Common Problems With The Job Interview

Ok, everybody knows that you shouldn’t use leading questions when interviewing job applicants.  It gives the applicant an unfair advantage. The leading question signals the type of answer that you, as the interviewer, is looking for.

But, here’s the question: If everyone knows this, why does it happen so frequently?

I have a couple of clues: First, leading questions range from being very obvious to very subtle. Let’s put it to the test. Here are some interview questions. They are used around the world.  See if you can pick out which ones are leading questions.

  1. Tell me about a problem you faced at work that you were able to resolve?
  2. Can. you describe a problem you had with a customer and tell me how you solved it.
  3. Describe a time you had conflicting priorities at work and then tell me how you resolved the issue.
  4. How do you deal with a boss who you think is making unreasonable demands of you?
  5. What, if anything, did you do to get ready for today’s interview?
  6. How important is it for you to learn new work skills?
  7. What steps do you usually take to build harmonious relationships with the people you work with?
  8. From time to time, we have an outside person come in to provide directions. Would you be able to easily accept direction from this person?
  9. As you know, closing a sale is very important. What actions should be taken to close a sale, and then what actions should be taken after the close?
  10. Is work something you do to earn money to pay bills, or is it something you enjoy?

Okay, how did you do? How many are leading questions?

Let’s take them in groups.

Numbers 1 -3 are all obviously leading. They point the applicant to telling you a story about how they solved a problem. 

Can we do better?  Yes. Try these instead.

1a. What is the toughest problem you faced at work?

2a. Can you tell me about the most unpleasant customer you had to deal with?

3a. Can you tell me about a time when you had two different but important priorities at work?

Number 4. Is a theoretical question. It doesn’t tell us anything about how that person dealt with a real boss.

4a  Can you tell me about the toughest boss you’ve ever had?

Numbers 6 and 8 are problematic for two reasons. First, they invite a yes or no answer. Second, the answer to each is pretty obvious.  (If you were applying for a job, how would you answer?) How about these instead?

6a. What is most important for you to feel satisfied at work.

8a. As we both know, bosses aren’t always right. Tell me about the time when a boss gave you instructions that felt were really wrong.

Number 7 assumes that the person does try to build harmonious relationships with people. And you don’t have to be a brain surgeon to figure out the right answers.

What the interviewer really wants to know is how this person deals with conflict at work.

7a. We all have had the experience of working with someone who had a different style from ours. Tell me about the most difficult person you have had to work with who was at your level in the organization.

Number 9 is problematic in several ways. First, it tells the applicant you want to know if they understand how to close a sale.

 There are many different types of sales. Selling a refrigerator is totally different from selling a large consulting project to the government.

The most skilled salespeople don’t focus on closing. They follow a series of steps that, if done properly, will most often lead the prospect to close the sale. 

The second part of the question leads the person by signalling that something should happen after the close, signalling that some actions should be done. Again, this is a theoretical question.

9a. Tell me about the most difficult sale you have ever been involved with? (This can be followed up with non-leading prompts.)

Number 10 is obviously problematic. First, it asks for an either-or choice, which is rarely effective.  Most candidates will talk about how both are important but will emphasize the pleasure they get from their work. Second, it is entirely theoretical. See how these compare:

10a. Can you tell me about the job that you enjoyed the most?

10b. We’ve all had jobs we didn’t enjoy very much. Which job have you found to be the least satisfying?

These questions will also tell you something about the candidate’s work-related values. That’s a very important subject, one we’ll leave for another time. 

Okay, so what about number 5.  That is not leading. Yes, it does point the applicant to an area you are interested in. It does not, however, suggest anything about what the correct answer is.

There is one other thing to mention. All of the questions, except number 5, are taken from books on how to hire staff written by “experts”.  If the experts aren’t picking up that their recommended questions are leading, no wonder it’s so easy for these to slip into an interview.

These lead to my next clue, one that I’ll cover in an upcoming blog.