Interview Techniques or Interrogation Tactics?

This is an old article that has been converted to a blog post for thematic reasons. The original, for as long as it exists, will be here.


Hiring in today’s competitive and well informed job market is more challenging than ever. Job candidates have resources, especially on the Internet, that allow them to know what to say and how to handle most standard interview questions. This piece offers ways for employers to weed out those who may not be the right fit but who excel at interviewing.

While sitting in on a panel interview for a manager position at my company, I started getting an itch in the back of my brain.  You know the one, that intuitive need to look beyond the well-practiced answers of someone who is savvy at being interviewed. It’s an instinct that says, “He knows how to answer questions like: ‘What you be doing in 5 years?’ but can we really trust him?” A quick glance around the table told me all I needed to know.  The other members of the panel were buying his masterful answers hook, line, and sinker.  As it came time for me, the last of the questioners, to start my interrogation, I almost stood up and walked in front of him as if he were a hostile witness in a courtroom.

Of course I didn’t stand up, but I did hit him with a two part whammy.

Interrogation Begins

First, I asked him to tell me about his thoughts on wine. He had already mentioned that his family had a winery and that he intended to take it over when his time came, 10-20 years from now.  He loved the business and knew it like the back of his hand.

“Tell me what you would do if you took over the family business tomorrow.”

He smiled.  His response was far from rehearsed but bespoke an inherent grasp of the subject matter.  It was like hearing George Lucas talking about Star Wars.  He knew it inside, outside, sideways and upside down.

Second was the question I really wanted to ask: “Now, tell me what you would do if you took over our email campaigns tomorrow.”

He had listed “running a proper email campaign” as one of his primary business skills.  Was he truly versed in it, or did he list it because we had listed it as one of the primary responsibilities for the job?

His answer was adequate – nothing special – and had I not preceded the question with something of which he had intimate knowledge, his response would have probably sounded good.  By comparing the two, however, it was clear that he knew everything about wine, but only had a basic knowledge about running email campaigns.  His was the kind of answer that anyone could get if they Googled “running an email campaign” the night before an interview.

I asked a few more questions on other topics important to the job, just to confirm my hunch.  He was definitely smooth. He definitely knew how to answer interview questions. The sort of guy who had likely learned one or two of those “Toughest Interview Questions and their Answers” books.

So, we didn’t hire him. We gave the job to a less polished but more real guy.

In today’s ultra-competitive business environment, people have the resources available online to present their qualifications and knowledge in the best light.  They can learn through experience or research what questions will be asked and how best to answer them. For today’s top executives needing to hire managers and leaders for their organization, it is important to have some questions that cut through the normal responses like a scalpel.

They need to master Interview 2.0 techniques.

It’s okay to get personal

Although I’ve written this post from the employer’s perspective, a smart candidate will quickly ‘get’ what I’m saying, and use my advice to prepare for interviews more effectively. Chances are if you’ve walked out of an interview thinking “That was easy! More like an informal chat than a job interview”. Beware, that REALLY was the interview. It’s safer to assume that there’s no such thing as small talk in a job interview.

One of the biggest mistakes that employers make is that they do not get personal enough in an interview.  There are boundaries depending on the law of the land that define what one can ask — anything that stinks of discrimination has to be avoided.  Still, it’s possible to get personal without asking “What church do you attend?”

When starting with personal questions, always precede it with a disclaimer.  “The questions I am about to ask you may get personal.  If at any time you feel that you do not want to answer, just let us know and we will skip the questions.”

Once the disclaimer is out of the way, find out what you can about the person.  What do they like to do when not at work?  Do they have a blog?  Do they prefer to cook or go out to eat? What did they do last weekend?

These questions may seem frivolous, but it isn’t in these answers that you are judging them.  From their responses, you will find something that you can latch onto.  It’s the follow-up question that makes the difference.

Say, for example, that they like to play video games when not at work.  What is their favorite game? Have them describe the game to you.  Ask them how often they play it?  Do they play online?

What about cooking?  Does someone else cook for them?  What is their favorite meal?  Favorite restaurant?  How do they handle it when their order doesn’t come out properly?

Blogging – do they have one?  Many?  Do they read blogs?  What are some of their favorites?  Do they write for any others?  Share photos?  Are they involved with social media or social network sites?  Do they have a Facebook account?  LinkedIn?  Digg? YouTube?

Now, you’re probably wondering, what’s the point of all of this knowledge? If they’re into solo RPG’s, they’re likely more into strategy and independent. This guy will likely do well with a project that he’s solely responsible for. What if they always eat ready-made meals or have mom do all their cooking? They’ll likely lean on their teammates and be good at some things, but without a supporting team they aren’t going to shine. What does maintaining your own blog say about you? If you have a blog, I want to read it before giving the thumbs up. Bloggers tend to be passionate, team players and want to share, help others and connect.

When you get someone talking about something that is part of their daily lives, you have a better chance of gleaning how they will handle particular situations in their professional lives.  Life happens every day.  Interviews happen once in a while. Get them out of interview mode and make them talk about something they do normally.  The way they react to normal situations is a closer representation of how they will respond in normal work situations.

Unrelate them

They have an idea about the job for which they are interviewing.  You have an idea of the person you want to hire.  Separate yourself and the candidate from the “Job” and talk about something else.  Find a common ground that both you and the candidate are familiar with, not work related, and have a conversation.

Sports.  Movies.  Books.  Television shows.  Local news (avoiding politics and religion, of course).  Find something and talk about it. Get their input.  Share your thoughts.  Discuss how the local football team just acquired a new center.  Does Heath Ledger deserve the Oscar? What’s going to happen next season on Lost?

If you’re still wondering what exactly the point to all this is. Here’s the thing. When you can talk man to man, woman to woman, woman to man, whatever, you have the opportunity to talk casually on equal ground.  How strongly do they feel about things?  How are they at expressing their opinions?  Can they take a sticking point in the conversation and either agree or agree to disagree with you?  These are important traits to monitor that often do not come out in a standard

Put them in your shoes

If you have a client that you are extremely interested in, have them interview you.  There is nothing worse than finding out after an offer has been made that there is something about you, your company, or their new position that they didn’t like.  Tell them that they need to be thorough, that the job is as much about you wanting them as it is about them wanting to work for you.

Listen to their questions carefully and answer them honestly.  You will find out what is important to them in a company.  Within the first or second question, you should know their primary motivation for wanting to come to work for you.  If they don’t know the salary, and they don’t ask now, that isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but is shows that either they are confident that the money will be adequate or that money is not their primary motivation.  It could be the benefits.  It could be the chance to get into a field that they have always wanted to be in.

How they interview you will tell you the final things you need to know to make a good decision.

10 questions to ask to throw them off their game

For many, being interviewed is a game.  Sometimes, the best people for a job are the ones who can handle an interview like a champ. Sometimes, the best person for a job can’t interview well at all.  Here are some questions to take them out of interview mode and put them into a state where you can properly judge their responses:

  1. If you were stranded on a desert island, what would you do to get home?
  2. If you could have dinner with anyone, dead or alive, what would you order for them?
  3. Do you like to listen to music when working?  If so, what do you like to listen to?
  4. What was the last blog you read?
  5. What is your dream vacation?
  6. If you could be either well-organized or a great problem-solver, but not both, which would you be?
  7. Do you work well without other people?
  8. If you caught your boss stealing from the company, what would you do?
  9. What was your favorite part of this interview?  Least favorite?
  10. If you could redo one answer to one question during this interview, which would it be?

Remember, they should be prepared for you.  Assume that. They have the resources online to help them answer standard interview questions like a pro.  Let them answer these questions, then give them questions for which they were not prepared.  The cream will rise to the top.

* * *

I’m a Christian, a husband, a father, and a son. I am founder of Soshable and Hasai, two social media marketing firms, and Director of New Media for TK Carsites, the automotive internet marketing division of KPA. You can find me on Google+, Facebook, KPA, Tumblr, Pinterest, and just about anywhere else that’s social.

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