Tell me about a time when you had to work across multiple teams to finish a project.
What’s your greatest weakness?
How would your best friend describe you?
Huh? Sorry. I nodded off for a second there. What were we talking about?
Oh yeah, canned interview questions. If you’ve spent any amount of time in the e-recruitosphere, you’ve come across a LinkedIn thread asking for a recruiter’s best interview question or a listicle blog post presenting 8 Great Interview Questions to Get to Know the Real Candidate. (side note: let’s agree to not Google that in case it’s actually a real post) (side note: I broke the deal, it’s a real post.)
Canned questions like these are popular because their answer reveals a certain value in the candidate. Are they a team player? Are they innately curious? Can they soldier on when the going gets tough? Presumably, there’s a right answer to these questions, and it’s something that aligns with your purported company values. Here’s the problem: questions like these put the onus on the candidate to map a generic behavioral question both to your own organizational values as well as technical rigors of the role itself. Pretty big leap, and one they’ll only land if they’ve memorized your “About Us” page.
Besides the fact that you’ll be lucky to get specifics from any premeditated question, you’re not the only one googling what the 12 Can’t Miss Interview Questions to Hire Great Ninja Rockstar Coders are. Candidates will do it too, and so instead of getting a moment of candid introspection from your next great hire, you’re getting the stock answer they thought of on the way to your office. In short, ask canned questions, get canned answers.
As someone from the talent team, it’s on you to be able to dig in during the phone screen and make sure this person aligns with hiring manager defined qualities (but that’s another story). Once you’ve confirmed that this person is who their profile says they are, you can’t have your team members asking fluffy questions at the on-site. Particularly at the individual contributor level of the interview, you need to be measuring, you know, how the candidate might individually contribute. Instruct them to brainstorm the rigors of the role and get the candidate talking about conquering day-to-day projects and activities. This looks less like “what’s the biggest misconception people have about you?" and more like ‘Right now we’re working on building a custom CMS rule so we can action leads based on most recent conversion rather than lifecycle stage. How would you go about that?”.
Time & Place
But Rob, surely we should rely on the interviewing prowess and experience of recruiters gone by to hone our own process! Ugh, fine. There are a time and a place for a stock interview question, perhaps at the manager level when assessing for long term career goals or ambition. Even in this case, the question must be tailored specifically to your organization. This means “Imagine 10 months from now, you decide to leave our company. What’s the reason you’re leaving?” turns into “How does this role fit in to your long-term career goals?” or “You’re used to functioning independently, and here you’ll report to your manager and ultimately the head of your department. How will you make that adjustment?”
The overarching point here is simple: be specific. “What kitchen utensil would you be?” is cute and all, but assuming you’re looking to hire technically talented individuals and not improv comedians, it’s not getting you anywhere. Sync with your hiring managers, train your interview teams and assess your candidates on a meaningful, relevant level.