flexible and fully engaged by doing something different, new, and exciting.

What kind of person and skills are you looking for? Understand who you are, where you want to go, and what you value as a company. Share it passionately in interviews with candidates, and forget the weird questions. If a candidate doesn’t reciprocate with equal insight and passion, move on until you find one who does.