Results-Focused Interviews

May 8, 2007

While researching a project on stress, I caught sight of a forum thread on an HR website that said “Interview Questions.” As I said, I was researching stress, so this would naturally pop up in my search. After all, we know that interviews can be stress-inducing situations.

This site was asking recruiters to share some of their favorite interview questions. Having spent a number of years in corporate recruiting and having trained countless recruiters in how to interview, I thought, “Okay, let’s see what new and creative questions people are coming up with.”

To put it mildly, I was shocked. The questions people were submitting, and they were asked for their best, included:

  1. “What would your best friend say about you? Your worst enemy?”
  2. “Is honesty really the best policy?”
  3. “What do you do in your spare time?”
  4. And the vampire-like, impossible-to-kill, “Where do you see yourself in five years?”

Haven’t we officially retired these questions? Where’s the one about what kind of tree would you be or your favorite color crayon? Is it any wonder we’re still fighting to establish our credibility in some organizations if recruiters insist on using questions like these?

I tried to imagine myself sitting on the other side of the desk (I’m sure that the people using these questions haven’t thought about the proper seating for an effective interview) and how I might respond.

Remember, these are all questions that people submitted to the website as their best questions to use in an interview.

I am not making these up:

  1. “If a spaceship were to land outside this office and you were asked to get in, would you? Why?” (Is an acceptable answer, “Because they had a ray gun?”)
  2. “Am I a good interviewer? Why or why not?” (Well, if you have to ask me, maybe we ought to switch chairs.)
  3. “If you were a part of a car, which part would you be and why?” (Gee, I was all prepared for the tree question. Lemme think.)
  4. “What do you enjoy most about your current/last position? What did you enjoy least?” (Boy, I never saw that second question coming!)
  5. “If you had the opportunity to participate in a circus performance, which role would be yours?” (Well, I wouldn’t be the clown because clearly, that role is taken.)
  6. “What makes you difficult to work with?” (Is the correct answer, “Stupid questions that are not job-related?”)

And then there were these six, all from the same source:

  1. “What are ur strengths and weeknesses?” (Spelling?)
  2. “Why should I hire you?” (Because you’re trying to fill a position?)
  3. “How has ur education prepared u for this job?” (How has yours?)
  4. “If I asked ur present employer to describe u, what would they say about u?” (They might say that I’m employed there so why are you asking!)
  5. “What qualities should a successful manager have?” (How about good interviewing skills.)
  6. “If u had ur life to live over again?what would u do differently?” (Skip this interview!)

Overlooking for a moment the potential liability and indefensibility of most of these questions, how do these relate to how the person will perform the job at hand? For years, I’ve told people that any question used in an interview needs to be related to the job, how the person will meet the requirements of the position, and if the candidate can produce the necessary results. Maybe we need to turn things up a notch. Don’t just make the questions job-related; make them results-focused.

One of the keys to success for an HR professional is to truly understand the businesses that we support. To do this we have to know the outcomes of the business, what results they are looking for, and how we can help to meet those results. We can meet them by providing the people who have the skills to get the work done.

But it’s not just doing the work; it’s completing the work. It’s achieving the outcomes that make the organization profitable.

Therefore, in our interviews we have the opportunity to query the candidates not just on their abilities but also on their accomplishments.

Don’t simply ask them about what they’ve done or accomplished in previous jobs. If you only ask them about what they’ve done, you may never be sure if they can achieve the results you need. But in all those circus questions, the recruiter is no doubt trying to determine the person’s work ethic, or how they see themselves in the work world. Better to ask them about how they went about completing projects, overcoming obstacles, and meeting deadlines/quotas/goals.

Make it clear that yours is an organization that values the successful completion of objectives in your interviews. Take the time to convey to the applicant what’s really important in your organization. And in most organizations, what’s important is getting the work done, properly, on time, and correctly.

I’m not going to give you a bunch of stock questions to use in your interviews. I can’t. I don’t know what results you’re looking for in the successful candidate for the position. I don’t know what your organization expects the candidate to achieve. I don’t know how your organization defines success.

But I know where you can get all this information. Sit down with the hiring manager and find out the expectations for the candidate. You’ll be that much closer to finding the right candidates for the job.

I’ll give you one question that you can use. When you meet with the managers, long before you interview a single candidate, ask them this:

“What will you see when the person we hire has done the work completely and correctly?”

Get your managers focused on outcomes and results, too. Managers sometimes think they have to talk about competencies, emotional intelligence, or work ethic when meeting with recruiters. In other words, they think they have to talk “HR-ese”.

But what most managers like to talk about is results, performance, and all that their department has accomplished. This will give you a clue as to what they value and what they see as the keys to success in their organization.

If they talk about meeting deadlines and commitments to the customer, then you know you need to find someone who can work under pressure to get the work done on time. If they stress quality and getting it right the first time, no matter how long it takes, then you know that attention to detail and organization is critical to the candidate’s success. If the talk is all about things that the department has done for the customer, then a service-oriented candidate is the solution.

Use the information you get from your managers to determine your strategy for sourcing and recruiting the appropriate slate of candidates. You’ll know what’s important to being successful and this in turn will make you more successful in meeting the needs of your clients. Then you can keep the clowns, extra-terrestrials, and deadwood out of your organization.

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