One Reason Interviewing Candidates is So Difficult

July 13, 2010

I was browsing in my local bookstore on the weekend when I came upon a small book titled Toughest Interview Questions. Always interested in this subject I quickly leafed through it and put it in the pile of books to buy.

This morning, as I started to read it more carefully, I noticed that while the book lists a variety of interview questions along with the attributes they probe, it also counsels candidates on how best to answer them. Perplexed after reading several of these answers, I looked again at the cover of the book only to realize that the full title of the book is actually 101 Great Answers to… The Toughest Interview Questions. Irked at my stupidity, I returned to the endless tripe being served to the unsuspecting candidates.

Each chapter includes a ‘Tips’ section in which the author offers general advice to candidates on dealing with the questions posed ion various subjects. It recommends that candidates, relax, smile, be honest, humble, balanced, positive and on and on all of which would be harmless were it not for the book's core advice on how to lie, spin, hide and deceive your way through every question. For example, the author counsels candidates to ‘Shape your answers based on the position you are interviewing for’. Thus, if someone asks you about your preferences in working alone or with other people, you should simply tailor the answer to the job. If you are interviewing for a job that will have you solitary for periods of time, “you won’t want to admit that you thrive on your relationships with co-workers and can’t imagine working without a lot of interaction”. Also, if asked questions that tap into self-awareness, strengths, weaknesses and the like, the advice is to duck and weave. For example, “if asked to comment on areas of development, my strategy was always to cite a particular skill or qualification that I obviously lack but one that wasn’t remotely needed in the job I was interviewing for”.

Why is interviewing candidates difficult? It is difficult because countless books and self-titled gurus counsel candidates that ‘it is a jungle out there’ (this is the actual title of chapter 2) where winning is about getting a leg up on the competition and winning the job. Don’t worry about whether you are well-suited to ‘the job’ or the company for that matter, or whether you will enjoy it or, heaven forbid, thrive in it. Just stay one step ahead of the interviewers, anticipate their questions, know what they want to hear and give them what they want. End of book, end of story. Oh by the way, once you win ‘the job’, the books on ‘101 things to do when you hate or fail in your job’ are in the next aisle.

About Author

Robert Hebert, PhD is Managing Partner of Executive Search Firm StoneWood Group Inc. He can be reached @ rhebert@stonewoodgroup.com or at 416.365.9494x777