Recently, I was so shocked by the transformation that one of my coworkers made during a panel interview that I decided to sit down and write about a topic that no one ever really talks about — interview styles.
Why do we have them? What are some of the most common ones? Which ones are most dangerous and what can you do about it?
As these questions rushed through my mind, I quickly grabbed my laptop and began writing some of the most memorable interview styles that I’ve encountered over the years. In this article I also suggest some potential solutions for coaching people who exhibit each style in an effort to improve their interviewing skills.
As you’re reading each example below, ask yourself — “Which one am I?”
This interview style is exhibited when an interviewer (male or female) feels like it’s their role to intimidate a candidate either with their tone of voice, their line of questioning or their body language. They love questions like “Tell me why I should hire you when I have thousands of other applicants?”.
Or they get great pleasure from telling the candidate how difficult it is to work in their environment and how it takes a special person to survive. Typically they don’t smile, aren’t cordial and make no effort to put the candidate at ease. Instead, they fire question after question at the candidate without giving any indication that the candidate has properly answered the question.
The Solution: Coach the person to chill out. Perhaps even give them some feedback from candidates who decline an offer because they didn’t feel comfortable in the interview. They don’t need to be overly friendly but it doesn’t hurt to smile.
The Stumper is an interview style made popular in the 80’s by Microsoft and other high tech companies who believed that asking super hard questions – or questions with no correct answer – would help the interview team ascertain how smart someone is. And apparently “smarts” would lead to exemplary employees.
The problem with that strategy, as companies would later admit, is that there’s more to a great employee than a high IQ. Imagine that.
So while companies like Google and Goldman Sachs are still throwing out probability questions and algorithm brain benders – which I think are okay – “The Stumper” is still stuck in the 80’s asking pointless questions like “How many golf balls can you fit in a school bus?” Or “Why are manholes round?”.
When you confront them about their rationale they’re usually say, “It helps me see how they think”. Which is total bull. They just have this tape playing in their head that they’re going to sound smart if they can stump the candidate. They even take pleasure when the candidate blushes and says, “Wow, that’s a great question!”. Actually, it’s not.
Solution: Show them a current calendar with the date and year and explain to them that no one has asked those types of questions since 1987. Also explain to them the rationale for asking behavioral based interviews as a means to gain a more reliable indicator of performance. And of course, remind them to use the interview guide that you created for them that clearly does NOT have any questions that were used when Bill Gates was in his 20’s.
Also known as the “Best Friends Forever” interviewer. This style is characterized by someone who always tries to find common ground with a candidate and then avoids interview questions at all costs. For some reason BFFs are almost always male. They love to talk about football, colleges, geographic preferences, vacations, etc.
BFF’s usually have zero interviewing skills and prefer to make snap judgments in the first 5 seconds of the interview. They’re either going to be chummy with the candidate and find common ground, or they won’t find a connection after several attempts and the interview falls flat on its face resulting in a thumbs down from the interviewer.
This type of interviewer is dangerous because they tend to get into illegal territory really fast. “What school did you go to? What year did you graduate? Oh, really? Did you know Doc Anderson from Phi Sigma Delta? ME TOO!!! That guy was crazy! This one time he….” I think you get the picture.
Solution: This person needs end-to-end interview training. They don’t get it. They would benefit from legal training, how to ask questions, how to probe, how to take notes and how to stay on task.
This style of interviewing is sort of funny when you witness it. You can tell you’ve got a “Stroker” when the interviewer is complimenting the candidate after every question. They say things like “Great answer. You really know your stuff.” OR “Wow! That’s amazing. You’ll do great here!”.
Solution: Explain to the stroker that a poker face isn’t such a bad think in an interview. Help them fill the void after an answer with a probing question as opposed to an affirmation.
This is probably the most annoying interview style of them all. This style is marked by a manager who thinks they’re so busy that they can’t sit down for 30 minutes with a candidate and have a one-on-one conversation.
Instead, they’re whizzing around their office, cleaning their desk, checking their iPhone or allowing people to interrupt them with calls or drop ins….all while the candidate is talking. They say things like “Don’t mind me, go ahead and tell me a little bit about yourself. I’m listening, I just need to get this thing done really quick.” or “Would you pardon me for just a second, I need to take this call.” It leaves the candidate feeling like a real dope. Good candidates won’t stand for it.
Solution: Ask them to sit down, focus on the interviewer and take notes.
“So, I see you went to Penn State? And it says here that you majored in Business? And you did an internship with GE? That’s interesting…why don’t you tell me about that.”
Here’s the problem with this style — none of those questions above are really questions. They’re verifications. And they make you sound really dumb and unprepared. When a candidate answers “Yep”, “Yep” and “Yep” repeatedly, you might want to re-think your interview style because all you’re doing is repeating everything that is clearly printed on their resume.
Solution: Coach the Verifier to use their interview guide and review the candidate’s resume ahead of time — not during the interview. Stress the importance of asking detailed questions as opposed to general “tell me about this” statements.
The Bragger is an interesting character and the type of interviewer that turns off candidates really quickly. This style is characterized by over-confident body language such as sitting back in their chair, hands behind their head, with their feet up on the desk while they tell you about their many accomplishments at the company.
They often spend so much time talking about themselves, the big team that they manage and their world class department that the candidate barely gets a chance to speak.
They literally believe that their rhetoric is helping to attract the candidate to the company when in reality, they’re pushing them away.
Solution: Take note of the amount of time that the Bragger talks and the amount of time that the candidate talks. Show them the stat and coach them very clearly to stick to the script and focus on allowing the candidate to do about 80% of the talking.
This is the one style that keeps every HR representative up at night.
It’s the manager who flies by the seat of their pants, with no filter, asking whatever the heck enters their mind. Questions like…”Your last name is Hernandez, huh? What is that Mexican or something?” Or a male interviewer asking a female interviewee something like…”So, ya have any kids?” or worse yet “Are you thinking about starting a family? This job would be tough with kids.”
These questions seem harmless to “The Liability” but they could actually get your company in a lot of trouble.
Solution: Create a one pager on the legalities of interviewing. Go over it with this person or the entire interview team and ensure that they understand what they can and cannot ask. And of course, stress the importance of sticking to the interview guide. 99.9% of the time if they just do that, they’ll stay out of trouble.
So??? Which one are you? Do you see yourself in any of these examples? Have you seen your colleagues exhibit these personas?
At the end of the day, it’s important for you to develop a style of interviewing that works for you, works for the candidate and allows you to make an accurate hiring decision without scaring off good candidates. For those of you who like lists, here are the 5 criteria that I think are most important when defining your style:
1. It should be congruent with your personality.
2. It should be congruent with your company culture.
3. It should be rooted in a structured, scientific process.
4. It should allow you to fully assess a candidate without bias.
5. It should result in a positive candidate experience.
Experiment with different interviewing styles until you find the one that you feel most comfortable with and, more importantly, the one that gets you the best results! Depending on which of these styles fits you most, you might want to check out this post on improving your interviewing technique.