I read a post on Linkedin over the weekend by Bernard Marr entitled “The One Interview Question Most People Are Not Prepared For.” Great article and some very valid pointers, however, it did get my mind somewhat in a tizz. I have to admit, it is a question I prepare my clients for when I coach them for job interviews, as it seems to be cropping up more and more, yet, I don't believe it is always asked with the right intentions. So what's the question? “Tell me something that I wouldn't know from your CV.” Or, otherwise asked as “Tell me something no one else knows about you.”
I remember watching the last series of The Apprentice, and it was my favourite week; the week in which they do the interviews (obviously!) Claudine Collins, Managing Director of Mediacom UK, posed an almost identical question to candidate Bianca Miller, “Tell me something about you that isn't on your CV.” Bianca looked flustered, and I felt sad, thinking “Oh, here we go…cue copycat interviewers and uncomfortable candidates ready to put their foot in it.” Now, for the record, I actually liked the way in which Claudine interviewed, however, she is at the top of her game and was interviewing a candidate on behalf of Lord Sugar, while being beamed by the power of television to the masses, so how does this question translate to us mere mortals hoping to win a role at a new company? Let me explain.
The golden rule of thumb when you give answers in a job interview, is to add value to the employer. The problem I have with the questions above, is that many candidates are caught off guard and start to talk of their personal life, or God forbid, divulge a sordid secret that will take them out of the running. During a job interview, the interviewer should not probe to find out anything that is unrelated to the job role and the interviewee's ability to do it. (You can read an article I have written about questions an interviewer should not ask here.) The trouble is, many interviewers don't have experience and even if their intentions are honourable, many lead their line of questioning down the slippery slope of the candidate's personal life. Don't allow yourself to fall into this trap. Keep all your answers of a professional nature. Do you think telling the interviewer you have 3 cats, 4 dogs and a budgie or that you can down a yard of ale in less than 1 minute will add value to your application? (I use these examples because I have heard them before!) I doubt it.
Why Has Interviewing Become so Complicated?
So, the million dollar question is “Why has interviewing become so complicated?” Back in the early 90's, there seemed to be a trend to try to catch candidates out during job interviewers, and unfortunately, I see this style of interviewing making a come back, albeit in a more sophisticated way. I believe that it's perfectly acceptable to delve deeper and “peel the onion” to ascertain whether or not the candidate is just an expert at interviews or the right person for the job in real life. I don't believe, however, that it is acceptable to deliberately put candidates under pressure and make them feel uncomfortable by way of an overly complicated (read power trip) line of questioning. The whole idea of a job interview is to make a new hire who will fulfil the job description (and hopefully more) and fit in with the company values and current team, isn't it?
More and more often, I hear from candidates who felt their interview questions were unrelated to the role and that the interviewer was trying to catch them out. Many report feeling uncomfortable and leave the interview with a cloud of doom hanging over their heads as they felt they didn't give “smart enough” answers or that they felt they were being interrogated. Interviewers, please take note…putting a candidate in this situation is not a great advert for your company. Who cares how best to put an elephant in a refrigerator or how many windows there are in London? Yes, you might be trying to find out how creative or logical your candidate is, but there are better ways in which to find out, and you could lose a great employee in the process. If you are a fun, creative company, then off-the-wall questions may have a place, however, if you are simply using them to put candidates under stress, then you might want to rethink your strategy. I know from experience that interviewers who ask weird questions aren't generally trying to catch a candidate out, but, really, what is the point in them other than my aforementioned example of a company? You want to know more information other than what's on a candidate's CV? Ask for more detail on their previous job roles or ask questions that relate to the one on offer. Smart answers often come from smart a**es and smart a**es aren't typically the best employees.
If you are a candidate and want top know how to tackle weird and wonderful interview questions, you can read more here.
A skilled interviewer will make candidates feel at ease and facilitate a conversation (yep, a conversation) between 2 or more adults taking the cue for the next question from the previous answer – not darting all over the place like a badly released ten pin bowling ball forgetting its purpose, causing sideways destruction instead. A skilled interviewer will understand the value of the person sitting in front of him/ her as someone who has made it through the timely and costly pre-selection stages; someone who has been chosen as a strong contender for the role and might actually end up working there. A skilled interviewer will encourage the candidate to shine in their best light even if each layer to success is peeling away to unveil the real potential employee and not just a well rehearsed performer.
What's the solution?
Well, if I could wave my magic fairy wand and have it my way, it would look like this:
Interviewers: Have an agenda. In other words, establish what you want from the candidate and find out whether or not they can do the job. Strike up a conversation with them, which, in turn, will help you decide if you like them and they are a good fit for the organisation. If you want a direct answer, ask a direct question without dancing around the houses, ultimately leaving a confused candidate. Stop trying to ask personal questions – if it's not directly related to the job role, it's none of your business.
Candidates: Only give answers that are related to the job role. Avoid anything that is personal. Know your CV and the current job description/ company inside out and back-to-front, so that you can prepare answers that may need to be expanded upon. Be prepared to be challenged and be faced with questions you may not have expected, however, if the interviewer is being persistent and making you feel uncomfortable, ask yourself if you would really want to work for them anyway?