Coach Your Candidate For These Five Types Of Interview Questions

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Nov 4, 2013
This article is part of a series called Tips & Tricks.

The most effective recruiters are the ones who are most familiar with how the placement process works. When you understand how human resourcers think, and can use the right “buzz words” to sound like a pro, they trust your judgment. You can also properly coach candidates on what to do.

I became a recruiter right after graduating from college, then returned to recruiting after working the other side as an HR manager for several major employers. This inside experience enabled me to triple the number of placements. You can too.

I coached candidates on the types of questions interviewers ask and how to answer them. It got them placed f-a-s-t.

Here we go.

Types Of Questions

The five basic types of questions are direct, open-end, elaborative, reflective, and interpretive.

1. Direct Question: One that can be answered adequately in a few words. Examples:

  • “How long did you work as a design engineer?”
  • “What was your favorite subject in college?”
  • “What was your salary when you left Company X?”

Direct questions are designed to simply develop an objective profile of the candidate. While they have value in screening, bored, tired, overworked interviewers tend to rely on them too much. The danger is that they can drive the candidate right up the wall and out the door. For this reason, a subjective “non-directive” interview with the other types of questions is where the placements will occur.

2. Open-end Question: It is just the opposite of the direct one. Examples:

  • “Would you tell me about your career since you left Company X?”
  • “How would you describe your management style?”
  • “What are your strengths?”

Book interview into a jobOpen-end questions get skilled candidates hired. This is why most authorities suggest candidates write down the most difficult ones, and the answers. Then the answers can be memorized and rehearsed in front of a mirror with a tape recorder running. In How to Turn an Interview into a Job, I presented 50 of these in a chapter called “The Interrogation Interview: Hope It Happens.”

Many successful recruiters give candidates a list of the questions with space for them to do their homework. It might seem simplistic, but this technique dramatically drives down the number of interviews to offers. We used to distribute a CD with the 50 questions and pauses for candidates to answer. It worked like a charm, but was replaced with my popular paperback, The Complete Q&A Job Interview Book. It contains model answers and ones to customize as well.

Don’t worry about your candidates appearing to be robotic during the interview. This doesn’t happen. Instead, the programmed answers flow naturally right on cue. Brains work like that.

3. Elaborative Question: Here are some examples:

  • “Could you give me another example of how you fired someone?”
  • “Will you expand on what you did to revise the accounting procedures?”
  • “What else did you do while you were in the marketing department?”

Answers to elaborative questions can also be successfully developed and rehearsed in advance. The only caution is to limit the answers to no more than one minute.

4. Reflective Question: A restatement or summary of an earlier statement in question form.

Example 1:

Candidate: Once the project was over, I started having disagreements with my  supervisor.

Interviewer: You had disagreements with your supervisor?

Example 2:

Candidate: I did well in the senior management training program.

Interviewer: You did?

Too many reflective questions can lead to an interview that resembles psychoanalysis, but since most HR types have poor listening skills this rarely occurs.

5. Interpretive Question: A reflective type of question with an implied answer.

Example 1:

Candidate: Once the project was over, I started having disagreements with my supervisor.

Interviewer: Could it be that the disagreements resulted from the recognition you received from top management when the project was completed?

Example 2:

Candidate: I did well in the senior management training program.

Interviewer: Was that because you had prior management experience?

Interpretive questions are used least by interviewers for two reasons: First, since most don’t listen very well, they are unable to frame them. Second, these are only effective with a candidate who feels comfortable enough to go beyond a structured format. Since these are the best questions to elicit information, you might want to suggest them to the right interviewer or encourage the right candidate to explain answers more fully.

Interviewing Techniques

One of the most common techniques is clarification. Inconsistencies and ambiguities are readily apparent to a skilled interviewer either from information on the resume or application, or from the dialogue of the interview itself. Only a relaxed, properly coached, experienced candidate is adept enough to speed up on the curves. For this reason, role-playing with your candidates with probing questions is particularly helpful.

Another technique is simply repeating the same question. Unlike a repetitive question, this occurs after a period of time, and is asked exactly the same way. Even if the question was already answered, asking it later gives the interviewer additional insight and coverage of the questioned area. We use repetition when cross-examining witnesses in court. Although technically this is not permissible, an objection is rarely raised. So you see, even in court nobody listens.

The most advanced technique is looping back. When the interviewer senses that the candidate is being evasive about vital information, he or she can simply not pursue the line of questioning.

For example, let’s assume the candidate is harboring hostility toward co-workers. However, he or she knows discussing it is not exactly the way to get hired. So during the interview, he states, “I get along well with everybody.” If the interviewer senses that the conclusionary answer is masking a sensitive area, he can let the candidate think the matter has been dismissed, and return to it later by asking about the interpersonal relations in a specific situation mentioned by the candidate.

Finally, the use of silence is a valuable technique. This drives most candidates (and interviewers) up the wall, since people confuse words with communication. However, the candidate may need a brief period of time to put his or her thoughts together, or recall information in sequence. Or to regroup from the emotional reaction to the last question. As a general rule, pauses of no more than 15 seconds are acceptable, so your candidate should use them whenever necessary. They should also not be thrown if the interviewer pauses. It’s a personal interview, not a long-distance phone call.

A good, readable source that lays interviewing tactics bare is The Employer’s Guide to Interviewing by Robert L. Genua.

It all sounds so scientific. That’s what makes human resources courses. But most interviewers just follow their primordial urges.

A little candidate coaching and you can beat them at their own game consistently!

This article is part of a series called Tips & Tricks.
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