How to Avoid Asking Job Candidates Stupid Questions – Interview Tips for Employers
As a new resident of the Atlanta area, I’ve been to a fair amount of job interviews. Some of them have been good experiences. But to my surprise (and mild amusement,) many interviewers make me wonder if I’m the victim of a gag being recorded on hidden cameras. Of course, I do not claim to have perfect interviewing skills myself. I’ve stumbled upon a few really good questions that have taken me by surprise. But I’ve read enough career articles to know the basics about having a successful job interview. I do my homework. And for the most part, I’m prepared when I walk in the door. It’s a shame I can’t say the same thing about the employers that have recently brought me into their office to discuss a potential job.
One common attitude I find among bad interviewers is the idea that they don’t have to impress the job candidate. Employers assume because they are the ones doing the hiring, that it is completely up to the job candidate to make an impression. It’s true that it’s up to the candidate to sell herself. But don’t forget; job interviews work both ways. The employer is also being interviewed by the applicant. To the employer – If you blow it, you may let a superstar hire walk out the door wanting nothing more from your company than to share the interview experience for laughs during happy hour (or in a published article.)
Here are five tips that may save you some embarrassment while making the interview process more effective for both of you:
Set time aside for the interview – and respect the applicant’s time.
I’ve been on many interviews that were constantly interrupted. If my appointment wasn’t completely forgotten about, I’ve certainly felt like it was the last thing on the employer’s mind sometimes. I understand that businesses are very busy places. There are undoubtedly important phone calls and special situations that may put the interview on pause for a few minutes. But at least make an effort to give the interview your undivided attention. You, or someone at your workplace liked the person’s resume and thought they were worth a look. You owe it to your company and the job candidate to take time for a productive meeting. Put your cell phone on vibrate. Stop checking your blackberry for email. Tell the secretary you are in a meeting and post a sign on the door. Oh, and it probably wouldn’t hurt to make eye contact with the person you are interviewing. The person you have in your office could be that dream employee that could actually make your job easier. That’s probably the reason you are hiring – to take some of the load off, right? Remember that as you multitask, placing your job candidate second.
Look at the applicant’s resume – before the interview.
“So, what is your name again?” It’s a good thing job candidates take along copies of their resume to the interview because some interviewers have never even laid eyes on it. It’s always obvious. When I get called on an interview I assume it’s because something on my resume stood out and caught the employer’s attention (or passed the barrage of keyword tests.) My resume made the cut. It got placed into the good pile. At the interview, I am prepared to give examples, explain, or answer questions about my experience (that is conveniently listed in chronological order on my resume.) But all too often, the interviewer hasn’t bothered to preview my resume and I’m forced to recite the oral version to give them a starting point. (I DELETED STUFF HERE.) I don’t think employers appreciate how much work goes into a resume. But more importantly, they can be a real time saver if you bother to read them. At the very least, gloss over the resume. Make notes and highlight the applicant’s skills and experience you would like to know more about. It doesn’t take much time, and it gives you a guide by which you can ask the candidate intelligent questions relevant to their work history.
Don’t do all the talking.
While job seekers definitely want to know everything there is to know about the company, I don’t suggest doing all the talking. I think some people feel uncomfortable conducting interviews. To hide the fact that they have not done their homework on the person sitting in front of them, they just start talking. Save the history of the business for later. As a job seeker, (and I think I speak for many of us) we don’t need to know who founded the company on the first interview. What we really want to know is if we can (or want to) fill the position that was advertised. Most people want to succeed at their job. Job candidates need to know if they will be a valuable asset to the company. They are not concerned with getting familiar with all 5,784 of your products just yet. It’s ok to run out of things to say or ask. Just be comfortable with silent pauses. It may prevent you from asking stupid questions (see tip # 5.) You can also tell more about a person when you keep quiet and let them ask questions. Which brings me to tip number four…
Know enough about the position or job to answer questions about it.
I once got invited to an interview where the people from the department for which I was applying were not present. The person interviewing me could not answer my questions pertaining to the job. Not only was this frustrating, but it was a complete waste of time. No one was there to expand on the job description and determine if I had the skills necessary to fit the bill. So, after taking a rather lengthy personality test, I politely listened to a narrative about the company’s history. After that, I was slightly amused by some of the most random and absurd questions I’ve ever heard. “What are your morals?” was one of those questions I’ll never forget. I doubt it, but I hope that question pops up again one day. I’d love to see the interviewer’s face when I reply; “I believe in working my way up the corporate ladder with sexual favors.”
Avoid Cliché Questions.
There are two reasons not to use those tired, cliché interview questions. 1. Applicants have heard them all before and they have the tired, cliché responses well-rehearsed. Even if they are young and inexperienced they have easy access to the recommended answers. As I write this now, I’ve come across an article from Associated Content entitled “How to Answer Cliché Interview Questions.” 2. Cliché questions don’t get to the meat of what you really want to know. Be direct and get to the point. “What is your favorite color” is not something that should be part of an adult conversation. Neither should; “If you were an animal, what kind of animal would you be?” And if you ask me; “what is your biggest weakness?”, I might tell you tell you “chocolate.”
Why beat around the bush? If you want to know if the candidate can stick to a plan, ask them. If you need to know that their personal goals are compatible with the company’s goals, just go ahead and ask them! The “Where do you see yourself in five years?” question is like expecting someone to predict the future. Think of yourself five years ago. Did you see yourself where you are today? Let’s get with the times. We live in an age where the business landscape can change radically from year to year. You should be asking candidates what they can do for you in the present. Instead of asking them to make predictions five or ten years from now, find out how quick they can adapt to ever-changing business conditions in the future.
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