Back in my college days, I had a friend named Willie.
Willie was a riot. He was the life-of-the-party, friend-of-a-friend type who always seemed to just show up at that night’s party or dive bar.
One night, a bunch of us went to Riverbend to see a lineup of 80s rock bands. Just as Warrent revved up the crowd to sing along with the chorus of “Cherry Pie,” Willie screamed “Slayer!!” at the top of his lungs. (Slayer, another epic 80s band, was not playing or planning to play that evening.)
Apparently Willie was convinced that if he yelled “Slayer” at crowded venues, someday a woman would yell back “Skynyrd” (as in Lynyrd Skynyrd), and he would know in that moment that she was his forever soulmate.
“And we’re going to get married!” he exclaimed with conviction.
Even though the whole idea was completely absurd, Willie made this one claim with such certainty that I —and everyone around me—completely believed it. As as a sucker for a good love story, I helped him yell and listen for replies. We never heard the perfect reply.
Eventually, I lost track of Willie. I hope he found his Skynyrd. My guess is that he found someone special, but maybe in a less fantastic way.
So what does this all have to do with interviewing?
When it comes to finding employees, Willie’s tactic isn’t all that different than some hiring managers.
Some claim to have a “silver bullet” interview question and swear that a perfectly crafted question or tactic will lead them to the candidate of their dreams. For example, I had an engineering client who would find a way to sneak a peek into a candidate’s car because he claimed it told him everything he needed to know.
Big time CEOs and respected media outlets claim to be able to whittle the interview process down to one great magical question. One INC article recommends leaving an empty candy wrapper on the floor near the door—if the candidate picks it up and throws it away, this proves their worthiness as a person and employee. And this Fast Company piece suggests that a candidate’s answer to a “curveball” question like “Who would win a fight between Spiderman and Batman?” could be the key deciding factor when it comes to hiring.
To be honest, these tactics seem very “Skynyrd” to me. They may or may not work in a given interview. And the fact of the matter is that there’s no one-question-fits-all answer to something that is far more dynamic and complex.
Human relationships just don’t work like that. The essence of a person can’t be captured in a single question or moment. Nor can relationship building be “hacked.”
The best way to start an employment relationship is through intentional authentic conversation.
Why should interviewing be any different than building any other type of relationship? First and foremost, it must start with a genuine mutual interest.
And if the main things “HR” warns you not to ask about only include age, race, religion, color, national origin, sex, veteran status and disabilities, that leaves a whole lot to talk about!
For as many crazy interview questions I’ve seen, I’ve helped even more clients get it right.
Here a few tips for building authenticity into your interview process:
Dedicate the first 5 minutes to putting the candidate at ease: get them a cup of coffee, show them around, tell a funny story. Follow up with something personal they shared during the pre-screen telephone conversation (eg: How’s your dog? Are you ready for your trip?). And for the love of God, please don’t ask about weather or the terrible traffic unless there is something truly paramount about the current weather or traffic situation.
Only bring in candidates who meet the qualifications 100%. This way, you don’t have to discuss qualifications, but can instead focus on work style and approach. With modern technology, by the time we ask someone to carve out a bit of their day to interview, we should be pretty darn sure that they are qualified! That way the interview ends up being a real conversation, rather than a litany of questions.
Have an interview guide and give scenario-type questions. Tell them a real problem that your organization encountered and ask how they would respond. Follow up with specific feedback so it feels more like a conversation. “I like that answer because…” or, “Oh good point. Here is how we actually handled it.” Even a simple head nod and some real eye contact can go a long way.
Hiring for a single position shouldn’t be your full-time job—you’ve got plenty of other things to think about. If you need some insight into your recruiting process or want to chat about 80s Hair Bands, I am happy to talk. Let’s set up a conversation.