Why some job interviews are downright weird


woman being interviewed for a job

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Hiring the right person for the job can make an enormous difference to the success of an organization. Yet a startling number of employers are incredibly un-rigorous when it comes to interviewing, says author Alison Green, and creator of the workplace advice column Ask a Manager.

It’s obvious why hiring’s important: strong employees get far better results than mediocre. You’d think that employers would put real effort into how they interview and hire.

You’d expect that they’d conduct rigorous screening of job applicants, and use real data to figure out which interview questions vet candidates most effectively.

Yet in many cases, you’d be wrong.

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Alison Green

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Companies need to get serious about hiring well – and training their interviewers, says Alison

They give their interviewers little or no training and often leave them completely on their own when it comes to figuring out what to ask job candidates. As a result, we’ve got some really bad interviews happenings out there.

Some hiring managers treat the interview like a social get-together, chatting pleasantly and treating the meeting as a casual “get to know you” session, rather than really probing into the candidate’s skills and experience and ability to excel in the role.

Sometimes candidates leave these interviews feeling like they really built rapport – but they realize later that they never really got to talk about the job and how they’d approach it. And, no surprise, this interview style leaves hiring managers hiring the candidate who they clicked with the most – which doesn’t have any correlation to who’s best matched with the job.

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Terrible interviewing techniques won’t help companies evaluate candidates

Other interviewers use goofy questions like “if you were an animal, what kind of animal would you be?” or even “What would I find in your refrigerator right now?”

These questions must have felt clever to someone at some point, but they have no connection to the job – and they tend to make job candidates uneasy, since they’re worried there’s a “right” answer that they don’t know about.

I even once heard from a job seeker whose interviewer asked to look in her handbag – saying that it would show him how organized she was.

Some interviewers have clearly been told that it’s helpful to devise exercises or simulations to see candidates in action – which it is – but they don’t quite get the execution right.

I heard from one job seeker, interviewing for a job in education, whose interview took place in a crowded sandwich shop. During the meeting, her interviewers pretended to be rowdy children who she had to manage – they started running around the restaurant and throwing things at each other, while innocent bystanders tried to eat lunch.

In addition to the fact that terrible interviewing techniques won’t help companies evaluate candidates as well as they need to, all of these interviewers apparently are forgetting that interviews are two-way streets. Strong candidates will be evaluating them right back and passing their own judgments – not good ones in these cases.

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Interviews are a two-way street, candidates will also be passing judgement on the interviewers

Companies need to get serious about hiring well. That means training interviewers on how identify what skills and experience are truly needed to excel in a job, and helping them develop interviews that will test for those things – rather than leaving them on their own to wing it and conduct interviews without real rigour behind them.

On the candidate side of things, it’s easy to feel like you’re at the mercy of terrible interviewers, and to some extent that’s true. But candidates can also push back when an interview seems to be going off the rails. If you’re asked a silly question like what breakfast cereal you most identify with, you can say, “That’s an interesting question. Why do you ask?”

If you’re stuck with an interviewer who isn’t actually talking about the job or your possible fit for it, you can say, “Would it be all right for me to talk you through my professional background?” You can ask directly for them to tell you more about the job and what they’re looking for in a new hire.

But ultimately, this one is on employers to fix, and the only way to do it is with real training in how to hire – something you wouldn’t think would be so hard to find.

For more workplace letters from Alison Green and other contributors, download the World Business Report podcast.


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