Interrogation Techniques for Better Interviewing Part 2: Phrasing and Positioning

In Part 1, I speculated that we can use interrogation techniques to better our chances of gathering accurate data when interviewing candidates for a job position. After creating a trusting and open environment and building rapport, the next step is asking the right questions in the right way.

The way that you ask a question changes the answer that you get. Even in multiple choice scenarios this is true, which explains why when you take a behavioral assessment it seems like you are answering the same question over and over.

When preparing interview questions, it is worth the time to brainstorm how many different ways you can phrase the same question. Generating more alternatives will allow you to select the most appropriate one and will provide ready follow-up questions as well.

In terms of types of questions, open-ended questions are the least biased while leading questions introduce the most bias. Leading questions can be arranged in two ways: (1) where one answer seems to be expected over another, and (2) when the content of the question contains information the interviewer wants to discuss. Consider the different answers you might get to the three following questions:

  • Can you tell me about the employment gap between 2005-2006? (open-ended)
  • So 2005-2006 is blank because you were unemployed, correct? (leading, negative)
  • What type of work were you engaged in between 2005-2006? (leading, positive)

Phrasing a leading question in a way where one answer appears to be expected over another is a powerful technique because people generally like to answer in an agreeable manner. Phrasing leading questions in a negative light introduces a conflict and prompts defensiveness—and encourages elaboration and truth. Phrasing leading questions in a positive light encourages a friendly and agreeable climate—and often prompts simple agreement and encourages lies.

If you use leading questions, choose to use them strategically. You definitely don’t want to be using leading questions out of habit, because you are trying to create an agreeable environment, or because you want to avoid conflict.

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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