Creating an effective employer interview question guide is a necessity for hiring qualified workers. But a simple search for the phrase “interview question guide” turns up 60,200,200 Google results in only 0.14 seconds.  With such an ample supply of free advice, why are employee interviews so ineffective at employee screening and employee selection?

An effective employee interview requires that manager ask the right questions in the right way. Unfortunately many interviewers ask the wrong questions. That’s not even counting how many managers ask good interview questions in the wrong way. Asking the wrong questions in the wrong way at the wrong time and in the wrong setting are all reasons why the traditional interview has odds of success just slightly better than flipping a coin.

Asking the right questions is the first step in ensuring that the interview is not only valid and legal but also more accurate and predictive.

The problem with most employee interviews is that the wrong questions can elicit persuasive but non-predictive candidate responses that influence managers to hire them. There are two types of wrong questions.  First, you have the illegal questions – the questions you can’t ask.  Federal and some state law explicitly prohibit asking specific questions about age, gender, race, ethnicity, religion and others.  These questions are nixed because they generally have nothing to do with the ability to do the job.  The solution to this problem is simple – avoid these questions.

That leads us to the second type of questions – the questions you can ask.  Unfortunately that approach doesn’t mean you can ask just any question that comes to mind.

The interview itself can be approached in two ways.  Most often managers and other interviewers tend to ask questions and listen for responses that confirm their assumptions.  That approach is a horribly inaccurate way to consistently hire employees.  Assumptions are often not factual and definitely not helpful when selecting successful workers.

The other approach is to challenge your assumptions and biases. Instead of seeking the “right” answers to a question and then moving on to the next question, interviewers need to probe deeper with more questions – to “test” the candidate. (FYI – the interview is considered an assessment or test by U.S. Department of Labor and Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) just like a personality assessment or other pre-employment tests.)

For example, an interviewer often asks this popular interview question to a managerial candidate: “describe for me how you have motivated an under-performing employee?”  The candidate describes a scenario that is music to the interviewer’s ears. The interviewer checks off that question and moves on to the next. Unfortunately the candidate could have just recited a scripted response he picked up on the Internet or learned from a friend. Providing the “right” answer doesn’t conclude the candidate actually performed this act or even has the ability to do it. All he or she did was merely show a skill in answering a question.

And here’s a third step necessary for effective interviewing. While the candidate might have indeed accomplished what he says he did, the skilled interviewer should not accept the response at face value.  He should follow up by asking something like “And how did you learn that process?” or “have you been able to repeat that success again?”  Few if any interview questions relating to job fit should ever answered satisfactorily with just one response.  The interviewer should always be prepared with a probing follow up question. My rule of thumb is that for every question asked, the interviewer should be prepared to ask two additional follow up questions. 

Interviewers also tend to ask a lot of questions that might be job related, but not job relevant.  Agencies like Equal Employment Opportunity Commission only require that employers ask job related questions.  But while a question like “tell me what you disliked about your last job” might be job related, it might not help you determine if the individual can actually do the job for you.  A job relevant question might be “tell me how you generate and qualify leads” or “describe your role in developing and implementing a plan to reduce employee turnover.”

The questions a manager asks a candidate MUST help understand each of the following three things: job fit, team fit, or culture fit. By asking the right job relevant questions targeting all three areas, following up with additional probing questions, and challenging your assumptions, managers will begin to hire successful workers and avoid the problem of selecting candidates who interview well, but perform poorly.