May 4, 2011

Interview Questions: You need just one

Filed under: For Managers, Interviewing, Job Search

Dying to become relevant again, Monster.com sent out a promotional e-mail today, with a big, fat, blue title at the top:

There’s more to recruiting than finding the right candidates.

Well, no, there’s not. Finding the right candidates is 100% of what recruiting is and must be, or you wind up having to use 50 stupid interview questions to sort out all the wrong candidates.

The e-mail links to an article on the Monster.com website titled The 50 Toughest Interview Questions to Ask or to Answer. Proof positive that Monster.com is still totally irrelevant.

The Top Stupid Interview Questions

There used to be a book, published by Adams, titled 2,800 Top Interview Questions — And Answers! I always had a fantasy about that book. You walk into the interviewer’s office. You smile broadly and shake hands. “Glad to meet you! Let’s get down to business and have an interview!”

Then you slide that baby across the desk. ”Here are all the questions… and the answers! Now you’ve got them, and I’ve got them, and we don’t need to waste our time on them. Now we can do something useful, and talk about the work you need to have done!”

Instead of teaching job candidates to talk shop with the hiring manager, career experts outdo themselves rehashing and regurgitating that list. And every book of those questions comes with answers — digested and marinated in expired creative juices, and about as satisfying as a bolus coughed up by the last person who interviewed with the manager.

One Good Interview Question

Back in 2003, the editors of FastCompany magazine put together a cover story titled, All The Right Moves: A guide for the perplexed exec. It was a collection of 21 Q&As for managers. Editor Bill Breen sent me a question and asked me to write a “memo” to managers with my advice. (Later, Breen told me that his boss, FastCompany founder and publisher Alan Webber, thought this one tip was the best of the 21 in the feature. Yah, I was tickled.)

I still think you can toss out every list of Top Stupid Interview Questions, whether it includes 50, 200, or 2,800, and just ask the one question I discuss in this FastCompany column, which is reprinted below. And Monster.com can go suck rocks.

16 . What is the single best interview question ever — and the best answer?

Memo from: Nick Corcodilos, author, headhunter, and publisher of the Web site Ask the Headhunter.
To: Hiring managers everywhere
Re: Reinventing the job interview

The purpose of any interview is simple: to determine whether the candidate can do the job profitably. A smart interview is not an interrogation. It’s not a series of canned questions or a set of scripted tests that have been ginned up by HR. An interview should be a roll-up-your-sleeves, hands-on meeting between you and the candidate, where all of the focus is on the job. Think of the interview as the candidate’s first day at work, with the only question that matters being this: “What’s your business plan for doing this job?”

To successfully answer that, the candidate must first demonstrate an understanding of the company’s problems, challenges, and goals — not an easy thing to do. But since you desperately want to make a great hire and get back to work, why don’t you help the best candidate succeed? Two weeks before the interview, call up the candidate and say the following: “We want you to show us how you’re going to do this job. That’s going to take a lot of homework. I suggest that you read through these 10 pages on our Web site, review these publications from our marketing and investor-relations departments, and speak with these three people on my team. When you’re done, you should have something useful to tell us.” This will eliminate 9 out of 10 candidates. Only those who really want the job will put in the effort to research the job.

At the interview, you should expect (or hope) to hear the most compelling question that any candidate can ask: “Would you like me to show how your company will profit from hiring me?” The candidate should be prepared to do the job in the interview. That means walking up to the whiteboard and outlining the steps that he or she would take to solve your company’s problems. The numbers don’t have to be right, but the candidate should be able to defend them intelligently. If the candidate demonstrates an understanding of your culture and competitors — and lays out a plan of attack for solving your problems and adding something to your bottom line — you have some awfully compelling reasons to make the hire. But if you trust only a candidate’s references, credentials, or test results, you still won’t know whether the candidate can do the job.

Recruiting is still — and always has been — about finding the best candidates. But the best candidate isn’t the one who can answer that question. The best candidate is the person who asks it.

How Can I Change Careers? picks up where that FastCompany column leaves off. And it’s not just for career changers. It’s for anyone who wants to stand out in the job interview. The book explains why this “single best interview question ever” for hiring managers is also the single best question for candidates to bring up in the interview.

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5 Comments on “Interview Questions: You need just one”
By Lucille
May 6, 2011 at 3:20 pm

So how do you get out of the phone screen? The one where they ask random technical questions about obscure facts about some of the technical qualifications you have on your resume?

By Simple Chief
May 10, 2011 at 10:51 am

Great post. As a hiring executive I am constantly astounded at how rare it is to have a candidate show up for an interview prepared to talk about how he/she can help me solve my problems. Any candidate who does this jumps to the top of the heap immediately!

By Melissa
May 10, 2011 at 8:52 pm

Lucille raises a good point. How does one blow off the random technical questions and force the interview to the nitty-gritty?

By Nick Corcodilos
May 10, 2011 at 9:22 pm

@Lucille, Melissa, You avoid the phone screen by not applying for the job.

I’m serious. Phone screens are done on people who follow the process. Submit the resume, fill out the app, wait to be processed. The phone screen is part of the process.

If you get referred to the boss by a friend, employee or trusted contact of the boss, then you skip all the nonsense. Maybe the boss will call you first, but that’s not a “phoner” – that’s two people talking casually. Managers don’t subject friends of friends to phoners.

So next time, cultivate the contacts. Don’t apply. Don’t fill out forms.

Once in the interview, try this. “Glad to meet you. And I’m glad to answer any questions you have. But at some point during our meeting, I’d like to use your whiteboard over there to outline how I think I can help make your business more profitable, by showing you how I’d do this job.” If the manager is either game or curious, you win. As long as you’re ready. You’re ready, right? ;-)

By Bill McEntee
May 17, 2011 at 1:54 pm

Nick,
Great reminder in response to Ms Lucille’s question; those screen calls are just what they are, eliminators.
In those cases where I’ve had interviews, and usually there is no white board or such, including the pad for taking notes has been a lifesaver. I’m sure you mentioned that somewhere along the way, so thanks again for the “Let me show you how I’d… ” technique.

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