Interview questions and structured interviewing
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Four Interview Questions Never to Ask

Charles Wonderlic

There are obvious questions any recruiter knows not to ask in an interview, such as “Do you plan to have children?” Or “Do you attend church?” but, most recruiters don’t realize that many of the questions they do ask are ineffective or garner no valuable information. They waste the time of the recruiters and the applicants, or worse, they can incur legal action. Without a structured interview plan that includes targeted questions designed to determine whether a candidate is right for the job, an interview does little more than give you a “gut feeling” about a candidate.

The following are four common interview mistakes :

“What do you think will be the most satisfying part of the job?” “What do you think will be the most frustrating?” While these questions might give you some insight into the person’s attitude about work, it’s not a good use of interview time. The goal of the interview is to understand whether a person has the ability to succeed in the job. The best predictor of future success is past behavior. Answers to vague questions about the future tell you nothing about skills, ability or experience, but merely ask the applicant to speculate on what they would like to be true.
“This job requires you to knock on strangers’ doors and that makes some people uncomfortable. How would you handle that?” It is ineffective to ask people to predict their future behavior, because studies show that applicants almost always inflate responses to predictive questions. The phrasing of this question also lets the candidate know what you are looking for – a show of confidence and ease in new situations – giving an astute applicant the information necessary to craft the answer that you want to hear, instead of one that is totally honest.
It is always better to ask candidates about specific past behavior, such as “tell me about a time when you had to speak in front of strangers,” because they are less likely to lie or embellish and it gives you hard evidence about their past performance.

Tell me about your hobbies?" or "Do you have kids?" These are often used as ice-breakers, and the interviewer may have very good intentions about putting candidates at ease. However, at best, these kinds of questions are not job-related, and at worst, they may provide indication of a protected class, lowering the legal defensibility of your hiring process.
"Tell me about a time when you have had to facilitate a meeting with more than 25 coworkers." This is a fine question — if indeed this relatively complicated task is required for the job. Often, however, interviewers ask about tasks relating to ideal job performance instead of the minimum or more realistic requirements of the job. In this example, the recruiter who asked the question needed a candidate with only basic meeting facilitation skills who would never run a meeting with more than a few participants.
It may seem logical to create excessive examples, but by doing so you can alienate good candidates who don’t have your “ideal” experience, and cause you to hire people who are overqualified for the job.

The challenge is to identify specific, required job skills and abilities and then formulate simple questions to get at a candidate’s past behavior on the job or in similar situations at school or in other organizations if the candidate has inadequate work experience.


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