There is a lot of press these days about how traditional approaches to job interviewing aren’t producing the expected fit between employer and employee for great performance and longevity. Many of these articles have titles such as, “Death of the job interview” or some similar tagline. Sensational titles aside, it’s not so far-fetched to say that the traditionally structured job interview is in big trouble when it comes to identifying great people.
A major reason for this is that candidates have learned all the tricks in the book for presenting a positive persona that will push the employer’s “hire” buttons. Just do a web search on, “How to have a great job interview” and you’ll find literally hundreds of pages on how to hit the right chords, even if it’s a far cry from your personal reality.
Most of this advice includes warnings about behavioural interviewing and its classic question structure: “Tell me about a time when….”. Savvy candidates now come to interviews armed with dozens of examples of things they did or experiences they had (or didn’t have) that support the areas most interviewers look for, e.g., dealing with difficult people, ethical challenges, job performance, etc.
The other problem with traditional interviews is that they’re structured to try to identify areas of competency and fit that are relevant to the job being offered. Nothing wrong with that. But the structure itself gets in the way of finding out the whole story because it pre-defines the types of answers you’re likely to get. But what if what you really need to know isn’t even on your radar? You can’t ask questions about things you don’t know might be important.
Some twenty years ago, we stumbled across the basic findings that led to the development of Psychmentation™, our proprietary methodology for getting past disclosure barriers to the truth about how people really make decisions. It turns out that the same principles we use in market research have vast implications for the world of job interviews.
5 basics for the world of job interviews
- People almost never tell you the whole truth.
- What they hold back is always more important than what they tell you.
- What they reveal is inversely proportional to the value of the relationship. In job interviewing this means that the more they want the job, the less they’ll tell you.
- Direct questions about what you want to know are useless. The truth must be approached peripherally through open questions without preconceived answers or expectations.
- Creating the right environment can reduce barriers and enhance openness. This is the tricky part.
Here are some suggestions based on years of deploying and refining Psychmentation in a broad variety of situations both with customers and employees
- Create a comfortable environment for meeting candidates. Lose the desk if you can. Lose the pen and paper. Nothing increases disclosure barriers more than note taking or other forms of recording. Make your notes afterwards. You’ll remember what really mattered; the rest was most likely filler anyway. Contextualize the process: Make sure the candidate understands that this interview is a two-way street; there’s no point working in a place that’s a poor fit.
- Use really open-ended questions that don’t drive directly to where you want to go. Rather than ask, “What kind of work environment do you thrive in?” ask, “What were some of the career choices you thought about when you were in school?” or, “How did you come to work in this industry rather than pursue those other choices?” This will tell you much more about the candidate’s decision processes and motivations. Be prepared to probe deeper rather than just move on to the next question. Sometimes, answering just one question can lead to the answers to all your questions.
- Share your own experiences. Humanize the interview process. Talk about what you like about your job and what is less enjoyable. If a candidate expresses some personal experience that mirrors your own, be prepared to share that with them.
In the end, a good interview should be a conversation where everyone is relaxed, open, and forthright. Remember: It’s a lot tougher than it sounds.
By: Steve Courmanopoulos, Ph.D.