Are Recruiters Headed For Interviewing’s OK Corral?

Apr 21, 2010
This article is part of a series called News & Trends.

Carol Quinn has an interesting theory that recruiters are about to be ambushed at hiring’s equivalent of the OK Corral.

“Interviewers haven’t changed their techniques,” says the CEO of Hire Authority, a recruiter training firm. “But the job seekers have. They’ve been studying. Applicants have beefed up their ability to really look good.”

It’s her feeling that over the last couple of years, as recruiter ranks have been thinned by the recession, those left behind have had neither the time nor often the budget to improve their interviewing skills. On the other hand, job seekers, with nothing but time, have gotten better.

“There are so many sources catering to these hungry job seekers looking for a paycheck that they don’t have to look very hard for help,” says Quinn. As a point of illustration, Quinn told me that several months ago she came across a tweet pointing to a collection of videos of recruiters using behavioral interviewing techniques with a candidate. The candidate’s responses, she says, “were spot-on.”

“Go to the bookstore. Go to the library. Do you have any idea how many hundreds of books there are on interviewing? You can get all the behavioral questions and all the answers,” says Quinn. “Everyone can look like a top performer.”

Quinn teaches a style of interviewing she calls motivation-based. It’s a system that seeks to identify high-achievers by unearthing their internal drivers and examining their passion for the job and for achieving goals.

Sound like behavioral interviewing? It is, at least in part. The differences are more subtle than they are revolutionary.

The example she offers is of the fairly stock question, “Tell me about a time when you satisfied an irate customer.”

“Every person can tell you about a time like that,” Quinn says. Instead, her motivation-based method would finesse the question along these lines, “Tell me about a specific time when you satisfied an irate customer. How you did it and what you got out of it.”

That may not sound like a big difference, but it does kick things up a notch. The “how you did it and what you got out of it” part isn’t as amenable to a formula. It also has the benefit of surprise, and that is something every job seeker wants to avoid in an interview.

Being prepared, even for mediocre performers, isn’t hard when the Internet is swarming with interview coaching videos. In one, entitled “How to Answer Questions at a Job Interview,” among the bits of advice is this: “You want to be honest, but not too honest.” Another, How To Ace a Job Interview,” gives the A++ answer to this other stock question, “Why do you want to leave your job?”

On YouTube alone there are 21 videos with the title “How to ace a job interview.” And dozens and dozens more on the same subject.

But it would seem that a being well prepared as a job seeker is a positive. Quinn doesn’t doesn’t disagree with that, but she sees that as a minimum.  “I have found that the people who come in well prepared and interview well aren’t necessarily going to perform well in the job,” she says.

A few years ago, before the behavioral Q&As were all over the Internet, interviewers schooled in the technique could get beneath the veneer to see more of the individual. Now, Quinn suspects, recruiters are going to be more easily fooled by polished job applicants and wind up hiring people who aren’t going to perform as well on the job as they did in the interview.

Her advice to recruiters is to focus equally on the motivation, attitude, and passion of the candidate as on their skills. “Candidates don’t fake specifics well. Go after details and pursue how they responded to challenges, especially impossible obstacles.

“High performers achieve better results despite the obstacles.,” she says. “Low performers think the obstacles are responsible for not achieving the high performance.”

This article is part of a series called News & Trends.
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