Interrogation Techniques for Better Interviewing, Pt 1

Popular as they are, interviews aren’t very good at predicting who will be the best performer on the job. In the research literature, interviews are generally regarded as a poor predictor of workplace performance. The problem is the success of an interview largely depends on the quality of the questions combined with the skill of the interviewer. As humans, interviewers have their own biases and preferences that can get in the way of an accurate assessment. For example, many of us will naturally prefer those who are most like us, we will give more weight to negative information, and we are more likely to judge the applicant within the first five minutes and remember the last five minutes.

Now interviews are not likely to go away. They are used because people like them and expect them. Given the questionable validity of data gathered by the interview technique, I wonder if there is something we can learn from interrogators, the experts of questioning. Are there things we can do to gather more accurate data during the interview process? Consider this quote from Tim Sackett in his article, The Only Interview Questions You’ll Ever Really Need:

“What is important in interviewing is what you allow the candidate to get away with. I find that most recruiters and hiring managers to be way (I mean WAY!) too easy when it comes to questioning candidates…The hardest interview I ever had was with a woman that was eventually my boss who was a former U.S. Army interrogator. It was exhausting, it was painful, it was awesome – and I actually lost my voice (after hour 7 – true story!)… There wasn’t an answer I could give her that she was satisfied with. She just kept at it until I would slip and say something I really didn’t mean to …The result: she hired the best talent…”

No matter how good your pre-selected questions are, if you allow the candidate to spin them to what they want to discuss like a politician, you are allowing them to introduce variance, static, and error into your selection process. With that in mind, there are a few things you can prepare to do during the interview to achieve a better outcome:

1. Building rapport with the candidate

2. Strategic phrasing and positioning of questions

3. Detecting lies

Most interviewers I have observed will do either #1 or #2 (but hardly ever both) and completely miss #3. Today I’ll cover #1 but #2 and #3 are worthy of a separate post.

Build Rapport

Similar to the criminal investigator interrogating their suspect, your job as an interviewer is to persuade the candidate to share relevant information about themselves candidly. There are two things standing in the way of this mission. First, a good amount of people are nervous as heck when they come to an interview.

Second, most candidates prep for hours to put their best foot forward during an interview. Thus, they are very reluctant to share negative information about themselves, especially if it has bearing on the job up for grabs.

Building rapport addresses both of these issues. First it reduces nerves. Putting a person at ease will ensure they are thinking clearly and sharing more openly. Second, it builds trust. Trust will lower guards and the candidate will share more information, as if they are talking with a friend.

Ways to build rapport with a candidate:

  • Establish one consistent contact person that builds the relationship
  • Get to know the candidate personally, engage in small talk, and discuss common interests
  • Share your own personal information and expose your own flaws
  • Offer compliments and highlight some of their good qualities
  • Smile, be welcoming, and ensure your body language says ‘friendly’ rather than ‘threatening’
  • Create a comfortable and relaxed environment—steer clear of creating any implicit hierarchy (such as putting a desk between you or confronting them with a row of panel interviewers)
  • Be conversational rather than robotic—listen and react with interest

Eva Rykrsmith

Eva Rykrsmith is an organizational psychology practitioner. Her passion lies in bringing a psychology perspective to the business world, with the mission of creating a high-performance environment. Follow her @EvaRykr.

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