3 Pitfalls Recruiters Must Avoid in Job Interviews

HR people need to sharpen their questions and open up the conversation to get the best talent and the right fit.
3 Pitfalls Recruiters Must Avoid in Job Interviews
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Your company is only as good as the company it keeps: The associates that comprise your stellar team. The best way to ensure your associates are up to snuff is at the interview stage, and chances are you may be conducting them all wrong. It’s my opinion that traditional interview methods are sorely lacking; they are failing to adequately push candidates to put their assets on display and prove what they have to offer.

The best way to get the process right is to realize what you’re doing wrong. Here are three ways you’re probably failing. 

You are asking predictable questions.

If smart, your candidates will likely be turning to Google to research your company and commonly asked interview questions. But doing research is the minimum a viable candidate can do (though you might be surprised at how many fail to do even such basic preparation).

Most candidates will be prepared to answer the basics: “Tell me about yourself, your experience, your challenges”, etc. You probably already have a lot of the answers through the candidate’s resume and your own research. If you want to actually learn a thing or two, ask questions you don’t know the answer to, and ones for which the candidate can’t prepare, catching them off guard and forcing them be to real with you. It’s great to know that a candidate is prepared, but it is even more important to see who the candidate really is, rather than what they want you to see.

Related: 10 Toxic Words You Must Not Say in a Job Interview

So, in addition to basic skill-based queries, find a way to let your candidates surprise you. Here are some surprising questions real companies ask candidates:

  • Who would win in a fight between Superman and Batman? (Stanford University)

  • Describe the color yellow to someone who is blind. (Spirit Airlines)

  • How would you sell hot chocolate in Florida? (J.W. Business Acquisitions)

One unique inquiry I have used is, “Tell me something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.” This is a mind-bender that will really force the candidate to think quickly about something they’ve never been asked before, all while showing off the reasons they are a good fit for the job.

You’re too focused on 'right' and 'wrong' answers.

In the same vein, some interviewers may be a little bit too focused on what a candidate’s answers are, with right and wrong answers preloaded in their brains and notepads. Instead, I believe they should focus on how candidates are answering.

For example, you might ask candidates what the circumference of the moon is, even though you almost certainly wouldn’t expect them to know the answer. An interview is not a quiz, because a job isn’t a test of knowledge -- it’s an expression of talent and know-how. A candidate might approach this question by asking to look up the answer or offering a follow-up email with the answer. This shows dedication and problem-solving initiative.

Google used to have a notoriously rigorous interview process including some ridiculous brain teasers, questions that were eventually banned. The difference? They were focusing too much on answers, and too little on what matters: strategy, experience and behavior.

Related: The 25 Trickiest Questions Apple Will Ask in a Job Interview

Laszlo Bock, Google’s senior vice president of people operations, told the New York Times that the company eventually “found that brainteasers are a complete waste of time." Questions like "How many golf balls can you fit in a plane?" don't predict performance at all, he said. Instead, “they serve primarily to make the interviewer feel smart."

It’s important to ask questions that do not have right or wrong answers. Sometimes, I share with a candidate why I ask these types of questions and what actions I am looking to be demonstrated to give them a feel for who we are as an organization and how we think.

By explaining that the interview process is unique and rigorous because we only want the right talent for our company and for the position, I weed out bad fits as well. If a candidate thinks the process is silly or too intense, he or she will not be a good fit for our company.

Remember that in order to understand the quality and fit of a candidate you must ask tough questions, demand elaboration, give assignments -- whatever it takes to understand the scope of what they have to offer. If it proves to be too much for them, you have your answer!

You are treating the interview as a one-way street.

Some interviewers may make the mistake of focusing too much on whether the candidate is right for the job, and not enough on whether the job is right for the candidate. If the candidate has developed their personal brand, as I recommend for junior, senior, and management-level associates, they will already have a good sense of what they want. They’ll want to know if you fit their needs. Think of it this way: the candidate is interviewing you, too.

Related: An Introvert's Guide to Job Interviews 

At the end of an interview, always save time to let the candidate ask questions. Encourage it, and explain that the interview is just as much for them as it is for you. At the end of the day, it must be a good fit for both parties if it’s going to be a good, long-term match. If a candidate just needs a job and isn’t taking the time to explore if the match is right, it is important that you help him or her do so. Otherwise, you might make an offer to an individual that will only stay until something better comes along.

In the book The Secret: What Great Leaders Know and Do by Ken Blanchard and Mark Miller, an interviewer states that he provides candidates a list of personal and professional references. This way, the candidate has the opportunity to check up on him just the way he can the candidate. This is a great idea that I am going to start integrating into all my interviews from here on out.

Like everything, the right way to interview will be unique to you and your company; it will take time and practice to find the formula that yields the best results for you. I hope that some of these insights will help you thoughtfully recruit superstar associates that will help your company excel beyond measure.

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