With an election on the doorstep, our newsfeeds are about to be filled with politicians dodging the tough questions posed throughout their campaigns.
But while Bo Jo might be an old hat at spinning an answer, in real life, very few people love to be interviewed. So the majority of us are familiar with the nerves and stress that comes with preparing to explain your career and life choices to a total stranger in a way that completely sells you as the ideal candidate to work for that company.
This doesn’t disappear at executive level. In fact, the only thing that changes between interviewing more junior candidates and senior ones, is that 95% of senior candidates are passive and weren’t actively looking to move jobs in the first place.
This means, it’s up to you to sell the opportunity as much as it’s up to them to sell themselves.
Which is why it is important to make a good impression and not scare away potentially great talent with stupid interview questions.
There are three main categories to avoid:
1. The illegal questions
While not illegal in the strictest sense of the word, these types of questions open the door for a discrimination lawsuit. It is important to avoid asking anything that relates to the candidate’s age, race, gender, nationality, religion, disability or marital status.
“How often did you take sick days in your last position?”
“What arrangements are you able to make for child care while you work?”
“How long do you plan to work until you retire?”
2. The trick questions
What you may think is a strategic question designed to predict their future behaviour is probably just a clichéd question that’s going to elicit a clichéd response.
Questions like: “why shouldn’t we hire you?” or “what is your greatest weakness?” are most likely going to result in the candidate giving you a self-depreciating example of one of their flaws or they may brag that they “work too hard” or that they are “a perfectionist, who cares too much”, neither response is helpful to anybody in the interview process.
Even worse, ““What salary do you think you’re worth?” The candidate will either high-ball the number they need to try to show how awesome they are or low-ball the number they need to show their humility.
Any good executive search consultant would have discussed and briefed you on this beforehand, so the questions shouldn’t be necessary. But, if you feel you do need further discussion, ask what salary range they are looking to be in, and more detailed salary negotiations can happen at a later stage.
3. The plain ridiculous questions
“You’re a new addition to the crayon box. What colour would you be and why?”
“Are you more of a hunter or a gatherer?”
“Estimate how many windows are in London.”
“A penguin walks through that door right now wearing a sombrero. What does he say and why is he here?”
Questions that don’t have a correct answer but are designed to see how people respond — that is, hearing their thought process, and seeing how well they keep their cool.
These questions undoubtedly make the candidate uncomfortable and they may panic and blurt out a completely ridiculous answer. But then if you ask a stupid question…
So what sort of questions should you be asking?
The best questions to ask are ones that quickly tell you what you need to know about a candidate’s skills, tangible achievements, leadership approach, career motivations and potential cultural fit. They should focus on the skills that you want candidates to have and the contributions that you most want the candidate to make—if hired.
Questions should focus on finding out three things;
- Can they do the job?
- Are they motivated to do the job?
- Will they fit with your team/business? i.e. will they enjoy working with you and will you enjoy working with them.
Well thought out competency based questions on how they have approached work related scenarios will help understand a) and c).
It is also important to gauge what their motivations for applying for the role are and why they want to work for your company. Even though senior hires are generally passive, they will still have legitimate reasons for considering other opportunities and it is up to you to understand if those reasons are the right ones for the company.
Finding out if the role you are interviewing for is what they really want to do or is a stepping stone to something else can be more difficult. Asking “What interested you the most about this position?” and then drilling down further into their answer can help to answer b).
Interviewing at a senior level is a balance between discovering if the candidate is the right person for the role and selling the opportunity to a potentially passive candidate. While it can be tempting to throw in some curveball questions here and there, be careful not to scare candidates off.
What’s the most ridiculous thing you’ve ever been asked at interview? I’d love to hear your horror stories so please do get in touch!