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It is tempting to point fingers at a tight labor market that are blamed for forcing companies to hire people that are not as qualified as desired and are not ideal fits for the business culture. Frankly, that excuse misses the mark in many cases. It is quite possible the interviewer is not asking the right questions during the interview. Face-to-face interviewing remains a critical step in the hiring process, but it also makes many managers uncomfortable.
Are You Still Asking "Comfort Questions"
The in-person interview process is, by its very nature, a personal assessment process in which people are "judging" each other. For some managers, interviewing job candidates remains an uncomfortable process, especially in the digital age where people communicate via technology. Poor interviewing skills can often be attributed to lack of experience.
There are 30.2 million small businesses in the U.S., accounting for 99.9 percent of all businesses. They do not have large Human Resources departments staffed with experts and leadership training is limited due to budget restrictions. Yet small- and medium-sized enterprises account for almost two-thirds of net new jobs in the private sector. That is a lot of hiring going on, and much of it conducted by hiring managers who are not trained in effective interviewing.
When the interviewing manager is uncomfortable, it is human nature to find a way to overcome the feeling. One strategy commonly used is what could be called asking "comfort questions." Borrowing from the idea of comfort food, the rote questions fall back on standard safe questions that lead to answers conveying very little useful information but make the manager feel better emotionally and mentally.
Comfort questions are questions like the following:
- What were you paid at your last job?
- Did you work well with your supervisor?
- Are you a team player?
- Why should I hire you?
- What are your strengths and weaknesses?
Asking Traditional Questions Begets Traditional Answers
These traditional questions lead to traditional answers about the past but give little insight into probable behaviors in the future. Just as bad, some of them can lead to the continuation of bias. For example, a woman worked at a company where gender equity did not exist – men made more than women for doing the same work. Asking her what she was paid as a yardstick for what to offer her for a new position perpetuates gender inequality and pay gaps. It is gender bias at work.
In addition, think about the typical answers to these questions. Of course the job candidate will say he worked well with his supervisor and got along with co-workers. Of course, she will be vague about weaknesses and emphasize strengths. Of course you should hire him…or should you?The recruiting process has dramatically changed as many companies outsource their recruiting process to vendors who use sophisticated technologies like machine learning algorithms to identify possible good hires. After that, it is up to the interviewer to assess the person and choose who to hire, and the process often reverts in the end to the same ineffective process of asking all the wrong questions. Ask the manager though, and he or she will point to their ability to fill a position with a great candidate – the same person who leaves within a year or two.
Adding Thoughtful Structure
One of the strategies employed to overcome interviewer bias and the propensity to revert to comfort questions is the structured interview. In the structured interview, a standardized way of interviewing job candidates based on job needs, is used.
Candidates are asked the same type of questions and in the same order, making the answers more comparable between job candidates.
They also help interviewers avoid random and spontaneous questions that do not provide useful information about the person's ability to succeed in the new role.
Interviewers also avoid asking illegal questions, even if they are meant to be harmless. The simple question, "How old are you?" can indicate the interviewer is looking for someone in a particular age group. In fact, asking generational type questions to indirectly get to a person's age is walking a very thin line.
Keeping with the age example, age discrimination exists when a person's age is not a bona fide occupational qualification. You may think only people under 35 years old are tech savvy, but plenty of Gen X and baby boomers would disagree. You might believe that only a millennial should get the position, but what if the millennials that applied are not qualified? Do you ignore the younger and older generations? The same principle applies to questions about native language, current or anticipated parenthood, drug use, and where the person lives. It is so easy to get off-track in an interview.
Keeping it Job-Specific
The structured interviewer asks questions that probe a person's general or specific skills in a variety of areas – collaborative skills, problem solving skills, relationship building skills, creative thinking skills and communication skills. However, even the structured interview questions need careful development to avoid many of the same issues of the unstructured interviews. The job assessments and job simulations conducted before the interview offer critical guidance. A person scores high on creative problem-solving but low on communication. During the interview, a structured job-specific question might be, "Describe a time you had to communicate a difficult work problem to your manager and whether you were able to offer a solution?"
The Office of Personnel Management developed a model for asking behavioral, job reflective interview questions called STAR:
- Situation/Task – context
- Action – actions implemented or would be implemented
- Result – consequences of the action
For example, you can ask the job candidate, "Describe a project that did not go as planned. How did you try to get the project back on track to avoid failure? What were the consequences of your approach? Compare these questions to the standard interview question that goes like this, "Describe your responsibilities at your last (or current) job?
In the standard question, there is context (the tasks and setting) but no actions or consequences. Consequences can be work specific (had to scrap the project or the project was revamped and restarted) and personal (learned from my mistakes or gained knowledge about problem-solving). You know the person's behavioral assessment scores, and now you can hear the job candidate add their perspective and details from a real-world event, and observe their presentation style.
Final Decisions Turned Into The Right Decisions
Do you consider yourself to be a good interviewer? Many managers do when they really are not, and a poorly structured interview process can mean hiring the wrong person, losing a great candidate or ending up in legal trouble. Too often, managers rely on pat questions because it seems easier than alternatives, or they are new to the hiring process.
The talent selection process is more complex today than it has ever been in the past due to a number of factors – employment laws, globalization of the talent pool, increasing workforce diversity, technologies like evidence-based assessments and machine learning, and increasing knowledge about high quality matching of people to jobs. Skills assessments, behavioral assessments, job simulations, personality assessments and analytics are important tools for making a very complex process manageable.
However, in the final analysis, it will always take managers asking the right questions in properly structured interviews to make final decisions the right decisions.