Final Word on Interview Questions

Final Word on Interview Questions

The Good, the Bad and the Downright Laughable!

There are as many interviewing ‘styles’ as there are people doing interviews. 

Some have training on what to ask, what to look for, etc. Many do not. 

Those interviewers go by the seat of their pants.

Many have natural talent …great intuition and things like that. 

Even an experienced and intuitive interviewer can run into some strange situations. Here’s a story about one such situation…just for a laugh.

We can’t always be serious, right?:

OK, they met in the food court of the mall, just as they had arranged.

The two shook hands (obviously, pre-Covid) and exchanged the usual pleasantries and sat down to get to the interview.

The interviewee was applying for a position as a part time Sales Associate. The Store Manager thought her experience at a local variety store would be acceptable.

She could teach her how to sell if she had the right things going for her.

Things got underway and it became evident the interviewee was probably not going to be able to sell anything to anyone because she was painfully self absorbed and not well versed in proper etiquette.

She was slunk back in the chair and…chewing gum.

Anyway, the Store Manager asked her to describe a time when she had to deal with a customer complaint.

The Store Manager wanted to know how it came about, how it was handled and what the outcome was for the customer.

To paraphrase what the interviewee said…’this lady walked in looking all mad and I said “Hi, so what’s your problem?” 

Would that make you laugh? It certainly made the Store Manager laugh…I mean she laughed out loud!

She had to politely wind down the interview and say good bye. They didn’t even get to what the customer was upset about!

Now, you may be thinking that the Store Manager should have had more control but, think about it…you are sitting across from a person who should be serious about wanting the job you have available to work in your store, and she comes out with that. 

She said “Hi, so what’s your problem?” to a customer. Those were the first words that came to this person’s mind when a disgruntled customer approached? 

Worse, she thought it would be a good idea to let a prospective employer know she had said that!

Of course, it’s laughable. 

And, then there are the interviews that might as well be recorded.

If the human interviewer is asking canned questions and makes the whole process a mechanical exercise, then why not just let a machine talk to the candidate? 

Well, imagine that! There are companies who make an initial assessment of a candidate through the use of machinery. 

The candidate answers the questions asked by a voice on a machine. 

No body language, no physical clues, no clarification possible, just a question and an answer.

That sounds very uncomfortable for the human candidate who is being subjected to questioning by a recorded voice.

That might (?) be ok for some types of work but, even then, I wouldn’t recommend it. Not even for initial screening. 

Imagine when the candidates who were successful in their chat with ‘Rocky the Recording’ get to the real interview. How does that go? 

Perhaps a human greets them and says “Well, we really liked what you said to the telephone so we thought we’d ask you in to, basically, tell us much of the same stuff all over again.” 

Honestly, how would that work? It’s just a ridiculous method and should be abandoned. 

New, time-saving technology can be a wonderful thing. This is not one of those things but plenty of companies are using it. Too bad. 

If hiring the right person is important, then a few minutes actually speaking to a person on the phone would seem worth the effort. 

If you received 150 applications/resumes and through your review process, you or your staff whittle it down to 15, spending 10 minutes on the phone with each candidate would only take 2.5 hours.

Is that really too much? Is that wasted time? And it can be done by a trusted associate. 

So much is lost when human interaction is removed from the situation. Both the employer and the candidate lose. 

The best interviewers know that. 

The best are warm and welcoming. They are professional and serious and, also, pleasant. They talk a bit and listen a lot.

They probe when they get to something that warrants probing.

The best interviewers have long ago abandoned ‘canned questions’ and would never even consider machine generated questions!

They are far more interested in ‘understanding’ the candidate. 

It was Albert Einstein who said “Any fool can know. The point is to understand.”

They ask relevant questions expecting a thoughtful response from a serious candidate. 

One question that works, particularly well at various levels in retail, is “How was your performance measured in your last position and how did you do?” 

It’s a big question. The necessarily detailed answer will give you tons of material to work with.

If you have a serious and thoughtful candidate they will lay out, for you, what performance standards they were required to meet – discussing various KPI’s – and whether or not they met them. 

Their answers give the interviewer lots of detailed information to drill down and to get a clear picture of the candidates performance against employer targets.

The purpose of the interview is to ensure fit with the company and business unit and to determine if the candidate is the best out of those qualified to do the job.

Soliciting information that will not get you to that point is of no use.

You need to find out what you actually need to know to make an informed decision.

Canned questions beget canned answers.

Finally, remember that even the very best interviewers will make the occasional hiring mistake – the kind of mistake which shows up relatively quickly. 

What should you do if this happens?  


Don’t feel bad, don’t make excuses and don’t spend valuable time trying to salvage the situation. That’s like throwing away good money after bad. 

Talk to your HR department and find out how to remove the person. 

Just take your lumps and move on.