Your Hiring Managers Are Still Asking Dumb Questions

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Oct 6, 2016

When I was a teenager and applying for a job the manager who interviewed me asked what even then I thought was about the dumbest question: “Where do you see yourself in five years?”

Seriously? Asking that of an 18 year old?

Now comes an Accountemps survey that tells us hiring managers haven’t changed much. Senior managers were asked: “When interviewing job candidates, what is your favorite question to ask?”

Just imagine what a candidate must think when she’s asked:

  • “If you could have all the ice cream in the world, how many different flavors would you take to make a sundae and how many toppings would you pick?”
  • “What kind of animal would you be?”
  • “Use an ad slogan to describe yourself.”

Those are the ones that grab headlines and become fodder for stand-up comedians. They’re just too irresistible not to make fun of.  Of course, the managers who ask questions like these will defend them as an attempt to discover how a candidate thinks through a problem, or how they respond to the totally unexpected.

A waste of time

Generally, though, those weird, off the wall questions that once seemed so clever have been deemed “a complete waste of time” by no less than Google’s Laszlo Bock.

If you’re an HR leader or anyone in TA, the truly worrisome part of the survey are the questions senior managers actually believe will help them learn who among the candidates are the ones they should hire; the “A” talent. What are these questions? As predictable as a sunrise, here’s a sample:

  • “Why do you want to work here?”
  • “What did you like or dislike about your last job?”
  • “What are your strengths and weaknesses?”
  • “Where do you see yourself in the future?”

They knock out the C players

What’s wrong with these questions? Fundamentally nothing, if the objective is to weed out the unprepared, the lazy, and the mediocre. Anyone with even an ounce of initiative can discover the right way to answer them just by Googling “interview questions and answers.”  They don’t even have to dig very deep. The No. 1 result is a list from The Muse of 31 of the most common interview questions and recommended answers. All of the Accountemps survey’s most popular questions are on the list.

Maybe in the days before the Internet, these questions had merit. But no more. What’s particularly sad is that these managers actually believe they are learning about the quality and the personality fit of the candidates they’re interviewing. If asked at all — and I’m not suggesting they are completely worthless — these questions need to be supplemented with behavioral and specific type of questions geared to identifying “A” talent.

Except for a survey ERE did this year, it would be of some comfort to note that Accountemps surveyed senior managers at companies of at least 20 employees. A manager at a 20-person company or at a 100-person company or even a 500 person concern is not likely to be all that seasoned or senior. But our ERE survey — State of Talent Acquisition Survey 2016 — had hiring managers at large (thousands of employees) and very large companies claiming they do a better job sourcing and recruiting candidates than their TA team.

We didn’t ask them about their favorite interview questions, so it’s possible theirs are more penetrating and perceptive. I don’t believe that and I bet neither do you. We’re in good company. Writing about hiring managers and their poor interviewing skills, Dr. John Sullivan observed, “In fact, some hiring managers have as high as an 80% error rate in selecting the best candidate from interviews.”

What to do?

What’s to be done? That’s not easy to say. In that same article, Sullivan points out that, “The traditional form of interview training doesn’t seem to have a significant positive impact on improving hiring results.”

If “traditional training” means the usual compliance-focused type designed to keep the company out of EEOC trouble, then it’s no surprise it does little to improve hiring quality. On the other hand, if traditional training isn’t effective, then look to non-traditional training. Maybe start by asking your own hiring managers for their most favorite questions. Then gently educate them as to why they don’t do much to identify top talent and those with great promise.

Here’s another suggestion: Identify successful hiring managers and have them do some role-playing with their colleagues. If it comes from a peer, a hiring manager is more likely to be receptive than if someone from TA conducts a class — though that, too, can be helpful for delivering the wake-up call.

ERE offers a talent advisor training course. Designed by TA leaders and recruiters, it is for recruiters. But it includes an entire section on the interviewing life cycle. If your own recruiters have just been thrown into the job — as often happens in generalist environments — taking the course and having them translate parts for their hiring manager partners can benefit both. Experienced recruiters can refresh their own interviewing skills and then work with their hiring managers to help them improve.

Whatever you do, do something to help your hiring managers be more effective interviewers. It will be so much better than having their favorite question end up on Jimmy Kimmel.