Interview techniques: Make them less generic

Interview Techniques

I wanted to write something about interview techniques. I realize if anyone ever comes across this post via a Google search, you probably want to know interview techniques as the person being interviewed. But I actually think we can improve interview techniques on both sides: interviewer and interviewee. (Is that a word? I think so.) How can we do this? We can start by making interviews less generic.

Interview Techniques: Some background

There is almost nothing more generic in the world than a standard job interview. I have approximately 613,384 stories about this. I will not bore you with them. This is only logical, though: most conversation is small talk. Job interviews can be fairly uncomfortable deals for both sides. When we’re uncomfortable, what happens? We resort more and more to small talk. It all makes sense.

Think about the most common interview questions. Almost all of them are horribly generic. (“Walk me through your resume.”) If they’re not insanely generic, they’re questions that are easy to game. (“Tell me your biggest weakness, sir.”) CEOs yelp and screech about “the war for talent,” but in reality their hiring process is broken and their recruiting process is alienating the best candidates.

Almost every job interview I’ve been on since 2011 has a familiar pattern. They open with generic small talk, often about the weather or some hiring manager’s wife or college. Then it’s “walk me through your resume.” Then there’s a couple of this-answer-wouldn’t-remotely-matter questions like “Tell me a problem you once had to solve” or “Why are you interested in this role?” Then it’s back to small talk and vague deadlines (“We’ll be in touch, or HR will”). In many ways, it’s all bullshit.

Now, there is an important caveat. I’ve only applied to jobs as rank-and-file or middle. I’m not any kind of exec. If I was, the process might be very different.

Still, I think we need some new interview techniques. Yes?

Interview Techniques: For the recruiter/hiring manager

Here’s the best, nicest way I can say this. You are going to hire someone and pay them some of your company’s revenue. If you didn’t hire them, it’s possible that revenue could go towards you — higher salary, bonus, etc. I know you rushed to hire and bellowed about how understaffed you are, but let’s try to be strategic with our interview techniques.

For example: do you know what you need from the role? (Let’s hope.) If so, design some deliverables around that. What will the person be doing? Have them do that stuff before the interview and then show up to the interview with it ready to discuss it.


In short: if the job designs widgets, have the candidate design a widget. He/she comes to the interview with the widget. You guys discuss it. Pros and cons, process, challenges, etc. That’s a much better set of interview techniques than “So, where did you see our posting?”

Here’s another one: look at what many experts consider to be the No. 1 job interview question of the future. If we truly live in an era of “big data” and “analytics,” then job candidates need to be able to solve problems using data. Interview techniques for the recruiter need to incorporate that.


Recruiter: “Tell me a problem of yours.”

Candidate: “I am a fat ass.”

Recruiter: “How could you use data to know if you’re working to solve that problem?”

Yes, that was glib. But this stuff is important. Interview techniques can’t be static questions from a long-held playbook.

Interview Techniques: For the candidate

I’d break this into two parts:

  • Have an action plan: This is recommended by George Bradt on Forbes. Basically, bring a 100-day action plan to the interview. How will you learn the business? How will you achieve goals? I think most hiring managers would like this and be impressed. You do run the threat of interviewing with an “Idea-Swatter,” and then you’d never ever get the job.
  • Ask real questions: Most of the job interview process is designed around the idea that us peons are lucky to even be interviewing with you. That idea needs to be flipped on its ass/head. Most candidates ask super generic questions — “What is the culture like?” (That’s actually a good question but no hiring manager will ever answer it honestly. You need to observe it for yourself.) I got so f’n tired of job interviews after a while that the only thing I ever asked was “What’s the next step?” It’s a simple and direct question. A thought leader would punch me in the throat for asking that, then launch into “14 follow-up questions for interviewees.” Again, it’s mostly garbage.

Most HR types and hiring managers made a decision on you in about 3-5 minutes, if not quicker. But you can flip some of the script with better interview techniques and approaches. Be proactive. Ask real questions. Be yourself.

Interview Techniques: Oh yea, be yourself

This should be No. 1, right? It usually isn’t. For years in job interviews, the belief was “The candidate is lying about themselves.” That belief still exists, but now there’s a belief that “The company is lying.” Complex world we live in, but understandable: global trust in the workforce is down, ethics in the workplace is down, and most companies do not operate according to moral norms.

There are some awesome bosses and hiring managers in the world. Unfortunately, though, many are not that. When you interview for a job, the reality is often this: someone just left that role, or a new role has been created. In many situations, the manager (your boss) isn’t even really sure why that job (your job) would need to exist. But his/her boss has been yelling about productivity and goals. The hiring manager feels busy, stressed, and over-extended. So the answer is, naturally, “let’s get more people!” The problem: a person without a clear role accomplishes nothing except sucking money out of the company. (I know. I’ve often been this person.)

If the hiring manager has no clue and the interviewee is just chasing a job, the whole thing’s a charade anyway. Why not make it a little more productive with some improved interview techniques?

Additional thoughts?

Ted Bauer

Reply If You'd Like