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Supporting candidates through the interview process

Insight | Interviewing | Tough Questions | Guidance

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Knowing whether you should play good cop or bad cop in an interview is not always obvious. It depends largely on the sort of role being recruited for, as well as the specific candidate being interviewed. As the hiring manager, you’ll have to consider whether you want to be helpful or if you want to ask them tough questions to get an insight into how they think.

During interviews, managers can offer guidance to candidates to help them overcome nerves or test their responses to highly stressful situations. Which is better?

Businesses can see significant advantages from helping applicants through the process, but there are also benefits to letting them find their own way through. You need to ensure you’re asking the right questions and posing the right scenarios for the candidate to really show why they could be the best person for the job. This could be done with some guidance, or by leaving the candidate to figure it all out themselves.

Tough interview questions in the tech industry

Tough interview questions are comparatively common within the tech world, so if you’re looking to bolster the ranks of your IT department, you may have conducted this type of interview in the past.

These candidates might be more accustomed to trickier interviews so they might not be as flustered as other professionals would be in the same situation. These kinds of tough questions often rely on the interviewee working logically through a problem, which should let you see how they might carry out their research and come to a conclusion in the workplace.

For example, Google once asked an applicant to the role of software engineer(1): “Every city has a calendar with different holiday periods. You may travel to another city only on the weekends. What is the maximum days of holidays that you can get in a year?”

Advantages of tough interviews

The chief executive of investment firm Charles Schwab, Walt Bettinger, has admitted to taking candidates out for breakfast interviews and intentionally getting the restaurant to “mess up the order” of the person he is interviewing (2).

He explained that he does so because he wants to see how the person responds. According to Mr Bettinger, he said it helps him understand how the candidate deals with adversity and that it gives him a “look inside their heart, rather than their head”.

Although you might not want to go that far, asking tough questions could put the candidate on the spot and place some pressure on them, which could give you an insight into whether they have the right mindset to deal with workplace stress.

You could also work out whether they’re smart enough and they’ve prepared sufficiently to avoid being tripped up by a tough question, which could give you some insight into whether they’re in possession of the right frame of mind to do the job.

Benefits of offering more interview guidance

If you can tell that a candidate is struggling with nerves, would you offer them more guidance? If not, is that because you think an interview replicates real life on the job and you want to see how they react to stressful scenarios?

In this situation, it might be useful to remember that an interview is not actually reflective of a day on the job and could cause real anxiety for a candidate, particularly the ones who really do want the job.

Offering a greater deal of assistance through the interview could help to ease their nerves and show that they could do the best job in the role. After all, you’re looking for the right person to make themselves known and if a candidate has the most relevant skills and experience, they could be that person - they might just need some guidance to get there.


(1) Buisness Insider UK - Tough Interview Questions - 09/01/17

(2) New York Times - Walt Bettinger of Charles Schwab: You’ve Got to Open Up to Move Up - 04/02/16


Posted by Jon Aspinell on 3rd October 2017

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