Is the Question You Asked What the Candidate Heard?

Last week, at the Agile 2007 conference, I ran a tutorial called “Hiring for an Agile Team.” As part of the tutorial, I ask people to group themselves into threes, where one person interviews, one is the candidate, and one is the observer.It never fails. An interviewer thinks they’re asking one question, but the candidate hears something else. The longer the question, the more likely the candidate is to answer a different question.The session went well, but with all the fire alarms, I didn’t take my normal notes. I’m paraphrasing here what I think the interviewer asked and what the candidate heard:

Interviewer: Think back on your career. Can you tell me about a time you found yourself challenged? What did you do?Candidate: Where have I failed?

The interviewer’s question isn’t bad; it’s just a little much. Here’s one way to make it more clear:

On your current project, have you noticed any challenges?This is a closed question, and gives the candidate a chance to think. It’s also time-bound to the recent past. And, it doesn’t specifically ask for challenges to the candidate.Assuming the candidate says yes, you can use this question next: “Ok, give me an example.” Listen for that answer, and then ask, “Were you able to change the situation that caused the challenges?” Wait for the answer. Assuming a Yes, ask “How?” If a No, ask, “Can you give me an example on this project when you saw a problem and fixed it?”If necessary, walk the person to the project before the current one.

If you keep your questions short and focused on current or most recent projects, you’re more likely to hear an answer to the question you wanted to ask.

Labels: interview

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