I know you are not a fan of job interviews that use scripted questions.
What do you recommend that we ask job candidates?
Here is a simple plan for a human, conversational job interview.
A good interview is not strictly an evaluative process. You are selling the candidate as much as you are evaluating him or her. Most candidates will sell and evaluate you right back — and that’s how it should be!
You will have a back-and-forth conversation with each job candidate, but you will not use a script. You won’t need one. You have no questions to ask except to ask for the candidate’s thoughts, observations and questions once you have described the job in some detail (see below).
1. Before the interview, you’ll send each candidate a warm, friendly email message reminding them of the date and time for the interview, the job title they’re interviewing for and the names and titles of the people they will meet at the interview. This email message is a simple, essential courtesy that starts your relationship off on the right note.
2. In the same confirmation email message, you will explain that in the interview, you’d like to answer the candidate’s questions right up front. You’ll ask them to think about the role and prepare questions for you before the interview, and bring them to the meeting.
3. When you greet the candidate, you’ll give them tea, coffee or water, invite them to use the restroom if they want to and show them to the interview room. You’ll make a few pleasantries (“Were our directions okay?” “How’s your morning going?”) and then you’ll sit and invite them to ask you questions.
4. You’ll answer the candidate’s questions. You can see that you must know a lot about the job and the company in order to be a suitable interviewer for the organization. That’s okay! Every interview will teach you more and more. Sometimes you won’t have an answer to a candidate’s question, but you will get the answer after the interview and send it to them in an email message.
5. Some candidates will not exhaust their supply of questions before the end of the interview, and that’s fine. The traditional interviewing protocol in which the interviewer asks questions and the candidate answers them is nonsense. It has never been effective. It is power-based, which means it is fear-based. You will always learn more about a person and their grasp of the topics you are discussing through their questions than their answers to your questions. If you ever wondered why nearly every HR person, recruiter and hiring manager has felt awkward during interview conversations, this is why. It is stilted, unnatural and pointless to pepper questions at a person when what you really want to do is to see their brain working — and to show them your brain working, too!
6. When your candidate runs out of questions, it’s your turn to talk about the job. Lay out the role starting with the big picture context and moving down to the ground level with specific duties and responsibilities, following this outline:
• What is this company all about? What do we do?
• Who am I (the interviewer) in this company? What is my role?
• What does the hiring department do? How do they help the company succeed?
• Why is this department hiring a new person now?
• What is the purpose of this role? Why does it exist?
• What will the person hired into this job do all day?
• What are the working hours, pay schedule, and general operations of the department or the company that will most affect the new hire?
• What is the training and career path like for this job and this new hire?
7. As you describe the company and the role, you will see your candidate’s brain working again. You will invite the candidate to react to everything they hear, sharing their observations and/or questions. Once you get through these eight topics you’ll ask the candidate to react to what they’ve heard. How would they approach the job? What would they see as their initial priorities as they walk into the role?
Why do we want to hear a candidate’s questions, more than their answers to our questions?
A candidate’s questions tell you much more about their understanding of the role, its overlap or similarities with other jobs they’re performed and their general grasp of your company’s need than their answers to your questions possibly could.
Also, in a candidate’s questions you will see their level of altitude concerning the job.
Let’s say you are interviewing candidates for the job of executive assistant to your VP of Sales.
Candidate A asks you these questions, in this order:
1. Does your company use Slack, or some other group messaging tool?
2. Are there some pretty decent places to get lunch around here, without a car? I’m planning to take the bus to work if I get the job.
3. What is the dress code here?
4. How much typing will there be in the job?
Candidate B asks these questions, in this order:
1. I see that your VP of Sales, Rachel McGraw, just spoke at a conference last month. That is tremendous! What role will her executive assistant play in organizing those engagements, helping to prepare for them or creating presentation materials?
2. I couldn’t quite tell from your job ad whether this job is fairly hands-off, where Rachel is in her office and I’m outside her office working independently throughout the day, or hands-on, where Rachel and I and perhaps others are working on projects together. What is your feeling on that?
3. What are your company’s biggest goals for this year?
There is all the difference in the world between Candidate A and Candidate B. They are flying at two completely different levels of altitude!
Depending on the level of altitude you and Rachel are looking for in your new hire, one of these two candidates will clearly be the right person for the job.
You would never see either candidate’s brain working so clearly if you had asked them the traditional, scripted questions!
Questions And Answers About The Human Interview Process
Q. What if the candidate has so many questions for me that I never get to describe the role and get their reactions to it?
A. That tells you a lot. If one of the candidate’s questions is not “Can you please tell me more about the role” that is a problem!
Q. So, I don’t need to walk through the candidate’s resume?
A. As the conversation unfolds the candidate will almost certainly tell you about their most relevant experiences. Would you ever ask a consultant to walk you through their resume? You would not. It’s not relevant. You would talk about your current needs and get their thoughts. That’s what you’ll do in job interviews, too.
Q. How do I take notes or write down my feedback for a Human Interview conversation?
A. You can take notes during the interview and so can your candidate, but I prefer to make my notes immediately afterward. I sit down right away and write about our conversation. What did you and the candidate talk about? Get it all on paper. You will reflect on the interview over the next two or three days.
Q. I work in government. We have to ask the same scripted questions of every candidate.
A. That is a shame. Over time perhaps the old, hard rules will soften.
Hurrah for conversation!
All the best,