Are Your Interview Questions Selling People on Your Organization?

Your interview questions and your auditions should sell people on working for you. It’s that simple. You don’t need to sell people on working for your company.

When I teach interviewing, that’s what I teach. And, every single time, my workshop participants roll their eyes and don’t believe me until we start crafting their interview questions.

So, what happens when you ask people questions like these:

  • How many golf balls can you fit on a school bus?
  • What are your weaknesses?
  • What would you take on a desert island?
  • How would you move Mt Fuji?
  • Tell me about yourself…

These questions don’t help you at all. Why? Because they are either irrelevant or the candidate can be coached to present you with an answer that sounds terrific but is useless to you.

Here’s an example. For the weakness answer: I used to answer, “I sometimes work too hard at the end of a release.” Or, “I have a perfectionist streak.” Both of those statements are true. But you haven’t heard what happens when I work too hard. Or, how my perfectionist streak shows up at work.

And, here’s the problem with irrelevant questions: How often do you cram golf balls on a school bus at work? How often do you crash on a desert island? Are those the problems you solve at work? Do you have to move Mt. Fuji at work? Those are not the problems we geeks solve at work. We solve other problems at work. These are not representative of the problems at work.

The other problem with these irrelevant questions is this: we often have One Right Answer in our heads. What happens when the candidate does not answer with that answer? We decide the candidate is not for us. Even if the candidate could be perfect. So, based on an irrelevant question, we eliminate a potentially great candidate. Don’t do that.

Even Google has decided these interview questions are not good. If you are asking these questions, think again.

Ask great behavior-description questions, such as:

  • Tell be about a recent problem you saw. What happened? (Did the candidate just see it or solve it?)
  • Tell me about a recent project team meeting. How did it go? (You can ask more closed questions at the beginning: was it a standup, release planning, backlog grooming, etc. to set the context. The idea here is you want to learn about possible conflict, meetings that go on forever. In agile, you want to learn about meetings that don’t solve the actual problems.)
  • Tell me about a time on your most recent project when <insert your issue here>.

You can set up auditions instead of asking those irrelevant questions. You can ask people to write pseudo-code for anything you would like. You can ask them to test something. You can ask them to extend the design for part of your system.

I’m not so thrilled about fake auditions, such as solving Towers of Hanoi or the Traveling Salesman problem, or anything we learned in computer science to learn a language. Why? Because it does not reflect the kind of problem-solving you do at work. However, if you do these auditions, learn how to debrief them, because the value of these auditions is in the debrief, not in the development.

The better your questions and the better your auditions, the more you will sell your candidates on working for you and your organization. The more congruent your questions and audition with your organization, the faster your candidates will ask to work for you.

The best compliment I ever received was in the middle of an interview. I was all set to ask my next question, about 30 minutes into a 45-minute interview, and my candidate asked, “Can I work for you?” I responded, “I only have test positions open. You’re interviewing for a toolsmith job. That’s in development.” He said, “Yes, but I want to work for you. I like your questions and you as a manager.”

That’s what your interview questions will buy you. A candidate who wants to work for you and your organization. Priceless.

Want to learn how to interview? Buy Hiring Geeks That Fit. And, watch this space for announcements of my virtual workshops, coming soon.

About Johanna Rothman

I help managers and leaders do reasonable things that work.
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