Thursday, October 2, 2008

Terrible questions and the terrible interviewers who ask them

B!G, like many clubs at Schulich, just finished interviewing and recruiting new associates. Well B!G got associates, everyone else got members who forked over $20. Not that it makes them any less cool – or less wealthy. We got a pile of applications, sifted through them and, yes even I took a break from my daily activities of the outermost importance – like lolcatz – and conducted some great interviews.

Alright, so I was only allowed in on one interview but I am delighted at the associates we got on our team. They have already proven their hard work and dedication.

I was always impressed with the level of talent on B!G. And I can attribute a lot of this to our recruiting processes. Without argument, the most important part of any recruitment process is the interview. You can’t control the candidate’s answers, but you’ve got a good handle on things from your side. It’s almost amusing how easy it is to screw up such a vital part of growing your enterprise. So easy, in fact, Bristol Palin could do it if the only thing she learned was “Just don’t!” The issue of only saying "No." Maybe we should institute some sort of secondary method?

Mistake #1: The Power Trip

I really wanted this to be structured as the worst questions to ask at an interview but this specific aspect of an interview cannot be conveyed with just one question mark. I remember my first year in university, there was one club (we won’t mention which because it is under “new management” and everyone deserves a fresh beginning) that took itself a tad too seriously. They warned that their executive interviews were really tough and they really wanted to make people cry.

First thought that comes to mind: WTF!???? (note the need for several question marks)

Making candidates cry doesn’t say anything about the candidates. To be frank, it only illustrates what a huge douche you are. The interview is not about you. It’s about your team and its future. I understand the importance of bringing on sturdy folk but at a certain point you are sacrificing quality and creativity for sturdiness. Really, how sturdy do they have to be at a university club?

Ikea furniture is not the sturdiest, but it provides comfortable seating and it's pretty.

And how low is your self esteem to make others cry?

I think B!G had a great solution this past few semesters to examine the quality of our candidates and their ability to integrate into our team. You see, B!G isn’t about busting others’ balls (pardon my language.) We don’t need to. You wouldn’t either if your’s were the size of watermelons. (I know, eew.) We like to welcome people (with a slice of watermelon, perhaps), have them relax and really reach out to the person, their hopes and aspirations, where they’ve been and where they want to go, what they know and what they want to learn. After all, we’re all going to be working together so for me to crush your individuality even for a few minutes is not the way to make progress. I can just give you a case study and leave the room for half an hour, maybe get some cheezburger.

We can review your answers, discuss your logic and ultimately see if we’re the right fit for one another in terms of skills and opportunities. It’s about fit, not ego.

Mistake #2: Reaching deep into the past. Elbow deep.

The question: When you were 5 years old, what did you want to be?

The answer: If your candidate is honest, it will not be Investment Banker, Corporate Tax Attorney, Marketing Analyst or Chartered Accountant. This same honest candidate will say something like farmer, candy maker, veterinarian, chef, painter and dancer. I write this one off because it’s a dead end question. Like what would the follow up discussion sound like? “Why did you want to be a candy maker?” Because I liked candy. Still do.

Every five-year-old's dream job.

Some may think that all these little details are part of shaping the behavioural profile and will provide some grand insight into the subconscious of the candidate. But do you really think that you’re trained to accurately interpret such tiny insights to really enrich the selection process?

Mistake #3: Navigating the Negatives

Question: What is your greatest weakness?

Answer: There are only few answers deemed appropriate by candidates. One is that the candidate is a perfectionist and has trouble letting go of a task. The others are its variations, essentially being too hard working, too perfect and taking all of the responsibility on your own shoulders. Bottom line is that no one is going to badmouth themselves too harshly in an interview. They will, however, provide you with areas where they want to grow. No, not improve. Grow. Branch out. “How would you like to expand your skills?” For example, they may want to gain more technology skills or international experience or broaden their marketing skills to several industries. You kill two birds with one stone: expansion and, ever so subtly, improvement.

Mistake #4: Ask no question and you will be told no lies. Especially these kinds of questions.

Question: What would your friends say about you?

Answer: Really, what do you expect? "I’m a drunk, I give great lap dances to strangers, I never call the girl back the next morning, I steal from the library. But I'm really good about it and it has helped me develop some overlooked skills. Like subtlety." Such questions will get you absolutely nowhere. I can see what kind of insights you might be seeking in this, to become intimate with your candidate. Does the candidate really want to become intimate with you or do they want the position? Probably the latter. To get such personal insight, a great number of questions are necessary and some quick on-the-spot thinking. "What do you do in your spare time?" A likely answer would be "read or watch movies." Alright, so go with that. "What are some of the latest books you've read?" Now you get to judge here and it really depends on what your company culture is: Shopaholic vs. Black Swan vs. War and Peace. You're getting a clearer picture and it's a harder answer to prepare for because you could very well respond "I never read War and Peace. What's it about?" A candidate can't bullshit that one and you can always check your facts later on .

"Let's discuss the books you recently stole.. err... read"

Mistake #5: We all know why we're here.

Question: Why do you want to join XYZ?

Answer: To have a paying job or an extra paragraph on the ol' resume. But no one is going to say that. I get it, it's really a "why us, and not them" question. I think Robyn got the same point across really well in a slightly different question. "How do you want to benefit from B!G?" Candidates say that they want to learn more about marketing strategy and get the practical experience, something very few student organizations offer. These are perfectly acceptable answers; we pride ourselves on these qualities. And by asking straight forward questions about which of these wonderful qualities attracted the candidates to us, we open the door to the most honest answer.

Mistake #6: The feeble attempts to incorporate the "Interesting Factor"

Question: If you were an electrical appliance, what would you be?

Answer: Who cares!? Unless your organization is experiencing a high rate of members turning into electrical appliances, this question is not relevant. Anything would be better: what voltage would you be or would you turn back into yourself after midnight? At least this helps you plan for the future.

Could these be your future employees?

This is usually the last question at an interview and it's really an attempt to bring about the "Interesting Factor." But leading someone to compare themselves to a George Forman grill is not interesting or original.
Why not leave the "creativity" behind and just say "What is the one thing you want me to know about you?" Maybe they have this great stamp collection, run a soup kitchen or participate in Medieval jousting competitions on Saturday nights. Now that's interesting and insightful! No matter how much lean mean you slap on it, won't make a good employee.

The goal of a great interview is to pave the way to the most honest answers and get to know the real person, because that's who's going to show up every morning and plop themselves in the seat next to you. The only way to do this is to make the candidate feel fairly comfortable with the interviewers, just enough to show off their skills and provide a view into how they operate. Put thought into the questions and test them out on yourself - what answer would you give? It's about fit and synergy and leaving your egos at the door and making progress. Make sure there is structure to your interview and make the best showing of your organization. And making people cry, just doesn't do it.


Max Billings said...

Your passion for lolcatz never ceases to amaze.

I really believe that the bad questions asked in interviews are the result of candidates not making the effort to continue the dialogue and create a conversation.

It really is a fit evaluation - a fit for the organization of the candidate, and a fit for the candidate of the organization.

Kevin said...

I'd be a hair straightener because I'm hot....and straight.

Lee&Lui Haesu Cherie: Lost in Italy said...

this was a really great blog olga! i particularly like the appliances jeez i hate that question.

also i think its good that this blog was two sided. the fact that you talked about terrible interviewers is rather... relaxing.

Lee&Lui Haesu Cherie: Lost in Italy said...

this was a really great blog olga! i particularly like the appliances jeez i hate that question.

also i think its good that this blog was two sided. the fact that you talked about terrible interviewers is rather... relaxing.