Why Hiring Fails: Hiring Mistake #2 – Superficial Interviewing

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Next to not defining success, superficial interviewing is the second most common mistake made in the hiring process that leads to hiring failure.

There are two key elements to effective interviewing: Asking the right questions and validating the truth in the candidate answers.

 

Asking The Right Questions


Where do most CEOs, Executives, and Managers learn what interview questions to ask in an interview?

After having presented our program to over 30,000 CEOs, Executives, and Managers in the last 20 years, the vast majority tell us that they learned what interview questions to ask when they were originally interviewed 8-12-22 years ago. These questions form a collective group I like to call the 20 standard, stupid, inane, canned, silly interview questions based on tribal hiring. They are tribal in the sense that we blindly follow the questions the generations before us have asked, assuming that if they asked those questions, perhaps you should also ask those questions. What do these questions sound like?

  • Tell us about yourself
  • Why are you here today?
  • What do you know about us?
  • What do you want to be in 5 years?
  • What are your strengths?
  • What are your weaknesses?
  • Would you like to do this kind of work?
  • How strong are your computer skills?
  • We like team players – how do you feel about working in a team?

What we get as answers from these questions are the practiced, rehearsed, canned responses that are a complete waste of time. These questions do not reveal any insight regarding someone’s performance ability, past success, ability to deliver your success expectations, character, values, and typical behavior?

Why bother?

Instead, let’s just pick people off resumes and hope for the best – we’ll probably have as much luck. Let’s talk about luck for a minute. The entire process of asking the 20 standard, stupid, and canned interview questions focus on picking candidates who are the best at answering these questions. These questions have NOTHING to do with real work. They are an artificial set of questions designed to measure how well someone interviews – NOT how well someone will do in your open position. If we get a great employee – I’ll suggest it’s more a function of luck than any effective interviewing process or methodology.

Have you ever selected a candidate that said all the right things in the interview and then quickly fell apart after being hired? Of course you have – that’s where we got the title of our book and popular Vistage and TEC Speaker Program, You’re NOT the Person I Hired. How about this scenario: Have you ever hired a candidate that was not a good interviewee – quite, reserved, shy, introverted – you took a risk and hired the person. They turned out to be one of your better hires. Their on-the-job performance level was outstanding. Of course this has happened to you.

How is it possible that sometimes the best interviewees are not the best performers and sometimes the worst interviewees are the best performers?

It happens because the traditional and tribal process of asking the 20 standard, stupid, inane, canned, and silly questions force us to judge candidates on how well they can interview, NOT how well can they do the job. Layer on top of that the fact that we accept superficial responses to these questions and you’ve got the likely probability your candidate will fail to achieve your expectations.

The first step in overcoming superficial interviewing is to ask the right questions. We’ve designed a simple system for interviewing based on 5 Core Interview Questions. The first three questions are based on the most important traits of success. The second two questions are based on whether the person can meet your expectations and achieve them in your unique culture or environment.

We’ll get into the 5 Core Interview questions and the rationale for asking them in a later blog post. To whet your appetite and not leave you hanging, here are the 5 Core Interview Questions. These are based on a collective 75 years of executive search with my partners, over a 1000 search assignments, 250,000 candidates interviewed, and 30,000 hiring managers and executives that have been through our “You’re NOT the Person I Hired” program. In addition, we’ve conducted surveys, research projects, and tracked successful candidates over a 25 year period. All of those measures and activities have brought us to these 5 core interview questions:

  1. Initiative: Can you give me an example of where you’ve demonstrated high initiative in your last position – going above and beyond the call of duty?
  2. Flawless Execution: Could you share with me a task or assignment – – and you had to overcome significant obstacles and hurdles?
  3. Leadership: Could you illustrate your leadership by telling us about an example – where you either were part of the team or led the team? What did you do specifically to help the team achieve their goals or results?
  4. Success Factors: One of our most critical success factors for this role is X. What have you done that is most similar, comparable, like that expectation?
  5. Adaptability: How would achieving this success factor in our environment differ from attempting to achieve it in your previous company?

 

Superficial Interviewing

Superficial interviewing is the process of taking whatever the candidate tells us and accepting it as the truth.

Let’s think about truth in interviewing for a moment. Think back on all the candidates you’ve ever met in the hiring process. What is the percentage of candidates who have lied, embellished, or exaggerated what they have done or what they thought they could do for you. If I think back over my last 200 presentations to Vistage and TEC groups, almost everyone thinks the number is 100%. I’ll suggest it’s somewhere between 120% and 140%. You might wonder – how could Barry come up with a number like this? It’s because candidates lie, embellish, and exaggerate more than once – 17 times on their resume, 26 times in the phone interview, 38 times in the face-to-face interview.

Many candidates feel comfortable lying, embellishing, and exaggerating because they know you’ll never probe, validate, verify, vet, check-out, confirm, cross-reference, or triangulate their responses. They feel it is okay to claim accomplishments their peers or bosses achieved, give themselves inflated titles, make up their education, and completely misrepresent their responsibilities.

Layer that on top of our usual level of desperation to get the job filled, and now you’ve got hiring executives and managers who don’t want to know the truth. You meet a candidate that you have a great rapport with immediately, and you’ll stop asking questions and start selling the job. If you keep probing, you might discover the candidate’s warts – you don’t want to know their warts – you’re already in love and you want them to get the job.

Our methodology of getting to the truth in interviewing and moving beyond asking silly questions that generate superficial responses is called the “Magnifying Glass Approach.” It encompasses asking for examples, peeling the onion on every claim, and obtaining precise details on the examples, such as starting points, quantification, budget, resources, names of those involved, costs reduced, metrics improved, goals hit, difficulties overcome, and solutions generated. It’s done by asking the candidate WHO, WHAT, WHY, WHERE, WHEN, and HOW?

It involves DOCUMENTING the details from their examples. It’s a form of interviewing that is rigorous and objective. It is IMPOSSIBLE for a candidate to make it up fast enough. They can either immediately substantiate their claims of achievements, results, and accomplishments with great detail and depth, OR they will self-implode before your very eyes within seconds.

Most hiring executives and manager ask the candidate a question, hear the response, then think to themselves “good answer”, and then move on to a different line of questioning. We glaze across the top of the interview thinking we’re doing a good job of collecting information. Instead of asking 15-20 different superficial interview questions that generate canned responses, let’s ask very few – but dig deeply into each one.

One of the most significant reasons behind hiring failure is the lack of time invested in conducting a rigorous and probing interview.

When should you STOP asking the 20 standard tribal interview questions, and STOP accepting superficial responses?

Barry Deutsch

About the Author

Barry Deutsch is a founding Partner of IMPACT Hiring Solutions, co-author of "You're NOT the Person I Hired", and "This is NOT the Position I Accepted". Barry is an award-winning international speaker, retained executive recruiter, and expert on hiring and retaining top talent, and executive job search.

Comments

  1. Tom Furlong says:

    Barry-

    A recruiter/interviewer can use the “5 Core” questions in a screening interview to quickly identify the top candidates for an opportunity. Superficial questions tend to make personable candidates appear stronger and eliminate less-extroverted (but possibly more qualified) individuals. Asking the “5 Core” should also add to your credibility in the mind of the candidate by demonstrating more than “superficial” interview ability.

    Great points on taking Targeted Selection Criteria to a new level!

  2. Hi Barry, this is a great reminder of what’s important. Thanks for sharing this. I was wondering if you work in areas that involve hiring people with little or no experience and developing them. Are there a different type of questions you would use to get insight into their potential or would you just apply these questions to a broader range of non-work experiences and hope to find something that gives you insight?

  3. I leave a comment each time I like a post on a website or I have something to add to the discussion. It’s triggered by the fire displayed in the article I read. And after this post Hiring Mistakes and Errors – Poor Interviewing. I was moved enough to drop a comment 🙂 I do have a couple of questions for you if it’s okay. Could it be only me or do some of the remarks look as if they are left by brain dead folks? 😛 And, if you are writing on other social sites, I would like to follow you. Would you list the complete urls of your community sites like your twitter feed, Facebook page or linkedin profile?

    • Jodee,

      Thanks for your comments. You can find our material on itunes under impacthiringsolutions and on youtube under impacthiring. We also are quite active on Google+ and Twitter where you can find Brad and I offering tips, ideas, and suggestions for improving hiring and retaining top talent.

      Barry

  4. Barry

    How refreshing to read your challenges to standard interviewing practice, particularly about behaviour-based questions being past their use-by date and the need to establish what results applicants will produce. I work with Australian government agencies where behaviour-based questions still reign supreme, and results get little mention. Do you find this is the case with US government? Do you have any suggestions on how to persuade people to try a different approach when experience that another approach works doesn’t convince?

    Regards

    Ann

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