Interview tips for hiring managers to ditch the scripts

Job interviews are quite absurd and ironic if you think about it.   Most hiring managers ask the same banal questions.  Below I outline interview tips for hiring managers to ditch the scripts.  This will  elicit really valuable answers. Both sides enter an interview seeking to learn the truth about each other and yet what is learnt is generally  filtered and many steps away from the stairway of full disclosure and transparency.  What should be a  direct, authentic, real and engaging discussion is often jammed packed with embellishments, tangents, ego’s and irrelevancies. 

Honesty is  denied or curtailed, interrogations strutted, critical information omitted and ignorance and arrogance sucks the oxygen and humanity out of the room.  Ah the absurdity of the interview institution. We are hardwired to minimise personal pain and maximise comfort. So to move the process along many on both sides will take the default position of assuaging agony  by :

 “just telling others what they may want to hear”

I’m not saying this is always conscious and deviously done, but it’s become almost normalised for both sides to move through the interview asap with this  mindset.  The irony is that reality and rhetoric of what is said and heard doesn’t  always match as is evidenced in the high staff turnover statistics.

PWC research found that  nearly 1 in 4  employee’s leave  their  new job within 12 months 

The cost of this turnover in Australia was estimated at $3.8 billion in lost productivity and $385 million in avoidable recruitment costs.  The damage to morale, brand  and culture is unquantifiable and cause for great concern.

Just like a Shakespearean play, everyone has their part  foisted upon them and enters the interview stage with a given character, costume and  mask.   Well-rehearsed, inane and trite questions and lines are memorised and tick and flick Q&A pads affixed as stage props.

Improvisation is rarely encouraged and without agile ad-libbing training the actors don’t have the skills to flip the play around to match the different audience and outcomes of each performance. Interviewers mostly ask the same rehearsed hackneyed questions in the same  manner and the interviewee answers with the same rehearsed hackneyed responses.

The Google highway is filled with a plethora of articles on how candidates should answer standard and difficult interview questions.  And HR, recruiters and hiring managers  follow  a standard list of questions – so everyone is prepared with robotic inanity – how absurd.  Even when an unusual question is thrown in it is generally totally irrelevant to the job and culture.  What has the type of bottle, animal or mountain you resemble have to do with anything?    It’s scary that some companies consider such frivolous questions useful in their cultural  measurement matrix’s.

Interviewing to truly uncover who is behind the mask  is a specially trained  skill. It’s more aligned to investigative journalism than HR if you think about it.   Andrew Denton was a master of it in his acclaimed ‘Enough Rope series’.  He was was able to get his  guests to share  far more information and truths than they ever intended.  Interviewing candidates, and candidates interviewing hiring companies is so important and yet most get it so very wrong  because of the old entrenched scripts and inability to free fall conversations.

Behavioural interviewing (CAR = Context, Action, Result) has been the interviewing fashion for the last 20 years and the ideology  is sound in part.   And  CAR achievements and examples  is critical for inclusion in a CV.

But  whilst CAR can and should still be a component  of the interview framework it needs revaluation and a move away from full reliance.  There are documented and significant risks levels for inaccurate and exaggerated answers due to well rehearsed responses.   Sure you will be able to spot inconsistencies and gaps when digging deeper into CAR situations  but it must be used very holistically and wisely.   There are just far too many people who have the gift of the gab and can easily and fraudulently sell ice to eskimo’s,   so remember:

‘ all that glitters is not gold ‘

The current  major focus on CAR script questions often thwarts determining how a candidate can solve your specific problems and fit in culturally and actually prove that they can.  I am a big believer in role plays, hypothetical task activities, off the record meetings and demonstrating skills and attributes in agile and unexpected situations.

We need to get interviewers away from traditional scripts and be confident and malleable  to become improvisational conversation wizards.  Humanising interview questions is the lynchpin for stronger hiring outcomes. Questions are the answers when framed and given at the right time in the right way with the intent of transparency.

10 Off the Script  tips 

DO – Firstly and mostly importantly reset the mindset away from a  ‘candidate vs company’  interview.  Reframe to a client vs client mindset – an equal meeting.

DON’T – ask the vague ‘Tell me about yourself’ question.   Reframe it to exactly what you would like to know about – ie: “ Tell me about your last 5 years work experience” or “Tell me about your career objectives”.  Be very clear on your expectations.   Every interviewer wants to hear different things and candidates are not mind readers.  This question causes so much stress because of the ambiguity.  Be direct and you will see if the candidate really listens to questions (and therein is a golden outcome)

DO – encourage a platform and culture of storytelling vs rigid Q&A.

DO – Ask “what you would love to learn more about?” (vs: ‘what are your major weaknesses’) Ditch this ludicrous weakness question.  No amount of justification, reassurance or rationalisation will make it logical.  Yes I hear you say it shows self awareness BUT there are far better ways to determine EQ and past triumphs over adversity scenarios.

DO – Flip the last question of ‘do you have any initial questions?’ to the front of the interview.  The answers from the candidate will steer the interview into a more robust and purposeful problem solving exercise IF they have done their research. If they haven’t, you won’t need to spend a full 1 hour or so with a disengaged candidate.  Preparation and research is always a  2- way street.  And the question of course can be added in again at the end.

DO – Offer a compliment to the candidate when they arrive – they will be so surprised and this will often change  their own communication script.

DO – Give candidates permission to be ‘real’.  Comment upfront that no candidate or company is perfect (ie ditch the ego) and that you want to have a real human chat and it’s ok to be ‘real’ .  And truly believe it yourself – don’t just say it. It’s about getting rid of your illogical judgements also and humanising the process.

DO – Ask “ how you would  handle XYZ if it happened?” (vs : how did you handle XYX in the past). Hypothetical questions really show up competencies.

DO – Discuss the biggest issue your staff and business face now – be transparent, not just the PR  silver lining rhetoric.

DO –   Take them out of the office and into a café or bar with the team.

People by nature also like to feel comforted in the familiar.  Taking an off the script humanising interview approach can seem daunting – especially for those who are shy.  But the results are really amazing. You will learn more in just one initial interview than you will across multiple standard interviews. But the 2nd interview must then take the next level of ‘off the script’ up a  notch.



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