Why we need to stop asking good candidates silly interview questions

One false move on the employer's part and a jobseeker could lose interest in a position faster than they applied for it, warns Rita Trehan

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As the war for talent shows no signs of waning, with the ‘Great Resignation’ still in full swing and a staggering 20 per cent of people planning to quit their jobs in 2022, many leaders will be thinking about what they can do to attract the very best talent. But it’s not just about getting people applying for roles. It’s also about keeping them engaged during the hiring process. One false move on the employer’s part, and a candidate could lose interest in a position faster than they applied for it. Usually a lukewarm response from a candidate is the result of one of two things: either they realised the role wasn’t right for them, or they had a bad interview.

The consequences of generic interview questions

Bad interview questions aren’t just boring. They’re futile. Banal, unimaginative questions leave candidates rehearsing the same spiel that’s already outlined on their CV and cover letter. These types of questions do nothing but reveal a candidate’s ability to regurgitate the obvious. And if they fail the candidate – who is deprived of the chance to be creative in their answers – they also fail the interviewer, who is left none the wiser about the candidate’s competence

So what is a bad question? A bad question is also known as a knowledge-based question. For example, ‘tell me about yourself? Why do you want the role? How many years of experience do you have?’ All these should have been addressed in the initial correspondence or, at the very least, a pre-screening questionnaire. 

Don’t be mistaken: one or two knowledge-based questions can be beneficial. ‘What do you think of the role?’ for instance, or ‘what did you most like about our recent project for xyz?’ helps to determine whether the candidate has done their homework. But too many generic knowledge-based questions make interviews painful for both parties.

Give candidates a chance to be creative

The right kind of interview question will test the candidate – not to intimidate them, but to get a sense of their working style, their personality and how creative they can be in a short space of time. These are known as personality-based questions.

Examples of personality-based questions might include ‘How would you deal with x situation? How would you approach a project that involved y? We see you’ve worked on this project in the past; if you did it again, what would you do differently?’

These allow the candidates to demonstrate independent thinking and problem solving. And you’ll get some interesting, varied answers. They can also reveal whether a candidate might turn out to be confrontational, evasive or micro managerial.

This speaks to the value of an incisive personality-based question. There’s no sense in asking them indiscriminately. For example, ‘What motivates you?’ might seem incisive, but is arguably too broad and abstract to elicit an informative answer. Coffee is motivating. So is justice, feedback and holiday. The point is, a question like this one is likely to receive similar answers from everyone asked. It’s hard to imagine someone replying “injustice”, “no feedback” or “work hours fit for Oliver Twist”. A good personality-based question should aim higher and deeper than the boilerplate

Boilerplate questions are also insulting to the candidate’s intelligence. A jobseeker worth their salt will have put hours into preparing. For the interviewer to confront this preparedness with a question that could be asked of anyone not only deprives the candidate of a chance to reveal who they really are, but speaks ill of the interviewer, who may give the impression that they haven’t spent much time learning about the candidate in advance. Instead of what motivates you?, they should consider asking Why were you motivated to do xyz?

We’ll be in touch

A good interview should enable the interviewer to say the above words and mean them. The talent shortage – particularly in tech – has forced employers to compete fiercely for the talent they need. Workplace perks and culture, hybrid, and a well-oiled HR department are only some of the ways of doing this. But the humble interview, so often overlooked, is a good place to begin. 

Rita Trehan is founder of DARE Worldwide