Only ask useful, answerable questions

I have heard of many questions asked at interviews and am sometimes left wondering why some of them are asked. These are the sort of questions that are difficult to answer, don’t provide relevant evidence of ability to do a job, and are subjectively judged by the panel to the detriment of the applicant.

Take as an example, the question, What will you do if you are not successful?

One could reasonably assume that a person who wants a role will be disappointed if unsuccessful and will possibly take one of three lines of action: look elsewhere, continue with what they are currently doing, wait for another opportunity. How does knowing any of this help with making a recruitment decision?

If a panel is looking to assess a person’s motivation and wants to hear the person say they’ll keep applying, is this reasonable, given an applicant is unlikely to tell the truth, may not know what they’ll do, or may change their mind? Further, is it fair to negatively judge a person for giving the ‘wrong’ answer? A job interview is not an exercise is mind reading. An applicant can’t be deemed unsuitable just because they have a ‘sub-standard’ response on how they’ll react to being unsuccessful.

Motivation can be better gauged by asking about why a person is interested in a role, how they see themselves contributing to it, and possibly how they see their future career.

Even with these questions, a panel needs to be careful about what they consider right/wrong, good/bad answers. On their own, these questions and answers may not mean much. In combination with all the evidence provided they can reveal something about a person’s preparation, interest, and self-reflection.

Crafting quality interview questions is a major challenge for selection panels. To avoid wasting time and energy on fruitless questions, panel members need to review their questions to check that they:

  • Are clearly worded and readily understandable.
  • Can be answered usefully by all interviewees.
  • Provide relevant evidence of interest in and ability to perform the role.
  • Combined, enable an objective, informed decision.
Dr Ann Villiers, career coach, writer and author, is Australia’s only Mental Nutritionist specialising in mind and language practices that help people build flexible thinking, confident speaking and quality connections with people.