Interviewing without “Interviewing”
So, what CAN we ask potential candidates without possibly stepping into the forbidden zone? It is becoming more challenging to enter into a reciprocal dialog without unintentionally opening a can of legal worms. What can make it more challenging is when an interviewee begins offering off-limits information. I have been in this very position and think, “NOOOOOOOO……..”.
All right, that’s a slight exaggeration, and I certainly do not react that way. Instead, I direct the conversation back to more appropriate information.
The traditional interview questions can be boring and lend themselves to a mechanical “my turn, your turn” exchange of questions and answers. With a little effort, anyone can prep their answers in anticipation of these standard questions. They are also fertile ground for those awkward seconds of silence that feel like minutes between questions. They may be predictable, but they are so prescribed that the flow can be anything but smooth. Maybe the interviewer is taking notes, scanning the resume, or processing the next question. Who knows, but it’s awkward.
I stopped writing anything down a long time ago. In fact, I do not have anything in front of me when I conduct an interview. Not even the person’s resume. I’ve already reviewed their resume extensively and am familiar enough to leave it at my desk. Here’s why:
- If the resume didn’t match the desired experience or KSA’s I wouldn’t be interviewing the person.
- Not impossible, but it’s not likely an interviewee is going to debate the experience THEY listed on their resume. The average person is going to repeat dates, times, and duties with a fair amount of accuracy. Might be good to do a brief review with the candidate, but I don’t spend a lot of time testing their memory.
- Asking the person about what the details of their resumes does not guarantee they can execute same or similar tasks in the applied for a role in the company they seek to work. The goal is to learn about the candidate, not try to trip the person up in the details.
- My time is super valuable as is the candidates. What I want to know is how motivated the person is to become part of the team. Will that person be driven to figure out how to apply their knowledge to the role? What motivates the candidate? Will this person build effective relationships?
I’ve watched many newly hired folks become exceptional team members and it wasn’t because their resume was an exact match for all that is needed for success. What made the difference time and time again was the person able to connect with people, share and teach their knowledge, and their humble openness to feedback and learning. I’ve also experience when arrogance and ignorance (dangerous when combined) create a divide. This leads to the formation of the passive, passive aggressive, or passive destructive team member (another topic for another post).
How is a comfortable and enjoyable dialog created? Leading the discussion with comfort and confidence is a must; and, knowing what it is you want to learn about the person is important. Prepare questions that help the candidate paint a picture of who they are, that helps assess whether that person is a good fit for the culture. Mixing the following with a few more traditional interview questions helps keep the conversation comfortable and enjoyable.
A few examples of open-ended and creative questions:
- Describe the flow of your day and when you’re most productive. [Their answer may help you determine if they’re a morning or late day person]
- When traveling (air, auto, boat, bike) what are some of the things you notice? [Helps the interviewee make an educated guess in terms of focus and observation tendencies]
- How do you approach preparing for several days to week long trip (business or personal)? [Planning skills]
- Share with me your favorite and least favorite aspects of each season. [If the work is outdoors and the person hates cold, wind, heat & humidity….the person may not be the best fit]
- If you were offered a “do-over” what one or two things in your life would you do differently? [May provide insight in terms of their reflection skills and how they learn from past behaviors or choices]
- Let’s say it’s several years in the future and you are publicly recognized for an accomplishment or success, what is it? What is it about that success or accomplishment that means so much? [Reveals at least one aspect of their life that really matters]
- If money were off the table, what would your career look like? [Offers a better insight as to where the person’s passion truly resides]
- If you’re heading out on a trip, where are you going and what draws you to that location? [Just a fun chat]
- On your trip: GPS, map (paper), or wing it? How do you know how to get where you’re going? [Speaks to the need for planning, or not and how the person goes about it]
- It’s 6-months into a new job. You have your list of tasks and have been trained, but still struggling to remember all the nuances of everything. You’re questioning your choice to work here; how do you work through that experience? [Look, most of us go through this at some point and we either work through it or quit. How the person answers this will provide insight into how they process challenges.]
The above are just examples of how to create a question that invites friendly dialog. In their answers lie hints to their behaviors that will transfer to the workplace. They’re also questions that allow you to participate in by leading with your own experience. Why does this matter? Because it helps create more of a conversational exchange versus the mechanical and awkward (as well as rehearsed) interview questions.
So, go with it and learn to engage and navigate a conversation. The goal isn’t as much to do battle with a person’s natural tendency (and desire) to share personal details, but to invite him or her into a comfortable dialog where they open up about their skills and ability to contribute to a creative discussion. When candidates begin to step into dangerous areas of personal information, patiently and compassionately guide the conversation back to neutral ground.
Look – people are human and trying to check that at the door is futile. Rather, arm yourself with the skill and discipline to talk through creative topics that facilitate exposing their natural skills and tendencies. This is what will show up in the workplace and it’s those traits that contribute to success in the role, and the organization.
Andrea Vaughan, SPHR | Outside-Force BDF