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Interviewing > Talent Acquisition

The New Interview: More Real than a 3-D Screening of Jaws

I gave a pretty interesting interview last week. In this interview, I tried a new technique that could be called 3-dimensional interviewing.  You should know up front that I made a big interviewing mistake a few years ago and suffered tried to make it work for about eight months before finally concluding that I had to let an employee go.  As a result of this experience, I’ve spent a lot of time researching and trying different interviewing techniques to hopefully avoid such a mistake in the future.  Obviously, it’s impossible to be a perfect interviewer, but there are ways we can all be better.  I’m interested to know what you think about this one…

The individual (Mr. X) who came into our office to interview was set up for success.  He interviewed well with someone else who was responsible for evaluating his soft business skills.  My task this time was to verify the soft skills and to validate his technical skill claims.  When someone says that they are proficient in certain technical skills, it’s often hard to get a good feel for their level of proficiency without having them do some work, right?

Well, maybe not…

After a few really normal questions, I asked him to define his skill in three different programming languages.  He replied, “I’m proficient in those and use them frequently.”  I said, “All right, great. How about you grab that orange marker at the end of the table and head up to the whiteboard.”  The look of confidence on his face waned as he approached the front of the room. One would think I broke a cardinal rule of interviewing – I made the interviewee stand up.  He proceeded to the white board with the dry erase marker in-hand and removed the orange cap.

I said, “Mr. X, you said that you are proficient in CSS coding. Would you please write on the board the code you would use to…”  I won’t go into details and bore you, but I picked a couple of the most simple and common things that a beginning programmer would do in CSS.  Mr. X started to write a few characters on the board and then tried to ask me leading questions while he was writing, in hopes of getting some guidance.  I replied to his questions, “No worries, there are many ways to do what I’ve asked you to do.  Just show me your favorite way to do it.”  He finally admitted, “I…uh…am really good at looking up the details in Google. I really have done this before.” Smiling, I said, “Don’t worry, you’re proficient in other skills, right?  Let’s give those a try.”  For the sake of your time, I’ll let you guess what happened next.

While at breakfast yesterday, I shared this experience with a friend who just figured out that he made a hiring mistake by hiring Mrs. W to be a finance team manager.  In his interview with Mrs. W, he asked about her skills in Microsoft Excel.  She said, “I have used a variety of software like Excel and am really good with computers.”  This seemed like a good reply, and based on her experience, proficiency in Excel could just about be assumed.  Obviously, it’s not safe to assume that anything is true in an interview.  In a meeting this week, my friend discovered that his new finance manager didn’t know how to write a formula in Excel.  Oops!

What if my friend had approached his traditional 2-dimensional interview with Mrs. W with a 3-dimensional approach?  What if he asked her to grab a marker and go to the whiteboard?  Rather than accepting that she was comfortable in Excel, what if he said, “Let’s say you have three numbers stacked on top of each other in a spreadsheet.  Please write a formula on the board that you would use to add them up?  Ok, and if you wanted to average them? Without deleting the numbers, what would you do if you wanted to not show the three rows in which those numbers appear? Can you explain what the Goal Seek function does?”

It would probably take a maximum of two minutes to ask and get replies to all of these questions.  Had my friend asked questions like this he would have been able to quickly evaluate the level of Excel expertise that Mrs. W possessed.

So what about the next interview you give?  As anyone would recommend, take a few minutes to prepare before the interview.  You’re going to have to think about the things that are absolute requirements and the areas in which you’d like to challenge someone.  If Excel is a required skill, maybe you’d like to use the above questions as a starting point.  If hand washing is a requirement (LOL) invite the individual to walk to a nearby sink and show you their normal hand-washing technique.

Consider asking a question like, “How would your best friend describe you?”  After you get a reply, say, “Cool, what’s her phone number?  Let’s see how close you are with the speakerphone.”

Yes, I know this is all somewhat bold.  But why not use techniques like this?  After all, you’re making a decision to pay someone thousands of dollars to help you grow your company.

Ever conduct a 3-dimensional interview? Did your interviewee pass with flying colors or did he or she crumble under the pressure as Mr. X? Let us know what happened…

18 comments
Michael DeHaven
Michael DeHaven

To add a little more context to this topic, I should make it clear that this was not a hostile or intimidating interview by any means. Mr. X and I discussed numerous topics, laughed, and shared an interview that was very casual. The only potentially hostile moment was near the beginning of the interview when I asked a very standard question like, "What circumstance brings you here today?" When his reply was totally canned, I replied with a smile, "That's a great reply, but I could get that from anyone interviewing for this position. Take a minute to think and give it another try with something more unique to you." I did this to let him know that I wanted to give him a really fair chance to show me what made him stand out from the crowd. Also, after watching him stumble at the whiteboard later in the interview, I walked up and showed him a couple ways that he could have answered the questions. He replied, "Wow, I really need to brush up on those skills." I assured him that we understand that technical skills can be learned, and that I was trying to find out if his subjective self-assessment was consistent with our interpretation of the word, "proficient."

In an article that we posted on CareerBuilder last year (Top 4 Strategic Interview Styles) you can read more about some traditional interview styles. I suspect that 3-dimensional techniques could be applied to any of those styles.

Michael DeHaven
Michael DeHaven

To add a little more context to this topic, I should make it clear that this was not a hostile or intimidating interview by any means. Mr. X and I discussed numerous topics, laughed, and shared an interview that was very casual. The only potentially hostile moment was near the beginning of the interview when I asked a very standard question like, "What circumstance brings you here today?" When his reply was totally canned, I replied with a smile, "That's a great reply, but I could get that from anyone interviewing for this position. Take a minute to think and give it another try with something more unique to you." I did this to let him know that I wanted to give him a really fair chance to show me what made him stand out from the crowd. Also, after watching him stumble at the whiteboard later in the interview, I walked up and showed him a couple ways that he could have answered the questions. He replied, "Wow, I really need to brush up on those skills." I assured him that we understand that technical skills can be learned, and that I was trying to find out if his subjective self-assessment was consistent with our interpretation of the word, "proficient."

In an article that we posted on CareerBuilder last year (Top 4 Strategic Interview Styles) you can read more about some traditional interview styles. I suspect that 3-dimensional techniques could be applied to any of those styles.

Chris Townsend
Chris Townsend

We recently interviewed candidates for a position that involved, in part, calculating payrolls, account transfers, calculating leave balances, etc. Essentially, it was fairly math-intensive. We selected candidates that had previous experience doing such work, and gave them an opportunity to show us how to do some basic math by selecting real life scenarios our current employee was doing.
What an eye-opener! Some people who claimed to have done it all with one hand tied behind their back couldn't get the figures right. One person dismissed her lack of performance by stating "I don't DO percents". She won't be doing our payrolls, either!
Asking people to demonstrate their skills doesn't have to be threatening or hostile. One can be warm and supportive, but still expect a candidate to demonstrate what they know.

Chris Townsend
Chris Townsend

We recently interviewed candidates for a position that involved, in part, calculating payrolls, account transfers, calculating leave balances, etc. Essentially, it was fairly math-intensive. We selected candidates that had previous experience doing such work, and gave them an opportunity to show us how to do some basic math by selecting real life scenarios our current employee was doing.
What an eye-opener! Some people who claimed to have done it all with one hand tied behind their back couldn't get the figures right. One person dismissed her lack of performance by stating "I don't DO percents". She won't be doing our payrolls, either!
Asking people to demonstrate their skills doesn't have to be threatening or hostile. One can be warm and supportive, but still expect a candidate to demonstrate what they know.

Ron Hendershot
Ron Hendershot

I have used the let's go up to the whiteboard and just "do it" interviewing question style for years. I set the session up in an easy-going collaborative style. Collaborative in the sense that I work together with the candidate to create the answer. In fact I tell the candidate in advance that we will be doing this kind of style so there are no surprises. I also make it quite clear, in advance, that I will keep asking harder and harder technical questions, until they answer ... "I don't know.". I make it clear that "I don't know." is a perfectly acceptable answer and is much better for them versus BS. This style of interviewing is much more effective than the crappy ... "where do you want to be in 5 years?" ... type questioning in which you learn NOTHING about what they can contribute to the organization.

Ron Hendershot
Ron Hendershot

I have used the let's go up to the whiteboard and just "do it" interviewing question style for years. I set the session up in an easy-going collaborative style. Collaborative in the sense that I work together with the candidate to create the answer. In fact I tell the candidate in advance that we will be doing this kind of style so there are no surprises. I also make it quite clear, in advance, that I will keep asking harder and harder technical questions, until they answer ... "I don't know.". I make it clear that "I don't know." is a perfectly acceptable answer and is much better for them versus BS. This style of interviewing is much more effective than the crappy ... "where do you want to be in 5 years?" ... type questioning in which you learn NOTHING about what they can contribute to the organization.

Megan
Megan

I agree with this tactic or a varying form of it. We have interviewees complete a supplemental questionnaire which we created and is specific to our industry. Not only does it tells us before we even sit down face to face with the interviewee if they have the required knowledge to do the job, it shows their penmanship, punctuation and grammar. All of which are required to complete any position within our organization. Then during the interview process we pull from that questionnaire and have the interviewee verbally expand on each question to see how in depth they truly understand each concept. It has helped tremendously in the selection process.

Megan
Megan

I agree with this tactic or a varying form of it. We have interviewees complete a supplemental questionnaire which we created and is specific to our industry. Not only does it tells us before we even sit down face to face with the interviewee if they have the required knowledge to do the job, it shows their penmanship, punctuation and grammar. All of which are required to complete any position within our organization. Then during the interview process we pull from that questionnaire and have the interviewee verbally expand on each question to see how in depth they truly understand each concept. It has helped tremendously in the selection process.

John
John

I think this is a great technique and have done things like this in the past. It is similar to behavioral interviewing where you ask the candidate to provide specific examples of previous experiences and judgment. (Lies have no detail. Ask for details.) Demonstration is even better.

Stephanie commented that she prefers a more comfortable interview (doesn’t want the applicant to perceive that she does not trust them) and that most employees appreciate a pleasant work environment will make the job is desirable to a majority of the prospects, but this will not identify the person most capable of meeting the employer’s performance requirement for the job and therefore assist in the selection process. (In my experience, the appropriate “Definition of Trust” is not that you shouldn’t have to question an employee. It is that when you do question them, you can trust that the will give you the answer that you expect.) To that point, the 3-D interviewing technique is not just about catching the dishonest job candidate, it is really an opportunity for the candidate to prove and impress the prospective employer with their skills and abilities.

John
John

I think this is a great technique and have done things like this in the past. It is similar to behavioral interviewing where you ask the candidate to provide specific examples of previous experiences and judgment. (Lies have no detail. Ask for details.) Demonstration is even better.

Stephanie commented that she prefers a more comfortable interview (doesn’t want the applicant to perceive that she does not trust them) and that most employees appreciate a pleasant work environment will make the job is desirable to a majority of the prospects, but this will not identify the person most capable of meeting the employer’s performance requirement for the job and therefore assist in the selection process. (In my experience, the appropriate “Definition of Trust” is not that you shouldn’t have to question an employee. It is that when you do question them, you can trust that the will give you the answer that you expect.) To that point, the 3-D interviewing technique is not just about catching the dishonest job candidate, it is really an opportunity for the candidate to prove and impress the prospective employer with their skills and abilities.

Lauren
Lauren

I have asked candidates specific questions to understand their perception of their proficiency. For example, "What are some of the functions in Excel that you use most often? Have you worked with Pivot Tables and in what way did it apply to your data?" I think this gets the same effect without the risk of offending the candidate.

Several years ago I was the candidate in a 3 dimensional interview. I was asked to teach the group (11 people interviewing me at once) how to tie their shoes. After I got off to (admittedly) a rough start, the lead interviewer stopped me and in an antogonistic tone asked me how I thought I was doing. Before I could adequately reply, she cut me off and told me to try again. I should have saved us all time because at that moment I decided I had no interest in working for a company that would treat candidates and probably employees in such a demeaning manner.

They may have been looking for someone who who could communicate difficult concepts in an easy manner, or someone who could respond to uncooperative clients, or someone who could handle high stress situations. Point is, it is a risky tactic. I have not and would not recommend that company to anyone -- and now they may be working harder to recruit potential candidates.

Lauren
Lauren

I have asked candidates specific questions to understand their perception of their proficiency. For example, "What are some of the functions in Excel that you use most often? Have you worked with Pivot Tables and in what way did it apply to your data?" I think this gets the same effect without the risk of offending the candidate.

Several years ago I was the candidate in a 3 dimensional interview. I was asked to teach the group (11 people interviewing me at once) how to tie their shoes. After I got off to (admittedly) a rough start, the lead interviewer stopped me and in an antogonistic tone asked me how I thought I was doing. Before I could adequately reply, she cut me off and told me to try again. I should have saved us all time because at that moment I decided I had no interest in working for a company that would treat candidates and probably employees in such a demeaning manner.

They may have been looking for someone who who could communicate difficult concepts in an easy manner, or someone who could respond to uncooperative clients, or someone who could handle high stress situations. Point is, it is a risky tactic. I have not and would not recommend that company to anyone -- and now they may be working harder to recruit potential candidates.

Valentino Martinez
Valentino Martinez

Interviewing is double-edged sword. If you conduct such and interview as described in your 3-D expose, to be fair you would have conduct the same exact interview process for every candidate interviewed. Also, by asking a candidate to perform demonstration of their knowledge, you are introducing a "test" criteria. Interview tests must be qualified by legal and the OFCCP and can be challenged by EEOC relative to how the "test" is conducted and if the test is descriminatory to people who cannot walk up to a whiteboard, etc.

So you, the employer, must be careful on your 3-D approach to interviewing because skills can be taught, and employers can selectively eliminate whole populations (including protected classes) of candidates based on unique tests that only few can comprehend much less pass.

You may also assert that your demo questions are universal and all or most competent candidates should have them. Well, was every current employee now working for a company pass through the same gauntlet? If not, by what justification can you now apply a new screening devise to eliminate people you have hired in the past.

Best of luck in your 3-D model. I hope we don't end up reading about how your 3-D model is now being challenged in court.

Valentino Martinez
Valentino Martinez

Interviewing is double-edged sword. If you conduct such and interview as described in your 3-D expose, to be fair you would have conduct the same exact interview process for every candidate interviewed. Also, by asking a candidate to perform demonstration of their knowledge, you are introducing a "test" criteria. Interview tests must be qualified by legal and the OFCCP and can be challenged by EEOC relative to how the "test" is conducted and if the test is descriminatory to people who cannot walk up to a whiteboard, etc.

So you, the employer, must be careful on your 3-D approach to interviewing because skills can be taught, and employers can selectively eliminate whole populations (including protected classes) of candidates based on unique tests that only few can comprehend much less pass.

You may also assert that your demo questions are universal and all or most competent candidates should have them. Well, was every current employee now working for a company pass through the same gauntlet? If not, by what justification can you now apply a new screening devise to eliminate people you have hired in the past.

Best of luck in your 3-D model. I hope we don't end up reading about how your 3-D model is now being challenged in court.

Jennifer
Jennifer

Stephanie,

I disagree. A job interview is an evaluation. When I am a candidate, I understand that I am there so that my potential boss can evaulate my skills and abilities. There is no reason to take offense when he or she actually attempts to do that. I am a competent professional and have no hesitation in demonstrating that.

Attempting to verify stated skills and abilities does not necessarily make for an unpleasant work environment. The company I work for now has a very rigorous interviewing and background check process. I actually find comfort in that because I know we go to great lengths to hire the best. We have a very good team with a lot of long tenure associates. I attribute that, in part, to hiring the right people in the first place.

Jennifer
Jennifer

Stephanie,

I disagree. A job interview is an evaluation. When I am a candidate, I understand that I am there so that my potential boss can evaulate my skills and abilities. There is no reason to take offense when he or she actually attempts to do that. I am a competent professional and have no hesitation in demonstrating that.

Attempting to verify stated skills and abilities does not necessarily make for an unpleasant work environment. The company I work for now has a very rigorous interviewing and background check process. I actually find comfort in that because I know we go to great lengths to hire the best. We have a very good team with a lot of long tenure associates. I attribute that, in part, to hiring the right people in the first place.

stephanie
stephanie

I prefer to do a more comfortable interviewing and you would be surprised what people will say that they CAN NOT do. Getting honesty is not always about putting people under pressure and honestly if I was interviewed in this way (giving the perception that you do not trust people you interview and potentially your own staff) then I doubt I would be interested in working in that sort of environment if offered a position. In attending some recent recruiter focused trainings through Monster I learned that statistically pleasant work environment is still one of the most important things that candidates look for in a new position. Yes, you could weed out some people that are not honest. However, you could also weed out some people that are perfectly qualified as well (and that you could easily train to use excel).

stephanie
stephanie

I prefer to do a more comfortable interviewing and you would be surprised what people will say that they CAN NOT do. Getting honesty is not always about putting people under pressure and honestly if I was interviewed in this way (giving the perception that you do not trust people you interview and potentially your own staff) then I doubt I would be interested in working in that sort of environment if offered a position. In attending some recent recruiter focused trainings through Monster I learned that statistically pleasant work environment is still one of the most important things that candidates look for in a new position. Yes, you could weed out some people that are not honest. However, you could also weed out some people that are perfectly qualified as well (and that you could easily train to use excel).

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