Certain interview questions don’t set up all job candidates for the same chances of success.
Here some of the things recruiters should stop asking applicants if they want to level the playing field.
“Tell me about a time when . . .”
Framing a question in this way may give certain interviewees a leg up — but others may slip through the cracks because they don’t have much to share.
Adam Grant points out why “behavioral questions” like “tell me about a time when . . .” are problematic in an August 2017 post on “Wondering,” a monthly feature in Granted. He argues that they’re biased toward people with “richer” work experience.
Grant writes about the pitfalls in a post:
(a) They’re unfair—they give an advantage to candidates with richer experience. Ask a bunch of applicants how they handled a serious conflict with a colleague, and odds are you’ll get a better answer from the one who happened to face the biggest conflict.
He also goes on to add that these questions don’t pertain to a candidate’s current position or company, are about what happened “in the past,” not what’s ahead, and that “they’re too easy to game.”
Instead, citing research, Grant recommends posing “situational questions,” such as “what would you do if…” because interviewers can predict the person’s “best performance” and evaluate their “leadership and interpersonal skills.”
“What is the most interesting technology product on the market today?”
Natalie Johnson features this question as an example of bias in a HuffPost article. She argues that assessing the answer “can be highly subjective,” even though it’s used to gauge if applicants know about their field.
Here’s one of the questions Johnson suggests asking instead in order to assess the responses objectively and to see how much the applicant understands and is involved in their line of work:
Tell me about a new innovation/new piece of research/new technology you’ve recently learned about and/or have started using. How did you hear about it? How has it affected your work?
“What is your biggest weakness?”
Asking a question about weakness isn’t always the strongest tactic when face-to-face with candidates.
Alison Green writes about this question in an article for U.S. News & World Report, mentioning that it is “a cliché at this point” since almost all applicants have a “canned” response.
It rarely elicits useful information, and what’s more, a good interviewer will be able to make her own judgments about a candidate’s weakness. It’s hardly helpful to hear “I work too much,” “I’m a perfectionist,” or the other disingenuous responses candidates are taught to give.
Off-limits: illegal interview questions
Keep in mind that just because you can technically ask someone something, it doesn’t necessarily mean you should.
It’s worth pointing out that it’s reportedly illegal to ask applicants certain questions — including ones about religious holidays — during an interview.
Asking about salary history has also made headlines recently. Employers in New York are losing their ability to ask candidates about their salary history with a law that goes into effect this October, and more than 20 states are deliberating enacting similar legislation, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Try these tips instead
Instead, here are some tips on asking effective questions during interviews, according to the Harvard Business Review.
The article suggests steering clear of questions that are “easy-to-practice,” citing the classic examples of “what are your greatest strengths and weaknesses?” and “what’s your dream job?” alongside other queries.
It also says to see how well candidates can “solve a problem,” and to “avoid duplication” by not picking questions about things that were detailed in a phone interview or their resume.
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