Interviews are not buzzword bingo

Applicants complain that they perceive selection panel members as listening for certain words in their responses so they can tick them off on their check-sheets. Rather like buzzword bingo, panel members tick off the words when they are uttered during a job interview. The goal of the interview seems to be to tick off a predetermined number of words on their list so they can metaphorically think ‘Bingo!’ when an applicant mentions most or all of the sought words.

Buzzwords are vague terms commonly used in managerial and administrative work environments. Words like strategy, policy, prioritise, relationship management, transformational leadership, engagement.

When included in interview questions they render the question opaque and difficult to understand. An example of such a question is:

“Tell us about a time you had to strategically manage a relationship in order to provide policy advice.”

The root cause for this form of question may lie in the wording of the selection criteria. It may also be that selection panel members do not take the time to craft quality questions.

When expected in answers, the need to utter buzzwords disadvantages the person who hasn’t mastered buzzword speak. Such an expectation also saves the panel from listening carefully to responses to determine that the evidence sought has been given even though it registers few ticks on the buzzword bingo check list.

Here are some suggestions for selection panels to preferably avoid, or at least minimise, buzzword bingo during job interviews.

  • ‘translate’ the selection criteria to be covered during the interview into simpler language so everyone is clear as to exactly what behaviours are being sought.
  • Craft assessment standards for each criterion.
  • Take time to craft quality questions that are written in clear, simple language.
  • For each quality question discuss and note what needs to be covered in the evidence provided to attract a ‘suitable’ rating. This material needs to be expressed in behavioural terms so as to avoid making a list of buzzwords.
  • When listening to question responses listen for the evidence sought rather than focus on the language used. Probe answers further to ensure that the response is matching the behaviours sought.
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.