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Job Seekers: Your Questions are More Important than Your Answers

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One of my first posts on this LinkedIn Influencer site, The Most Important Interview Question of All Time, was read by more than 1.5 million people. Here’s the quick summary of the question and process:

First describe a major challenge in the open job and then ask the candidate to describe something he/she accomplished that was most comparable. It takes about 12-15 minutes of peeling the onion asking all of the related who, what, when and how fact-finding questions to fully understand the accomplishment. If the person answers this first question properly you then have to repeat the question for 3-4 other major team and individual problems or challenges the person hired is likely to face on the job.

Based on this information you’ll be able to see a trend line of the candidate’s performance over time and compare it to the real job needs of the position.

While the question technique is effective it does require a knowledge of real job needs before interviewing candidates. To address this, I suggest that all job descriptions include the top 5-6 KPOs (Key Performance Objectives) required for on-the-job success. As a minimum each KPO should describe the task in some detail, some measure of success and the required change. For example, for a warehouse supervisor a KPO could be, “Set up a training program during the first month to ensure seasonal workers are fully productive within three days from starting.”

Quality of Hire Scorecard

After the interview, it’s best to use a Quality of Hire Talent Scorecard to make the assessment for ability, fit and motivation. The graphic scorecard shown is from our Performance-based Hiring mobile digital application which includes the factors we’ve seen best predict on-the-job performance, fit with the company culture and job satisfaction.

While the technique is highly accurate for predicting on-the-job performance, most interviewers won’t ask the appropriate questions nor dig deep enough. In these cases, job seekers need to take matters into their own hands. Following are some ideas on how candidates can ensure they’re being interviewed accurately. (This post describes how recruiters should prep their candidates can also help.)

How Candidates Can Improve Their Interviewing Performance

  1. Ask about real job needs. Early in the interview ask the interviewer to describe some of the big challenges in the job and how the newly hired person’s performance will be measured.
  2. Give 1-2 minute answers. Forget the long-winded answers or two-sentence responses. It’s best to talk in paragraphs giving examples of accomplishments related to real job needs.
  3. Ask forced-choice questions. By asking if a critical skill is important for job success you can proactively ensure the interviewer knows your strengths. For example, if you’re strong at collaborating with non-technical people, ask if this will be an important job need. Then give a few examples of how you successfully used the skill.
  4. How to answer trick questions. When confronted with any question that doesn’t seem reasonable just ask how it relates to real job needs. If it’s a problem that needs to be solved first get some clarifying details before giving an example of something you’ve accomplished that’s most comparable.
  5. Find out where you stand. At the end of the interview ask about next steps. If the interviewer says anything other than you’ll be invited back, ask if there are gaps in your background that don’t meet the real job requirements. Find out what these are and then, if possible, give examples of accomplishments that best meet the performance needs of the job.

While knowing real job needs and asking about the candidate’s most comparable accomplishments is a valid interviewing technique, most interviewers still ask generic or pet questions that focus more on personality and presentation rather than performance. In these cases, candidates must take matters into their own hands to ensure they’re fairly and accurately assessed. As important, the initiative shown by the candidate in these instances will brand the person as an insightful and motivated person who understands how to deal with people and what it takes to get results. Surprisingly, you’ll discover this will be more important than giving the right answers.


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Lou Adler (@LouA) is the CEO of The Adler Group, a consulting and training firm helping companies implement Performance-based Hiring. He’s also a regular columnist for LinkedIn, Inc. Magazine, SHRM and BusinessInsider. His new Performance-based Hiring self-paced learning course – The Hiring Machine – is now available 24/7. His latest book, The Essential Guide for Hiring & Getting Hired (Workbench, 2013) provides hands-on advice for job-seekers, hiring managers and recruiters on how to find the best job and hire the best people.