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Skip the Brainteasers: The Interview Questions You Should Be Asking

Interview QuestionsIf you’re fond of asking candidates quirky job interview questions like, “Why are manhole covers round?” or “How many trees are there in New York’s Central Park?” in effort to see how well they think on their feet, you might want to save your breath next time.

According to Google SVP of People Operations Laszlo Block, brainteaser questions are “a complete waste of time.” A recent audit of Google’s hiring process revealed no correlation between the way candidates answer brainteaser questions and how they will perform as employees. “They do not predict anything,” he told The New York Times recently.

Hiring expert Nancy Newell, SPHR would agree. The principal at Nth degree consulting recently spoke at the 2013 SHRM Conference and Exposition on how hiring managers and recruiters can make the most of the interview process.

According to Newell, the best predictors of employee performance are behavioral interview questions – questions that begin with phrases like, “Name a time when…” and focus on past behavior. “Past behavior is the best predictor of future behavior,” Newell told the crowd during her session, Beyond Behavioral Interviewing: Asking the Right Questions, Evaluating the Answers.

Block and Newell both agree that behavioral interview questions provide two key pieces of information:

  1. The ability to see how a candidate actually interacted in a real-world situation.
  2. The ability to see what candidates consider as “difficult” or “challenging” (if, for example, you asked, “Name a time you dealt with a difficult client and how you resolved the issue.”)

In addition to asking behavioral interview questions, hiring managers and recruiters should take the following steps to ensure a more effective job candidate interview process:

Before the interview process…ask yourself the following questions:

  • What MUST the candidate be able to do? What must they be able to do that you can’t team them? This usually refers to soft skills.
  • What are the MOST important components of the job? Keep the list between three and five bullets.
  • What are the drivers of success in my organization? Use your “A-players” as a model, and go from there.
  • What am I willing to TEACH someone? If you know you’re willing to teach certain skills, there’s no need to screen for it. Focus your time on must-have skills.
  • What questions do I want to ask? Make sure you’re asking the same questions of every candidate; otherwise, you can’t accurately measure one against another.

During the interview…

  • Ask behavioral interview questions. As mentioned above, behavioral based interview questions provide the most accurate insight into a candidate’s future behavior, and they also reveal whether the candidate’s idea of “difficult” (or “challenging” or the like) align with your own.
  • Collect data. You can evaluate the information later, but the interview is the time to collect data.
  • Ask follow-up questions. No one answers the question completely the first time around. Give them the opportunity to correct. Really probe, get clarity. Get to the ‘why’. Be curious.

After the interview…

  • Look for patterns in the answers. Patterns indicate how people see the world.
  • Get feedback and input from all interviewers.
  • Evaluate the candidates. Now is the time to take the data you’ve gathered during the interview process and use it to evaluate the candidates.
  • Check references. References provide a different perspective of the candidate and tell you things you might not learn otherwise. (In fact, a recent CareerBuilder survey revealed that 69 percent of employers have changed their minds about a candidate after speaking with a reference.)

Finally, remember that you can’t avoid hiring mistakes completely. There is no “magic bullet” when it comes to hiring the perfect candidate; however, a well thought out, disciplined interview process will get you as close to making the right hire as possible.

Mary Lorenz

About Mary Lorenz

Mary is a copywriter for CareerBuilder, specializing in B2B marketing and corporate recruiting best practices and social media. In addition to creating copy for corporate advertising and marketing campaigns, she researches and writes about employee attraction, engagement and retention. Whenever possible, she makes references to pop culture. Sometimes, those references are even relevant. A New Orleans native, Mary now lives in Chicago, right down the street from the best sushi place in the city. It's awesome.
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