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Careers: Why Traditional Job Interviews Don’t Work

Traditional job interviews are flawed. Instead of evaluating interviewees on the skills and abilities they need to succeed in the job, they focus on softball questions the responses to which interviewees often memorize. As a result, you get canned answers; responses that have been rehearsed over and over again. If you’re looking for actors who can memorize lines, that’s great. But if you want to know if he or she can do the job, you’re going to have to look beyond traditional interviews.

Traditional job interviews are flawed. Instead of evaluating interviewees on the skills and abilities they need to succeed in the job, they focus on softball questions the responses to which interviewees often memorize. As a result, you get canned answers; responses that have been rehearsed over and over again. If you’re looking for actors who can memorize lines, that’s great. But if you want to know if he or she can do the job, you’re going to have to look beyond traditional interviews. In response, corporate recruiters increasingly tell me they prefer to use more of an organic approach that allows the interview to ebb and flow more like a conversation instead of an interrogation.

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The first method is what I like to call the “deep dive.” With this technique, your entire interview could revolve around only one or two questions. But, unlike traditional interviews where the candidate will walk you through his or her resume, with the deep dive you ask about key projects, accomplishments, and other information on the resume that might normally get glossed over. For example, you can ask probing questions along each step of the way such as “What was your role?”, “What was the outcome?”, and “What would you do differently?”

The benefits are twofold. First, it requires the candidate to be quick on his or her feet. I don’t know about you, but I think that’s a definite must for almost any position out there from the storeroom to the boardroom. Second, it allows you to drill down on things you might otherwise pass over. More than 70% of the resume walks I’ve seen in my more than 10 years working with clients have involved nothing more than hitting the high points almost word for word from the resume. Why take 2-5 minutes of an interview covering something you could read from the resume yourself?

You can also use this technique on other common interview questions. Instead of asking for a biggest strength or weakness which most interviewees will be expecting and prepared to answer, ask them to list their next biggest strength or weakness, and their next biggest, and their next biggest. That way, you’ll get spontaneous and genuine responses, not scripted sound bites like “My biggest weakness is that sometimes I’m a perfectionist.” Give me a break.

For inspiration for the next technique, I look to a quote from a character named Patches O’Houlihan from one of my favorite movies, Dodgeball who said “If you can dodge a wrench, you can dodge a ball.” As I mentioned above, if you’re trying to evaluate whether someone can do the job, the best predictor of that is to have them do the job. I know that can be difficult during a 30-60 interview, but simulations can still be very effective.

Similar to case studies used by marketing and consulting firms, simulations ask candidates to address actual challenges they’d face on the job. For example, if you are looking for people to evaluate stocks, ask them to evaluate stocks. If you’re looking for someone to deliver presentations and that’s a significant part of the job, block off some time for a presentation. It can be stressful for the candidate, but there’s no better way to see how they’d do in the job then trial by fire. If an interviewee can succeed with a simulation, chances are they will succeed in the job. I know there are no guarantees, especially when it comes to interviews, but in my option this interview format is a much better predictor of success then traditional behavioral interviews.

If you’re not using one of these techniques, ask yourself whether you could benefit from using one or both of these interview formats. As I know you’ll agree, it’s much better to spend your energy identifying and hiring the right people then it is trying to figure out what to do with the bad hires already onboard.

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Shawn Graham is an Associate Director with the MBA Career Management Center at UNC’s Kenan-Flagler Business School and author of Courting Your Career: Match Yourself with the Perfect Job (courtingyourcareer.wordpress.com).

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About the author

Shawn Graham partners with small businesses to create, implement, and manage performance-driven marketing strategies. His knowledge base includes media relations, business development, customer engagement, web marketing, and strategic planning

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