Job interviews are quite absurd and ironic. Both sides seek to learn the truth about each other, yet what is learnt tends to be so filtered and often miles away from what is actually needed.
Ah, the absurdity of the interview institution! What should be a direct, authentic, real and engaging discussion is often jam-packed with embellishments, tangents, egos and irrelevancies.
Research by PwC has found that nearly one in four employees leaves their new job within 12 months. The cost of this turnover in Australia was estimated at $385 million in avoidable recruitment costs, and a staggering $3.8 billion in lost productivity.
It’s clear that current scripted interviewing and hiring methods need to change to reduce this burden on businesses, since reality does not always meet rhetoric.
The interview norm
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 tweak the play around to match the different audiences.
The Google highway is filled with a plethora of articles on how candidates should answer standard and difficult interview questions, while hiring managers and recruiters tend to follow a standard list of questions – so everyone is prepared with robotic inanity.
So, of course, the result is that interviewers mostly ask the same rehearsed hackneyed questions, delivered in the same manner, and the interviewee answers with the same rehearsed responses.
The unscripted interview
Interviewing to truly uncover who is behind the mask is a skill involving special training. It’s more aligned to investigative journalism than HR.
Reflect on the mastery of Andrew Denton in his acclaimed Enough Rope TV series. He was able to extract from guests far more information than they intended to give.
Behavioural interviewing techniques (CAR = Context, Action, Result) have been the interviewing fashion for the past 20 years. While the ideology is sound in part, and CAR should still be a component of the interview framework, it needs revaluation and a move away from full reliance.
There are just far too many people who have the gift of the gab and can easily (and fraudulently) sell ice to eskimos. Interviewers must be brave, confident and malleable and go ‘off script’. They must train to become improvisational conversation wizards.
Tips for conducting off-the-script interviews:
1. Reset the interview mindset to be a two-way business discovery meeting.
2. Don't ask the dreaded and vague ‘Tell me about yourself?’ question. Be clear and specific about what you are seeking to know – i.e. 'Tell me about your last five years' work experience', or 'Tell me about your career objectives going forward'. Be creative and not lazy.
3. Encourage a platform and culture of storytelling versus rigid tick and flick Q&A.
4. Ask 'What would you like to learn more about?' Ditch the ‘What are your major weaknesses?' question – there are far better Q&As to determine EQ and self-awareness.
5. Flip the last question of ‘Do you have any initial questions?’ to the front of the interview. This will show just how prepared and keen the candidate is and can flip conversations to demonstrate far greater competencies and fit. You can still ask the same question at the end.
6. Give candidates permission to be ‘real’ and be ‘real’ yourself. No company, manager or candidate is perfect – leave egos in the basement.
7. Ask 'How would you handle XYZ if it happened?” (as opposed to 'How did you handle XYZ in the past?'). Hypothetical questions really show up competencies. It’s time to go ‘off script’ to really uncover who people are under the interviewing masks.
Sue Parker is the founder of recruitment services business DARE Group.
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