Shaking up the interview process

When you only have a short time to figure out what makes a potential employee tick, it’s time to throw out the safe, boring questions and mix things up.

Shaking up the interview process

It’s not always easy to gauge a prospective employee’s suitability for the role at hand from rehearsed answers dished out to the same old interview questions. But according to Chris Smith and Chris Stephenson, co-founders of management-consulting firm ARRYVE, there are ways to cut off the prepared script and encourage candour to find the best fit.

Drawing on the six years their firm has been in business, the two put together a list of questions and techniques to yield better results for a blog post on the Harvard Business Review.

They recommend firstly changing up the way standard interview questions are asked.

Here are their variations and why they work better:

  • Rather than ask, “Where do you want to be in five years?” ask “What don’t you want to be doing five years from now?” The two argue that asking where applicants don’t want to be is more revealing because they don’t have a prepared answer. This forces them to think on their fee which can be insightful to how they think.
  • To get people to open up, ask, “What would you say is the biggest misperception people have of you?” Barbara Walters famously used to get guarded celebrities to discuss subjects they wanted to avoid and Smith and Stephenson say it’s a great way to snap people out of the hypothetical. According to them this question taps into weaknesses that candidates aren’t explicitly aware of, as well as those they know exist but don’t intend to address. They argue that top candidates have a high level of self-awareness and “they will know what the biggest misperception is about them, understand that perception is reality in many cases, and already have a plan in place to address it.”
  • Rather than ask, “What are your top two or three weaknesses?” ask “Quickly name some reasons why I should not hire you.” Smith and Stephenson state this is a question the majority will not expect and will usually produce the first things that come to mind which are usually unfiltered and truthful. “If a candidate spends too long fishing for an answer without sounding bad, remind him that you wanted the quick answer. If he tries to offer a soft weakness like 'I work too hard,' ask for a better reason,” they added.

Smith and Stephenson also encourage shaking up the interview process itself, not only the questions.

“It may sound cruel, but we suggest that interviewers shake up what candidates expect out of the interview, and employ techniques to alternately bore, energize, confuse, comfort and confront applicants,” they recommend. “Tell a joke to loosen things up at one minute, then ask a highly probing question the next. Let a candidate speak at length for some questions, and interrupt at other times with follow-ups like ‘What do you mean by that exactly?’, ‘How so?’ and ‘Could you give us an example of that?’.”

This approach throws candidates into the deep-end where they can’t rely on their standard interview prep and will show who can step up and who folds.

Smith and Stephenson argue that taking this approach helps reveal a candidate’s real abilities which in turn leads to the most appropriate applicant being hired.


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