An article on the internet, How to not hire a dud: The killer interview questions every candidate should be asked *, suggests that there are some “killer interview questions” which
“will help you to sort the wheat from the chaff, as well as highlight some of the signs that should trigger alarm bells. I only hope you can avoid some of the mistakes that I made with these key questions.”
This last sentence is delightfully ambiguous, given that the questions, far from being “killers”, shuffled off this mortal coil some time ago.
> Tell me about a work achievement you are most proud of?
“A deceptively simple question, but a very powerful one,” according to the article
> Can you describe an ideal colleague?
> What exactly would you do to solve this challenge?
“Give a practical example of a challenge that is facing you or your business right now and get the candidate to give you a practical step-by-step view on how they would overcome this challenge.”
> What would you do in your first 100 days in the job?
“This gets to the heart of how a candidate would approach their day-to-day role and how they would manage targets and planning. A vague answer is a red flag.”
Are these really the best questions to ask an applicant?
None of them acknowledges the central issue which is that an organisation is a group of human beings, possibly integrated into a team, which is considering adding another human being to the group.
None of the questions acknowledges that work is primarily a set of relationships between people and small groups of people. It is the capacity of the applicant to form new, positive relationships—and indeed the capacity of those already in employment to form new, positive relationships, something which, in my experience, is very far from being a given—that needs to be established.
The article as a whole seems rather old fashioned, thinking of the applicant as a “resource” with “skills” whose “strengths” need to be established to ensure he/she can fit in like a cog in an existing machine.
By not acknowledging the need for the interview to be a conversation, which understands the applicant’s right and need to for equal involvement, it gives the impression of an ancient Egyptian pharaoh interviewing for the role of assistant chief slave in the pyramid building team.
The questions answered
As for the questions:
Tell me about a work achievement you are most proud of?
Clearly the applicant will tell a story, more or less embellished, about an event that happened in the past, in a different place, in a different situation. Its relevance to the job in hand might be tenuous, and the interviewer has little opportunity to stop the applicant in his/her tracks as there will be no evidence that the latter isn’t adequately answering the question. (Whether the applicant’s pride is misplaced is not under scrutiny.)
And, frankly, I wouldn’t blame the interviewee for making something up.
The supplementary questions given in the article don’t make it a better topic to discuss, they simply allow the interviewer to dig a deeper hole. I really don’t think you can realistically say, “Interviewers will quickly build up an insight into how an interviewee approaches work and gets things done”. What interviewers will build up is a story which the interviewee wants him/her to hear. At best, it is a measure of the extent to which the applicant can second guess the interviewer, which might actually be a good skill to have, but you wouldn’t assess it in this way.
Can you describe an ideal colleague?
The answer to this is “No.” Full stop. And deservedly so. Moral: don’t ask closed questions. If you must, “Will you describe an ideal colleague, please?” would be harder to avoid.
What exactly would you do to solve this challenge?
What would you do in your first 100 days in the job?
The other two questions both ask the applicant to extemporise on imaginary situations (at least imaginary as far as he/she is concerned) based on the least possible knowledge of the working environment. I am wondering if the interviewer expects colleagues to plan and make decisions in this way and, if not, why it is relevant to see how the applicant fares when asked to do something he/she will not be asked to do if they get the job. Again, the answers do not reveal any ability to solve the problem or whatever, they just reveal the applicant’s ability, or not, to “vamp ’til ready”.
OK, this process will weed out the hopelessly unsuited (but why are you interviewing them anyway?). It will also weed out all the best applicants, all the people you would most like to have come and work for you because, rightly, they will be highly suspicious of any organisation which (a) asks such banal and patronising questions and (b) simply hasn’t developed from a stone age master/slave mentality.
If I were the interviewee (and still in the room), I would ask the interviewer these same four questions to see how he/she got on. I bet they would struggle not just with number 2 but also with being asked, “what precisely are you going to be doing in the next hundred days at work?”.
* This article appears identically worded on other websites, eg here
© 2015 Jeremy Marchant . image: Free images