Google’s HR Boss Laszlo Bock receives 50,000 resumes every week.
And while that means Google doesn’t struggle to find people who want to work for them, finding the people who will end up performing best is always a challenge.
So how does Bock suggest organisations should sort the best candidates from the rest?
In his new book Work Rules!, Bock strongly recommends going against the trend of many innovative companies, and steering clear of the faddish “brain teaser” or problem-solving questions or an informal chat over coffee.
He also rubbishes long-established questions like “What is your greatest weakness?” and “What is your greatest strength?”, calling them ‘worthless’.
Instead he says the best interview is a more traditional, structured interview.
Because the data says so. According to research from the University of Iowa that analysed 85 years of hiring data, a structured interview is almost twice as successful at predicting a candidate’s potential work performance than an unstructured one.
Furthermore, Bock thinks that most unstructured interviews are a “waste of time”, pointing to the fact that interviewers make unconscious judgements about candidates in just the first ten seconds of the interview. This creates a situation where the rest of the interview is spent “trying to confirm what we think of someone, rather than truly assessing them.”
The Structured Interview
Structured interviews involve asking each candidate the same set of standardised and job-specific questions, with clear criteria to assess the quality of responses.
One of the main benefits of this type of interview is that it helps to eliminate or at least minimise bias by asking the same questions of everyone.
Though this standardised style may seem “bland”, it will in fact allow the spectacular candidates to stand out from the good, as they’ll be able to come back with much better examples and answers.
Studies show that candidates themselves have a much better interview experience during a structured interview – even if they’re unsuccessful – which also benefits your employer brand and can strengthen your recruitment in the long run.
Given these benefits, why don’t more employers commit to structured interviewing? According to Bock, it’s usually down to the extra work involved:
“They are hard to develop: You have to write them, test them, and make sure interviewers stick to them. And then you have to continuously refresh them so candidates don’t compare notes and come prepared with all the answers. It’s a lot of work, but the alternative is to waste everyone’s time with a typical interview that is either highly subjective, or discriminatory, or both.”
Structured interviews can take on two forms of questioning:
- Behavioural: where you ask candidates to describe prior experiences or achievements and how they match what is required in the role (e.g. “Tell me about a time when . . .?”); or
- Situational: where you present the candidate with hypothetical situations relevant to the role and analyse their answers (e.g. “What would you do if . . .?)”
A good interview will use a combination of the two – as well as other techniques such as asking for work samples or cognitive ability tests where these might be helpful.
What questions should you ask?
If you’re wondering where to get started, Bock recommends an unlikely source of great interview questions – The Department of Veterans Affairs (DVA).
The DVA website lists dozens of potential interview questions designed to help interview candidates to prepare.
The website divides the questions into different levels corresponding to the seniority of the role:
- Level I—Frontline staff, those who do not supervise others;
- Level II— Supervisors, Team Leaders, Work Unit Leaders;
- Level III—Mid-level managers are generally those who supervise Level II staff or division, department, or service line managers; and
- Level IV—Executive leaders, those responsible for the overall functioning and outcomes of the organisation.
They then divide those questions into sub-categories designed to measure a candidate’s ability in specific areas – everything from creative thinking to technical skills.
Below we’ve chosen 28 of their questions that we think would be great for NFP managers to ask.
While you’ll probably want to adapt these for your organisation, using them as a guide will be a great step towards better, more reliable interviewing.
Level 1: Tell me about a specific time when you made a suggestion to improve the quality of the work done in your unit/team. Tell me about a specific time when you made a suggestion to improve the efficiency of your unit/team.
Level 2: Give examples to illustrate how you have generated ideas that represent thinking “outside the box.” How were your ideas received by others? What became of the ideas?
Level 3: What projects have you started on your own? Why did you start the projects? What did you learn from doing the projects? What were the results?
Level 4: Describe a creative endeavour you can take ownership for that impacted on the efficiency or effectiveness of your organization.
Customer or Client Service
Level 1: Give a specific example of a time when you had to deal with an angry client/customer. What was the problem and what was the outcome? What was your role in diffusing the situation?
Level 2: Tell me specifically which co-workers in your organisation are your customers. What have you done specifically to improve the service you give these internal customers?
Level 3: Give an example to illustrate how you have improved the experience of 1) your internal customers, and 2) your external customers/clients. How did you determine improvement was needed and how have you determined the effectiveness of the improvement.
Level 4: In the past, how have you obtained and incorporated customer/client feedback into your organisation’s planning and service standards? Give specific examples.
Flexibility and Adaptability
Level 1: Tell me about the last new procedure you had to learn in your job. Tell me what specifically was the hardest aspect of learning the new procedure. Tell me specifically what you liked best about learning the new procedure. How well is the new procedure working now?
Level 2: Tell me about a time when you had to deal with two very different employees that could not be treated the same way. How did you deal with each? How did you decide what you were going to do? How well did your intervention with each employee work?
Level 3: Describe a major change you have made in the past two years. How did you accomplish the change? What difficulties did you encounter and how did you work through the difficulties? What personal factors assisted you in making the change? Would you do anything differently if you had to do it again?
Level 4: Describe a time when you were faced with an obstacle to an important project? What did you do? Were you able to overcome the obstacle? What step(s) did you take?
Level 1: Give a specific example of a time you had to deal with an upset co-worker, client, or other customer. What was the person upset about and how did you handle it? What was the outcome?
Level 2: Tell me about a specific time when those with whom you were working could not agree upon the course of action. How did you approach the situation and what was the outcome?
Level 3: Describe the most challenging negotiation in which you’ve been involved. What did you do? What were the results for you? What were the results for the other party?
Level 4: Tell me about a time when you had to use your presentation skills to influence someone’s opinion. How did you prepare for the presentation? What points did you emphasise? How was the information received?
Level 1: There are times we work without close supervision or support to get the job done. Tell us about a time when you found yourself in such a situation and how things turned out.
Level 2: Describe a time when you worked as a member of a team to accomplish a goal of your organisation. What role did you play? Describe how the team worked together. What was the outcome?
Level 3: List three characteristics you feel you possess that make you a sensitive, effective leader. Give a specific example to illustrate the application of each to your work setting.
Level 4 Tell me specifically what you have done to create an atmosphere of trust and empowerment within your sphere of influence. What tangible results have you seen from your efforts?
Level 1: Describe a time when you received negative feedback and turned it into something positive.
Level 2: Describe a negative work experience you learned from. Describe the circumstances and give an example to show you applied the learning to a work situation.
Level 3: Everyone has made some poor decisions or has done something that just did not turn out right. Give an example of when this happened to you. What did you learn? What would you do differently?
Level 4: Tell me about a specific time you sought specific feedback on your performance from subordinates. Specifically, how did you use the feedback? Cite specific changes resulting from the feedback?
Level 1: How does the work you are currently doing affect your organisation’s ability to meet its mission and goals? Do you think your work is important? If yes, why? If no, why not?
Level 2: In your current job, what organisational change have you made or contributed to that you are proud of? How did you go about making the change? What has been the impact of the change?
Level 3: Tell me about a specific time when you had to assist your staff in understanding the relevance to the organisation of an aspect of their work. What mechanisms did you use to communicate with them? How effective was the communication? How did you evaluate that effectiveness?
Level 4: Tell me about a specific decision that you made within your organisation that had unexpected consequences outside your organisation. How did you deal with those consequences?
These are just a small sample of questions from the DVA website – you can read the full list here.
Do you already use structured interviews in your organisation? Do you have other interview processes that really work for you? We’d love to hear about your experiences in the comments below!