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Are You Asking Too Many Interview Questions?

By Mark Murphy

Each moment of a job interview is a golden opportunity to delve into a candidate’s capabilities and assess their fit and potential within your organization. Yet, a common misstep lurks in the shadows: the temptation to unleash a barrage of questions, hoping to cover every conceivable base. This seemingly thorough approach often backfires, yielding surface-level insights rather than the profound understanding we seek.

Imagine a candidate, poised and ready, only to be met with a relentless stream of questions. This onslaught can transform what should be an engaging dialogue into a tense quiz show, where depth is sacrificed for breadth, and genuine interaction gives way to rehearsed responses. When candidates are bombarded, they default to concise answers, leaving the richer, nuanced narratives untold. Moreover, this barrage can sometimes shift the interview’s tone from conversational to adversarial, obstructing the authentic exchange of ideas and insights.

By limiting our interview to a select few profound questions, as few as five or six, we allow conversations to breathe, delving deeper into each response. This approach not only garners more insightful revelations but also respects the candidate’s cognitive load, fostering an atmosphere conducive to open, thoughtful discourse. Such a setting reflects real-world scenarios where employees must articulate and defend ideas, navigate complexities, and collaborate effectively—all critical skills that a rapid-fire question strategy fails to assess adequately.

Yet simply reducing the number of questions we ask candidates isn’t quite enough; we need to adapt the questions themselves. Behavioral interview questions are pivotal in unveiling the multifaceted nature of candidates, delving into their past experiences to predict future behavior. However, the traditional format of these questions often undermines their intent by telegraphing the desired ‘successful’ responses. By subtly suggesting that candidates recount only their triumphs, interviewers lose the opportunity to explore the full spectrum of experiences, including those ripe with learning from failure.

  • Typical behavioral questions like these guide candidates to present only their successes:

  • Tell me a time when you effectively adapted to a challenging situation.

  • Tell me about a time when you persuaded your boss to accept your idea.

  • Tell me about a time when you resolved a conflict with a coworker.

The inherent flaw in these questions is their implicit bias toward success. They coax candidates to offer polished narratives of victory and competence, which can mask their true character and problem-solving abilities. Unfortunately, a recent Leadership IQ report discovered that as many as eight out of ten interviewers make this mistake.

Questions shouldn’t hint at the desired answers to extract authentic and meaningful insights. Instead, they should encourage candidates to share various experiences, fostering depth and promoting longer, more reflective responses. For example, each of the problematic questions above could be fixed as follows:

  • Tell me a time when you faced a challenging situation.

  • Tell me about a time when your idea or opinion was rejected.

  • Tell me about a time when you faced a conflict with a coworker.

By reframing these questions, interviewers can cultivate a conversational depth that allows for richer, more detailed insights. These enhanced discussions can reveal not just how a candidate succeeds but how they navigate the entire spectrum of professional experiences, including overcoming obstacles and learning from less-than-ideal outcomes.

And this depth means that fewer questions are necessary. When each question is a gateway to a detailed, multifaceted story, the need to ask numerous superficial questions diminishes. Interviewers can achieve a comprehensive understanding of the candidate’s professional persona through fewer but more impactful inquiries.

Incorporating this questioning approach serves multiple purposes. It aligns with the strategic reduction of question quantity, enhancing interview efficiency while deepening insight. Furthermore, it aligns with the overarching goal of assessing candidates in a manner that truly reflects their capacity for integration into the organizational culture and their potential for long-term success.

Limiting the number of questions also reduces the choices interviewers have to make. An expansive question menu might offer superficial choices, yet it risks introducing inconsistency and bias, skewing evaluations and clouding decision-making. A standardized, concise set of questions ensures a fair, level playing field, allowing for a robust comparison of candidates and a more objective assessment.

While the impulse to ask myriad questions is understandable, the evidence and experience suggest restraint. A strategic, thoughtful selection of queries not only elevates the interview’s quality but also resonates with a commitment to depth and meaningful engagement.


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