Stick to the interview questions you crafted

Have you ever worked out what questions you will ask job applicants and then not stuck to the actual wording of the question as you put it to each applicant? Perhaps you don’t even notice you are using variations of the question. Or perhaps you are aware and haven’t considered the consequences.

Let’s take an example. Supposing the criterion is about quality writing skills, and the job needs someone who can prepare tender documents. You have crafted a couple of questions to explore an applicant’s expertise and experience:

  • What are some of the essential elements for preparing quality tender documents?
  • In your experience, what are some of the traps you’ve encountered with preparing tenders?

From these questions you want to find out if the applicant:

  • Knows the key policies, procedures and guidelines for preparing tender documents.
  • Has had experience preparing several tender documents.
  • Has identified potential risks and problems with tender documents.
  • Knows what to look for to anticipate potential problems to avoid.

With the first applicant the questions are asked as written above.

With the second applicant, these questions are asked:

  • What do you think are the essentials for preparing quality tender documents?
  • In your experience, what are some of the traps you’ve come across with preparing tenders, say with probity or …

While the shift to ‘what do you think …’ is not major, it does suggest that the applicant could take a stab at an answer rather than definitely knowing the material.

The second question change is more significant, as it starts to indicate what the answer is and then drifts off to no conclusion.

Sticking to the questions as crafted is essential during job interviews. Here’s why:

  • It ensures every person is asked the same question, thereby giving fairness to the process.
  • If a quality question has been crafted beforehand, any variation is likely to dilute that quality and possibly result in a different question being asked.

Once a question starts to shift in wording, the responses are likely to become more diverse, making comparative assessment more difficult and making assessment against the information sought more difficult.

Sticking to a question as crafted can be a challenge for panel members. Possible reasons for this are:

  • We are not accustomed to asking a question in such a seemingly blunt form.
  • We want to make the interview more friendly and informal and so ‘soften’ our questioning.
  • We tend to think out loud and this process bleeds into our question.

To conduct a quality interview process, panel members must:

  • Craft quality questions.
  • Stick to the wording of the question.

What will help with sticking to the question is:

  • Take a selection panel training course.
  • Practice asking specific questions in other contexts.
  • Be mindful of what you are doing during an interview.
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.