4 Questions You Should Ask to Start an Interview Instead of “Tell Me About Yourself.”

By Jeff Altman, The Big Game Hunter

One of the most frequently quoted statistic in talent acquisition is that approximately 46% of new hires are judged as failures within 18 month of being hired (Leadership IQ). Nearly half the leaders hired from outside by an organization fail within the first 18 months (Harvard Business Review). Worldwide employee engagement is at 15% (“State of the Global Workplace,” Gallup). No one goes out of their way to attain results like this but, clearly, no one is hiring with the end in mind.

Although many like to point to point to how data-driven hiring is replacing hiring for “fit” when interviewing, the facts suggests that (“hiring for fit”) is still prevalent in the selection process for new hires and that managers are incapable of doing so because they lack real data about how someone would actually fit. Even when technology is used that purports to compare the potential new hire with those previously hired, the data set for the existing employees is old. These people have already changed since being hired making the data obsolete.

Interviewing has developed into a mechanistic process. Yes, identical questions should be asked of potential hires to identify skills competence but, going beyond those questions, the questions asked do little to source the truth from people. After all, with most interviews starting with, “Tell me about yourself,” that yields information about what the potential hire has done professionally and how it matches up to the requirements of the job, what are you really learning about the person other than personality attributes that you project onto them that have little basis in reality.

For example, I remember debriefing a hiring manager after an interview who told me many negative qualities about the person they met with. “How do you know that,” I asked and then listened to silence and an explanation of their opinions about the person. “Congratulations. It sounds like you have taken certain qualities in yourself, split them off and placed them on this person. After all, you asked nothing to allow yourself to determine that.”

And that’s the problem with hiring. The people charged with hiring are ill-equipped to assess for fit, are on good behavior with the potential hire and forget that the job hunter is on good behavior, too. What needs to change is creating the environment where someone believes someone gets to know them and that it matters to you.

  1. Instead of asking, “Tell me about yourself,” ask, “What’s most important to you in the next job or organization? What will you need to see or hear to believe we would be the right choice for you?” Why waste your time and theirs if you can’t provide it?
  2. Once you’ve determined your firm has an opportunity that could meet their objectives, ask them, “Why do you do what you do?” What you will find out is how they decided to work in this profession and attain this level of success. For example, “I started off as a software engineer in school and now manage a team of engineers. I became a manager because . . . “You have taken them off the scripted answers they are prepared to answer and started to facilitate their opening up to you and revealing something of themselves.
  3. “What did you want to be when you were growing up?” This will teach you about their childhood dreams and afford you an opportunity to hear their passion completely unfiltered. “I wanted to be a pitcher for the Yankees.” “I dreamed of being a ballerina with American Ballet Theater.” Look for their excitement and their embarrassment (often shared in the form of an awkward smile or laugh.
  4. “How did you get from their (Yankee pitcher/ballerina) to here?” Do not judge the answer. We know that reality set in. For me who wanted to pitch the Yankees, I discovered I didn’t have talent. Maybe the same is true for the ballerina. The interesting thing is how they got from there to here. The story may go on for a few minutes but listen carefully. The stories shared will often explain how you can tap into their hearts, provide them with the positive recognition so many desire and inspire them when you start to manage them..

Then start asking questions that will help you evaluate the skills and experiences the person would bring to you and your organization.

If you treat people like machines, like a machine, they will eventually break. Often, what breaks first is their spirit, desire and passion. By identifying and fostering those qualities in your people, you can help keep them stay engaged and inspired as long as you lead from that place instead of from one where you treat people as disposable and replaceable.

Originally Published on Forbes.com




Jeff Altman, The Big Game Hunter
Jeff Altman, The Big Game Hunter

Jeff Altman, The Big Game Hunter is a career and leadership coach who worked as a recruiter for more than 40 years. He is

No BS Hiring Advice Radio
No BS Hiring Advice Radio

the host of “No BS Job Search Advice Radio,” the #1 podcast in iTunes for job search with more than 2000 episodes, and is a member of The Forbes Coaches Council.

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