The Worst Interviewing Advice Ever

I remember years and years ago attending a training class for job candidates on how to improve their interviewing skills.  The crux of the course was this:

  • Most people are bad interviewers.
  • Since they don’t know what to ask, you need to tell them what they need to know regardless of what you’re asked.
  • What they need to know is the skills you possess, the duties you’ve performed, and the results you have accomplished.

I was reminded of this the other day when interviewing a very qualified candidate.

Me:  “Think about the best manager you’ve ever worked for, and get a picture of him/her in your head.  Do you have one?”

Candidate:  “Yes.”

Me:  “Now describe him or her.”

Candidate:  “I like managers who are supportive to me and tough but fair.”

Me:  “I’m sorry, perhaps you didn’t get the exercise.  Do you have a favorite boss?”

Candidate:  “Yes.”

Me:  “I don’t need to know his/her name, but do you have a specific person in mind?”

Candidate:  “Yes.”

Me:  “Now, describe them, perhaps by using a list of adjectives.”

Candidate:  “I like bosses who mentor me and teach me to do things better.”

Me (thinking):  Penalty, Evasion, 15 yards.  1st and 25.

I almost cut off the interview right there.  But I didn’t.  Despite a repeated pattern of not answering my questions, I voted no-hire but didn’t veto the candidate because he did seem qualified.  I discussed what happened with the hiring manager.

Me:  “I would not hire that person.  He is evasive and doesn’t answer questions.”

Hiring manager:  “Maybe he didn’t answer because he didn’t know the right answer.”

Me:  “There is no right answer, per se.  I’m not trying to make the candidate describe you; I’m trying to get them to describe their best boss ever so I can do a comparison of that style with my perception of yours.”

Hiring manager:  “I get it, but he obviously knows it’s a risky question so maybe he deliberately didn’t answer it.”

Me:  “OK, go to talk to him and find out what happened.”

In the end, the hiring manager was right.  The candidate didn’t want to give a clear answer to the question because he was worried it would backfire.  And the core of that old training class sprung immediately back to mind “don’t answer the question they asked, tell them what they need to know regardless of what they ask.”  Which, I believe, is the worst interview advice ever.

I ask questions.  I ask them on purpose.  I ask them for a reason.  If you stonewall my efforts to interview you I will vote no — and I will often throw an outright veto on top.

It’s amazing how often I have to say it:  answer the question.  Job interviews are no exception.  In fact, quite the opposite.

Don’t assume you’re smarter than the person interviewing you.  Don’t play games.  The purpose of my line of questioning was simple:  “I wanted to figure out if I thought you could work with your hiring manager.”  That’s a very important question — and one both sides should want to answer sooner not later.  Don’t assume I’m an idiot and want you to describe the hiring manager.  Assume I’m asking for a reason and even if you can’t figure out the reason or the “right” answer, answer the question.

If you don’t you’ll be lucky to get the job.

6 responses to “The Worst Interviewing Advice Ever

  1. That is bad advice, though, like any sales situation, you need to get your message across somehow.

    On the other hand, I wouldn’t use that interview question. If it was asked me, I’m not sure what I’d say. It sure does sound like a gotcha question looking for the right answer.

    I’ve had a few great managers and they’ve been different. One was the right manager for me as a junior engineer. One was right for mentoring me into company-wide influencing at a young age. A couple have been great at making the organization happy with our group. Some have been great at getting the group to do its best. One continues to be a close friend, and it obviously my “favorite”, but he and I continue to confuse people in organizations. One recent manager totally got the technical stuff and we were agreed that the organization needed to make some big jumps to get out of the weeds. I guess the higher-ups didn’t want to hear that truth, so he was gone too soon. I’d love to work for him again.

    Which one should I describe?

    How about the manager that is right for the team that I’m in at your organization, because that is what really matters. Not me, but how the manager makes the team better.

  2. Walter, thanks for your comment and I get your point. To reinforce mine, the candidate did the same thing on about 5 questions, not just this one. To answer your question, I think I’d say multiple and explain why you loved working for each in the given situation. It might be a bit of a gotcha question but what if the person describes their ideal manager as someone who left them alone, never gave feedback, and never reviewed work so they felt totally empowered when you know the hiring manager is detail-driver who’s very hands-on. I’d say the “gotcha” protects both people from a bad situation. It’s not just about getting the job. It’s about succeeding once you have.

  3. That is some very good advice – answer the question. Even if you have to go silent, or clarify it, answer it. Even if you don’t know the answer – state it. No one needs a job where they do not fit.

    Interviewers need to be up to snuff as well! Most fail to take the time to properly prepare and cannot answer (or maybe will not!) interviewee questions well enough to paint a detailed picture. Then comes the interviewer who really, *really* wants to sell you on the company… ugh.

  4. Totally agree that the candidate was not answering the question. And if you were interviewing that person, they need to handle wonky questions cleanly.

    I certainly wouldn’t answer as cogently as I did online, but I’d hope that I would engage and work it to a satisfactory conclusion. On the other hand, I’m pretty good at challenging the underlying assumptions. As I said, that confuses people.

    Hmm, might be worth asking a badly-formed question just to see how they can make order out of chaos on the fly. If that was the intent, it is a reasonable audition for upper level hires.

    And I’d work for you again any time.

  5. Thanks Walter. Appreciate it.

  6. Walter, how about answering both? How about saying “Well, I’ve had two great managers and they were much different, but each was excellent for the stage of my career.” then go on and tell why. That would both answer the question and show the interviewer that you have awareness that it’s not a “one size fits all” world.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.