While it may not seem this way to folks who’ve endured one or more job interviews lately, employers actually make it easy for candidates to come up with the “right” answers to questions.
Some of the most commonly asked interview questions are leading questions, meaning they are phrased in a way that prompts the desired answer, according to Leadership IQ, a Washington, D.C., research and management consulting firm.
“Many questions have a built-in flaw whereby they elicit rehearsed replies,” says founder and CEO Mark Murphy, author of “Hiring for Attitude” (McGraw-Hill, 2012), which teaches hiring managers how to ask tougher interview questions.
An example of a flawed question Murphy gives in his book: “Tell me about a conflict with a coworker and how you resolved it.”
The question has any number of variations: “Tell me about a challenge and how you overcame it;” “Tell me about a failure and what you learned from it;” “Tell me about a time you had to adapt to a difficult situation.”
“Every one of them contains a tip-off on how to game a response that showcases the good and hides the bad,” Murphy writes.
Leading questions give a well-prepared candidate an opportunity to showcase successes (persevering, developing, adapting) without revealing any shortcomings or weak spots.
These tip-offs ultimately aren’t in the best interest of candidates. A new hire who provides the “right” answers in an interview may soon find out that she’s all wrong for the company. Murphy says that more new hires fail because of poor fit rather than lack of skills or technical competence.
Suppose employers heed Murphy’s advice and start asking tougher interview questions. What should candidates anticipate and prepare for?
Using Murphy’s model, a hiring manager’s questions might start out the same way as before but will stop short of steering the candidate. Example: “Tell me about a customer you found especially difficult to work with.”
The interviewer doesn’t ask for a solution or resolution (“How did you deal with it?”). But strong candidates will invariably offer one as part of their response, whereas low performers might simply provide a character sketch of an “impossible” customer.
In order to answer these sorts of questions well, a candidate must be familiar with the corporate culture. A candidate who tried to win over a prickly customer with a singing telegram must realize that not every company will think this was a brilliant act of diplomacy.
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