This morning a video appeared in my newsfeed, which was published by Antonio Giugno (CEO and founder of Recruitd. com) under the title „Would you accept the job after an interview like this?“ in mid-February 2018 (see: https://youtu.be/JXTxmtM_aPI) and which provides some food for thoughts on the question, how job interviews should be set up in order to get the most benefit out of it.
Although there is certainly no lack of good advice on this topic (Google throws out 21.300 German search results for the term „Bewerberinterviews“ and 6.21 million English-language search results for the term „Job Interviews“), including a large number of professional articles in business networks, such as LinkedIn or XING, or frameworks and checklists provided by professional consulting firms, I used the video as an opportunity to document my own experiences with job interviews in this blog.
First of all, I am neither an HR expert nor a psychologist. My following hints and tips are based on my many years of experience as a line and project manager with hundreds of job interviews over the past 25 years. Based on this experience, enriched by insights from various interview trainings and observations of professional interviewers and colleagues, I have developed an interview method for my personal use, which usually enables me to lure candidates out of the reserve and get to know them as well as possible within the limited time frame of a job interview.
By its very nature, getting to know each other is only successful if a candidate has the opportunity to answer open questions in as much detail as possible and if the interviewer is really interested in the applicant’s person and not only pretends to be so. I totally agree with the basic statement of the video posted at the beginning that standard questions such as „What are your main strengths and weaknesses?“,“How would you describe your leadership style?“ or „Can you tell me the main reason why I should hire you for this job?“, which a candidate can answer more or less briefly and on the basis of prepared answers, do not really provide a good basis for the selection of a candidate.
Each job interview represents a stressful exceptional situation for the candidate. Therefore, as an interviewer, I first try to create a pleasant atmosphere of conversation by introducing myself and telling something about myself, which serves to loosen up and relaxes the formal atmosphere of conversation, e. g. that I am interested in ancestry research, that I can trace my line of ancestors over 29 generations back to the year 1368 and that one of my ancestors was beheaded on October 26, 1657 and burned as a witch at the stake.
In the next step, I ask the candidate to tell me something about himself/herself which is not in the CV, but which he/she considers important/worth mentioning. Many candidates respond more remarkably to this question by explaining their careers (shown in the CV) or they simply find it difficult to characterize themselves (which in some cases may be due to their initial nervousness).
If the candidate does not take this question as an opportunity to characterize himself with his essential qualities, strengths and weaknesses, I usually ask specifically in order to understand who the person behind the candidate is.
Above all (but not exclusively) for candidates who already have considerable professional experience, I am interested in the significant successes or achievements they have accomplished in their career, or whether there are any notable achievements, of which they may even be particularly proud. The response to this question, including the applicant’s body language, is usually very informative.
Depending on the answer, I ask the candidate to explain why this success is particularly important from his/her point of view, why he/she is particularly proud of it, what the essential success criteria were, which made the success possible, what resistance had to be overcome and what personal contribution the candidate made to the achievement of this success. Note: It is important to work out exactly this personal contribution of the candidate. Not everyone who has worked in a successful project or organization has contributed to the success of the project or organization. If the candidate’s answers are not sufficiently concrete, I will usually ask for a more detailed explanation.
Experience has shown that the reverse question of the greatest personal failure or the biggest personal defeat is less expedient, because candidates naturally try to present themselves in the best possible light and to avoid spreading their dirty laundry in front of the interviewer’s eyes and ears. However, e.g. for candidates who are all too self-confident, this question can make sense.
Incidentally, admitting a personal defeat is no problem at all – on the contrary. We are all human beings, life is not a pony farm and each of us probably has experienced personal defeats. It is much more important to deal with the situation and, as an experienced interviewer, one quickly notices whether the candidate constructs an ad hoc response or whether his/her description is authentic. This also applies to the questions in the following short insertion.
On August 9, 2018, a very good article was published in the German Business Insider under the title „The recruiting boss of Allianz explains which question causes most applicants to stumble„, which contains further good questions and from which the following quotes are taken.
- For example, if you are one of Allianz’s more than 100,000 applicants, you might face the following questions during the interview: „What idea did you put into practice that was a resounding failure“ or „How do you communicate a management decision to your team, you do not agree with?
- There is one question the Allianz recruiting boss personally asks quite often because it reveals a lot about applicants – the question of failures and what the applicants have learned from it. „People don’t expect it because in an interview you’re always anxious to present yourself well.“
- Furthermore, as an applicant at Allianz, you may be asked: „Have you ever broken the rules to achieve a goal?“ Or you are asked to report a situation where you could not keep a promise.
After this short insertion I would like to continue with my interview system.
„What inspires you and under which conditions do you like to work?“ and the reverse question „What is bothering you and what demotivates you?“ are further meaningful questions. The answers to these questions are interesting in that they allow conclusions to be drawn about the candidate’s behaviour within the team – as a team member, employee or superior. At this stage of the interview at the latest, the applicant has usually given up his or her initial nervousness and is able to answer unbiasedly.
To round off this, it may make sense to ask a few technical questions in order to check whether the candidate actually has the qualifications and experience outlined in the CV, e. g. „What do you think characterizes a good IT strategy?
In order to gain an impression of the extent to which the candidate has dealt with my company, additional questions such as „Did you notice anything during the preparation of our interview that we as a company could do better from your point of view?“ – which follows Steve Job’s famous citation „It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and then tell them what to do; we hire smart people so they can tell us what to do“.
If the candidate does not ask for it on his or her own initiative, I give him or her my open and honest feedback at the end of the interview, what I liked and what I didn’t like and ask the candidate to give me feedback in the opposite direction. The interview ends with the agreement of the next steps, which must of course be followed by both sides (references, undertaking/rejection).
Three final clues that are important to me:
- The empirical value „A’s hire A’s and B’s hire C’s“ (see: http://www.hrdusa.com/As_hire_As.html) often applies. A good supervisor can be recognized, among other things, by his ability to put together such a good team that makes himself superfluous in the medium term, because the team is able to achieve top performance without any significant guidance from above. For this reason, job interviews should always be conducted by several people (e. g. an HR representative, a supervisor, a colleague, a partner) who document their impressions and align them after the interviews.
- The composition of a top team is like haute cuisine. A top chef will undoubtedly pay attention to top quality in the selection of his ingredients; however, the harmonious taste experience results crucially from the coordination and interplay of the ingredients and the skills of the maître de cuisine in the preparation. If you only cook with beans and potatoes, you are most likely to get a bean stew, which may taste good, but the probability is rather high, that you won’t be able to „win a flowerpot“, as we say in German, in the international competition of top chefs. However, anyone who has the courage to bet on diversity will be rewarded by an extraordinary taste experience – whereby the „diversity“ in the selection of candidates for a job should not only refer to criteria such as gender, nationality or qualification, but also to the character of the team members (e.g. introverted vs. extroverted, emotional vs. rational, chaotic vs. structured, …). And please don’t forget: new brooms sweep well, but the old ones know the corners.
- A good preparation and follow-up of the interview is essential. There is nothing more embarrassing in an job interview than interviewers who begin to read the CV during the interview. The same applies to agreements made in the course of the interview as well as to the underwriting/cancellation within a reasonable period of time. If an interviewer asks for references, then he should make a bloody effort to obtain feedback from these references or inform the applicant if the decision is not in his/her favour. I believe that this is a question of respect for the applicant.
If you like this blog, please take a look at my three blogs:
- „What CIOs really expect from Account Managers“ from April 16, 2017
- „Personality Development: Why you should give good tips to bad waiters …“ from Januar 18, 2017
- „The Secret of Happy Children“ from August 1, 2017 – which is unfortunately only available in German language so far (note: you may use http://itools.com/tool/google-translate-web-page-translator to translate the last blog from German into English language).
P. S.: As always, I will be happy to receive your feedback and suggestions for improvements to this blog.