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“What would you say is your biggest weakness?”
“Tell me about a time when you had a deadline to meet and how you prioritised your workload?”
“How would you react if your biggest client said they wanted a price reduction?”
These are three examples of terrible interview questions… and I mean really bad… but I bet you’ve either heard them or even said them dozens of times before, and worse than that, you’re probably even sat there wondering why they’re so bad?! But if I asked you what insight do the answers to these questions actually give you into the real-life behaviours and attitudes of the interviewee? The truth is, probably very little. In fact, often the answers are frankly misleading, which is why the vast majority of hiring managers still list ‘gut feel’ as the biggest factor influencing their hiring decisions. It’s therefore no surprise that a study of 20,000 new hires found that 48% of them failed within the first 18 months… and 89% of those were for attitudinal reasons, with only 11% actually being down to skills shortage.
So, to help out I thought I’d provide a bit of an explanation about why these three types of questions are so bad at assessing attitudes and behaviours. And then if you stick around till the end, I’ll give you the link to a very simple framework you can use for designing and implementing interview questions, that will help you identify candidates with the types of high performing traits that will deliver for your business.
“What are your weaknesses?” How many times have you heard this question? Probably quite a few, because alongside, “what are your strengths?” and, “tell me about yourself?” These are the three most common interview questions. And here lies the problem; they are too well known. All you get in response to these questions are well rehearsed answers, which would be great if you were assessing someone’s ability to recite pre-scripted responses of self-congratulation… but terrible if you’re assessing how someone will perform when working for you.
Let’s face it, no one’s going to tell you that their strengths are “If there’s an easy way to do the job, I’ll find it”, or their weaknesses are, “I tend to switch-off at lunchtime on a Friday”. Instead you’ll get the standard; “My strengths are I’m a self-starter”, or “My weaknesses are that I’m a bit of a perfectionist”, but these responses provide you with zero ability to actually assess the candidate.
I get the argument that they’re deliberately vague questions who’s purpose are to aid rapport building, but rapport building is about getting people comfortable and helping them to loosen up, and let’s face it; getting candidates to recite pre-scripted answers while you judge them, is hardly conducive to relaxation.
“Tell me about a time when you had a deadline to meet and how you prioritised your workload?” Obviously it’s not just this one question, there’s infinite examples of questions like this; “tell me about a time when you’ve had to deal with conflict and how you overcame it”; “tell me about a time when you’ve had to collaborate with others and how you managed this?” They all follow a similar format, but the problem with these types of questions… is that you’re telling the interviewee the answer that you want… if only all questions were this easy?!
Take the original question for example; “tell me about a time when you had a deadline to meet and how you prioritised your workload?” This may give you insight into the one time in your candidate’s career that they actually managed to prioritise their workload, but it negates to assess the 99 other times that they may have crashed and burned when hit with a deadline?!
These types of questions give such an obvious tip-off as to the response they’re looking for, that you’d have to be completely clue-less not to guess what type of answer they’re after. Even when you try to avoid eliciting a typical response such as; “tell me about a time you had to adapt to a difficult situation?” You’re still prompting them to tell you about the time they adapted and not the times they failed to adapt. Like I mentioned, there is a framework for avoiding leading questions which I’ll share at the end of this video, but before you have a look at that, just have a think of a way you can ask the question that doesn’t lead the interviewee to the answer you’re looking for? Now you can appreciate just how ingrained these problem questions have become into standard interview structures.
“How would you react if a client said they wanted a huge price reduction?” Most hypothetical questions begin like this, “How would you respond?” “What would you do if?” “How would you react?” The problem with this is that there is a huge difference between our hypothetical selves, where everyone answers like a high-performer, and our real-life selves, where things play out a little bit differently…. In reality, it’s very difficult to predict how someone will actually behave by asking them hypothetical questions.
To put this into context; there are very few leaders out there who fail to appreciate that a toxic personality can destroy a group culture, yet there’s thousands of them who fail to sit down and have a straight talk with the toxic individuals because they find the situation unnerving. And here lies the problem with hypothetical questioning; they’re very good at testing if candidates know the theory, but not very good at testing how good they are at implementing it.
Put in layman’s terms, there’s a big difference between knowing the path, and walking the path. So next time you ask the question; “If we hired you, how quickly could you make a significant contribution?” Don’t bother… because you’re unlikely to glean any real insight from the answer.
So there’s the three worst types of questions everyone is asking. Sound familiar? Well then it’s no wonder that standard interview questions are so bad at assessing attitudes and behaviours and identifying high performers; and why most interviewers either resort to gut feel which is why new hires frequently fail, or they simply recruit in their own image which is why diversity remains one of the biggest challenges for businesses.
Like I mentioned at the start of the video, there is a very simple framework for developing interview questions that provides genuine insight into your candidates, and it’s so simple you’ll probably kick yourself for not figuring it out. So, if you click through to the Youtube video, then follow the link in the comments of this video, it’ll take you straight to that framework. But if you’d like some additional help in adapting your selection methodology to give yourself a competitive edge in recruitment, don’t hesitate in getting in touch.
Share your thoughts in the comments below, make sure you follow our Company Page, and look out for our next video where we talk you through 4-ways that you can start to develop a diverse and inclusive culture in your business to gain a competitive advantage in talent attraction.
Looking for your next career move?
Searching for market leading talent?