A favorite interview tactic for many hiring and HR managers is to use interview questions from companies with the most successful recruiting and hiring strategies. Using interview questions from the best companies is a great idea … except that it’s like trying to lose 50 pounds by popping a magic pill without changing your eating and exercise habits.
For example, Google seems to be a favorite interview question target. Why not? Google is the subject of so many articles about how they skim off the top 1 percent of talent from the labor pool. Facebook and Apple also compete for that same 1 percent so finessing the interview process is critical. Learning how top performers do it and replicating the process makes perfect sense.
Except that an interview question is only effective if it’s used in a well-designed process that stays focused on exposing job relevant skills, abilities, and motivations. And many hiring managers and even HR professionals tend to lose sight of the connection between the question and the job performance.
So… if companies like Google, Zappos. Costco, Goldman Sachs, Southwest Air and others are the best recruiters, why re-create the wheel? Why not take their interview questions for your own?
First of all these companies have a powerful employer brand. Before the Internet, companies rarely if ever talked about employer branding. In fact, if you mentioned employer branding just a few ago, you’d likely get giggles or glare-down stares from senior management. Employers could pretty much say anything they wanted about their company culture and disgruntled employees had few options.
But the Internet put word of mouth on steroids! Social media has taken reputation management to a whole new level and former and current employees have closed the gap between what a company wants the public to hear and reality. Whether it’s Twitter, LinkedIn, or Glassdoor, someone is probably talking about what it’s really like to work for your company.
Asking an interview question that Google or Facebook managers ask without having an employee-friendly culture and strong management is an interesting but likely ineffective and futile exercise. Even if the questions help you identify top talent, if you hire them into a culture that can’t provide what Google offers and manage them to their fullest potential, it won’t work out.
Google and the others ask the questions they do because they are crafted and matched to specific skills, abilities, or behaviors. The questions asked are selected AFTER the skill requirements of the job are identified. They don’t pick a question off the Internet because they want to see how much a candidate squirms. The process is called interviewing not hazing.
Unfortunately that is exactly what happens in many companies – managers hear a question that a colleague asked, wonder how a candidate might respond, and add it to their repertoire without putting much thought into how it might help uncover specific skills or untapped talent.
So here are four basic rules for selecting the right interview questions.
- Identify the essential skills an employee needs for the job before you do anything. Essential skills are exactly that – no more, no less. They are the skills an employee must have to get the job done. Most jobs have 5 – 7 essential skills. Lower skill positions may have less; management and sales may have more. When it comes to essential job skills, more is not better. Under most circumstances, keep the skills list small and tight.
- Develop interview questions that can help uncover existing skills or potential. Now is the time to use an interview question generator, search Google, or research questions from the elite companies. If the question can help uncover what you need to know, go for it.
- Many questions don’t have a right or wrong answer. In fact, many answers to the questions you want to ask have multiple responses posted by other applicants on the Internet. Sometimes it’s not the answer that is important as much as how the candidate articulates the response. Was the candidate confident, articulate, comfortable and specific or did his response seem generic, memorized, and coached?
- Always follow a question with another related question. When interviewing it’s important to drill deep not broad. For example, when the candidate responds to “If you were 80 years old, what would you tell your children?” the answer isn’t enough. You need to ask things like “what events led up to that choice” or “has that changed during lifetime?” You need to listen and observe candidates to help predict if they can do the job or fit in the culture. Most of all you need to detect signs of sincerity or if the candidate telling you what he thinks he wants you to hear.