Why interview questions fail

By Scot Herrick | Job Search

Sep 10

There are only three interview questions: can you do the job, are you motivated to do the job, and can you work with the manager and team? All other questions are variations of just those three.

Unfortunately, when you look at the hiring manager and the questions that they ask, they tend to focus on the first question: do you have the job skills to do the job? The typical job description is no help as it lists hundreds of job skill requirements (or so it seems) and then casually mentions that the candidate “needs to work well in a fast-paced environment” or some such nonsense not even related to the other two questions that need asking.

Yet, if you look at the hiring of candidates, “46% of the newly hired will fail in the job in the first eighteen months with only 19% being an unequivocal success.” The better interview questions to ask:

If managers focus more of their interviewing energy on candidates’ coachability, emotional intelligence, motivation and temperament, they will see vast improvements in their hiring success. Technical competence remains the most popular subject of interviews because it’s easy to assess. But while technical competence is easy to assess, it’s a lousy predictor of whether a newly-hired employee will succeed or fail.

So it’s not the hundreds of job skills required that are causing the failure, but, instead, our inability to learn on the job, our ability to get along with others, and our motivation to do the work — the other two of the only three interview questions.

As hiring managers, it is more important than ever — you know, in our fast-paced work environment… — to ask questions that examine the emotional smarts of candidates and how they work on teams. To ask how they go about learning new job skills and what kind of constructive criticism works best for them to improve on the job.

If we broke the time to ask the only three interview questions into thirds — one third job skills, one third motivation and one third ability to work with manager and team — we’d have a better balanced interview that would lead to a more successful hire.

As interview candidates, we’re used to showing how we’ve achieved our hard-earned job skills back to the hiring manager. But there isn’t much information on our resumes about how we learned to emotionally handle difficult teams, tough situations or how we overcame adversity. Sure, we can tell our stories during the interview, but it’s tough for anyone to evaluate motivation and ability to get along with teams from resumes. It is almost always in the interview.

And then, most of the time, the motivation and working with the team questions don’t get asked.

So a clue to job interview candidates: if you are in an interview and most of the time is spent on your motivation for the work and how you will fit into the team — and you’ve prepared in those areas — you are dealing with a hiring manager that’s asking the right questions.

Describe for me a situation where there was difficulty on the team and how you used your emotional intelligence to handle that situation…

  • Scot says:

    @Puneet — Different people work better under different circumstances. So your management style — how you communicate, how you set expectations, how much you micromanage — all impact how well someone else works.

    You may be a manager that gives a task to a person and doesn’t worry about how to go about getting the task finished and not check with the person to see how well the task is getting completed.

    But the person receiving the task wants to know how to complete the task, wants you to check in to see if there are questions to answer and wants reassurance that they are taking the right direction to complete the work.

    Because you have different styles of working, you’ll drive each other crazy. And when you drive each other crazy, the manager always wins.

    Hope this helps and thanks for taking the time to ask the question.

  • Puneet says:

    Hi Scot,

    How to answer “what is your management style”. What is the interviewer trying to understand from this.

    This was a question i was asked in an interview?


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