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How Hard do you Think About Your Interview Questions?

Posted by Bob Corlett on April 6, 2011

How hard do you think about your interview questions?

If you are like most hiring managers, you probably "wing it" with a few standard questions you've used before.  Or perhaps you start to think about your questions as you are walking up to the reception desk to meet your candidate.   But when you do that, you are making two big cognitive mistakes.  In a (thought provoking) column in the New York Times, David Brooks outlines some of the cognitive biases that often interfere with our decision making.

One common cognitive bias is the "Einstellung effect" - our tendency to solve a new problem the same way we've solved problems in the past, even if a better way is available.  So if your interview strategy worked the last time your hired, then you will tend to take the same approach this time - even if the circumstances surrounding the interview have changed (a newly created position versus an established role for example).

Another cognitive bias is the "Focusing Illusion" - the idea here is that "nothing in life is as important as you think it is while you are thinking about it."  So if you are focused on the candidate's experience or credentials, you are likely to overlook other factors in the person (such as cultural fit)  and overemphasize a narrow set of factors that may not prove to be significant in the long run.

The best way to avoid these two cognitive biases (and a whole host of other biases) will be to think hard about your interview questions long before the interview.  And believe me, that's easier said than done.  We provide a unique set of questions for every search we conduct.  It's grueling and time consuming - and hands-down it's one of my least favorite tasks.  But it's well worth the effort.



If you'd like to stop wasting your time on the irrelevant, superficial aspects of interviewing, and start understanding the deeper elements of what really predicts success a new hire, read our post on How to Conduct a Job Interview so Top Performers Actually Want to Take Your Job. 

And, if you prefer all that research and information pulled together into one attractive document you can easily share with others, download our Employer Guide to Interviewing. 

Employer Guide to Interviewing | Staffing Advisors


Of course, interviews are only one component of a great hiring process, our Resource Center has additional topics you might find helpful: 

  • How to Replace Underperforming Employees
  • How to Write Job Descriptions that Attract Great Candidates
  • How to Handle Bad Glassdoor Reviews
  • How to Evaluate the Effectiveness of Your Hiring Process
  • How to Make Your Hiring Process More Certain, Predictable and Consistent

One disclaimer: This advice will be most relevant to hiring managers who are interviewing professional staff in large metropolitan areas. Our perspective is shaped by our work, and we work in a retained executive search firm, conducting searches for CEO and senior staff positions. We've completed over 600 searches for associations and other nonprofits in major metropolitan areas like Washington DC, New York, and Chicago, so we make no claim that all of our advice will be relevant if you are interviewing for other types of positions in other job markets.  

Topics: Interviewing Executives