Eat This, Not That: Slimming Down Interviews

eat this not thatThere’s a health and nutrition book series called Eat This, Not That. It’s designed to provide readers with options to substitute common ingredient choices with healthier selections without sacrificing flavor or enjoyment of favorite menu items. It’s a more pragmatic approach to eating healthy for people who think it’s crazy not to eat carbs or sugar for the next 6 weeks. It makes sense. No donuts makes a person go crazy.

In all seriousness, removing everything just isn’t a good program for sustainability – one of the most significant elements of diet success. You need a program that you can maintain for months, not days, to actually see change. Even bigger picture, most people don’t like to live in an all or nothing world with food or any other thing in their life. It’s just not realistic. Even suggesting eliminating any one kind of food in a group immediately creates a defensive and defeatist response: “I can’t do that!” That’s fear talking, really. It’s that voice inside your head that says you can’t realistically give it all up. Not forever.

Stepping On The Scale: Weighing In On Interviews

interview eating contest Like the intent of leaner or lighter food recommendations, I don’t want to issue a sweeping directive for anyone to start or stop doing something altogether, but to consider alternatives or variations in the form of “ask this, not that” when interviewing. I’m well aware that suggesting elimination of popular and frequently asked interview questions probably won’t please those who are fond of their methods or methodology. With that approach, most would have a similar response to the “I can’t” in a diet scenario.

Sure, we can’t dump everything we’ve ever learned about interviewing. I’m not naive enough to believe my ideas are a one-size-fits-all fix for broken hiring practices. My goal, as should be yours if you’re interviewing candidates, it simple to help develop a more welcoming, comfortable and productive interview interaction for all involved.

See, I’m a professional interviewer at this point. I feel like I’ve been in the interviewee seat almost as much as the interviewer seat. Unfortunately, that first-hand experience on the opposite side of the table has given me an endless supply of material about how unbelievably messed up the hiring processes can be. It’s especially bad because I despise irrelevant, lazy and cliché interview questions or any other employer behavior that promotes an unpleasant candidate experience. Needless to say, there is plenty of room for improvement all around.

Eat This, Not That: 6 Alternatives To The Same Ol’ Interview BS

eat thisRather than create philosophies and theories on what great questions address, I wanted to dive right into the questions we’re all most tired of hearing with alternatives that actually address the answer you want to get. That’s the thing about most of these interview questions. While they’re staples in most people’s interview repertoire, they don’t actually answer the important questions both sides of the interview equation need answered to make this hiring decision.

  1. Why do you want to work here? This puts the interviewee in a position of having to come up with some type of butt-kissing response about how much he/she adores your marvelous company when in reality the interviewee just wants a job. Isn’t that pretty much why anyone works anywhere or works at all? Instead of assuming the interviewee is in awe of your firm, how about expressing a few key tidbits about what sets your business apart from any other company? From there, perhaps the interviewee will be able to express genuine interest in something instead of spewing a practiced generic suck-up line.
  2. What do you know about our company? Obviously, you expect an interviewee to have done some preliminary research. However, many employers seem to ask this type of question as a trap or test to gauge whether the candidate is seriously interested in that job or just any job. Even if your company is one of the handful of firms idolized by best-practice article writers, chances are most job seekers are only enamored by the resume building qualities your brand name offers. Regardless of how recognizable a company is or isn’t, I always appreciate when the company representative shares background information with me first, then asks if there’s anything else I’d like to know about the company. By doing that it creates the opportunity to comment and/or ask additional questions, which essentially shows interest.
  3. Tell me about yourself: Asking open-ended questions is fine, but this one is way too broad. Some interviewers ask this as an ice-breaker to ease into the interview. The problem is, there is nothing easy about answering such a vague question. It sets the tone for a guessing game of what to say, what not to say, how much to say and how to say it. If the interviewee keeps it brief and professional, he/she risks being boring. If the interviewee veers into personal territory he/she may overstep by oversharing. Instead, try asking something specific about the person’s field. For instance: what advice would you give someone thinking about a career in …. ? Or, what do you think are the most important success attributes for a person in the … field?
  4. Why did you leave your prior job(s)?: It’s natural to be curious about someone’s decision making process leading to a job change, but most reasons fall into a few basic categories. Sometimes, it might even be combination of factors. No matter what, the interviewee is expected to spin something potentially negative into a positive description. Aside from demonstrating political correctness, not much else is revealed. It would be impossible for the person conducting the interview to fully grasp another person’s circumstances, yet many fancy themselves clairvoyant relying on past career choices to predict future outcomes. Not only is that an unfounded theory it likely stems from the interviewer’s own personal bias more than the interviewee’s reality. Instead of asking why the interviewee left every prior job, try asking him/her to describe times when he/she felt most engaged at work. Or, perhaps ask what contributes to his/her ability to perform successfully. Doing so, produces a more objective look into motivations and ideal working conditions.
  5. Walk me through your resume: Along the lines of tell me about yourself, this request is simply too generic. Instead of asking someone to guess what and how much to recite from his/her resume, try actually reading and reviewing in advance so you can come prepared to ask for elaboration on specific items. Or better, yet pick out crucial aspects of the person’s experience that pertain to the job and ask questions based your company’s needs.
  6. “Creative” questions: Some interviewers are fond of asking off-the-wall questions presumably to gauge things like how well someone thinks outside the box, handles pressure or thinks on his/her feet as if anyone can effectively determine any of that or translate it to on-the-job performance by asking a random question. Ben & Jerry’s interviewers might be on-target asking someone about their favorite flavor ice cream, but that’s probably not the case elsewhere. The problem with quirky questions is that they waste time that should be spent delving into real business issues. The questions asked should provide clear evidence of job-relatedness. Otherwise you end up treating interviewees as if they’re there for your entertainment and amusement like some sort of carnival attraction. That kind of treatment is insulting and offensive.

Healthy Habits and Interviews

If you’ve read this far, you might be seething and ready to pounce on your keyboard to give me a piece of your mind. Or, perhaps, you’ve also questioned why the bulk of traditional interview questions just seem out of place and outdated.

Welcome to the dark side of cynicism and reality. 

The real story here is that there are so many ways to assess qualifications that there is no guarantee the selected interviewee will be the best choice or that these questions will help you move interviews along more quickly. Now, while we may not be able to reliably predict job performance from interview performance, don’t give up hope. You’ll learn. Just don’t rely on that all or nothing advice or a listicle to tell you every question you should ask. 

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About the Author: Leveraging her unique perspective as a progressive thinker with a well-rounded background from diverse corporate settings, Kelly Blokdijk advises members of the business community on targeted human resource, recruiting and organization development initiatives to enhance talent management, talent acquisition, corporate communications and employee engagement programs.

Kelly is an active HR and recruiting industry blogger and regular contributor on RecruitingBlogs.com. She also candidly shares opinions, observations and ideas as a member of RecruitingBlogs’ Editorial Advisory Board.

Follow Kelly on Twitter @TalentTalks or connect with her on LinkedIn.

Kelly Blokdijk


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