Four interviewing techniques that never work

Managers should use the interview to gauge people for the right mix of skills and personality. Here are four interviewing techniques that don't help you do this.

Getting the right people onto your team is job number one.  A bad hire can make your life miserable and seriously set back your organization's goals.  That's why it's so important to make sure that you get people that have the right mix of skills and personality that work well in your organization.  Personally, I believe that personality is just as important as skills; a person that can't work with the team or in the organization's culture is doomed to failure.

Managers everywhere use all kinds of techniques to sift through candidate pools and zero in on the perfect person.  Many forget that the interview, however, is a two-way street; at the same time you are interviewing the candidate, they are interviewing you as well.  At present, it's definitely a "buyer's market" with the employer sitting in the position of power, but that's not always the case.

I've seen and heard of some really crappy interview techniques that were either insulting or simply ineffective.  Here are a few:

1. The cable test

I wasn't party to this, but I heard about it.  Now, I'll be the first to admit that an A/V technician needs to know something about cables.  So, the interview team threw a whole bunch (25?) of random cables in a box, including SCSI cables and the like, and required each candidate to identify the purpose of each one.  The feedback I heard from candidates that went through the test was consistent - it was insulting.  By the time the actual interview came around, the candidates felt that their basic knowledge should have gotten them to the interview and the interview should have focused more on problem solving skills.  The value-add was questionable as well.  If the team wanted to test someone's skills, maybe the cable idea should have been expanded.  Instead of just making someone identify cables, have enough equipment in the interview room and ask the candidate to get some kind of working setup up and running. Run through the full solution instead.

This bad technique might even apply to coding tests or other so-called skills tests.  If you want to see code, ask for a sample ahead of time.  Putting someone on the spot just to see how they perform just doesn't seem to make sense.

2. The intelligence test

Google is famous for asking really, really though questions in their interviews in an effort to determine how people solve complex problems, to see how they think and to see how they explain abstract constructs in relatable terms.  I want to make one thing clear: I'm not jealous that I would fail every hiring test at the company.  These kinds of questions are absolutely intended to bring in only the absolute best and brightest-those that can think quickly on their feet and solve problems.

Believe it or not, though, there is a place for differently minded people. There have been articles written about the problematic nature of relying on what seem to be thinly veiled IQ tests in hiring practices.  At the same time, many have publicly lamented Google's perceived attention on graduates from only elite schools.  If all of the above information is true, Google is missing out on some world-class talent.

3. The "pointless questions" game

This has been done to death and I think I've been asked questions like this in pretty much every interview I've ever had.

  • "Where do you see yourself in 5 years?" - I honestly don't know how to answer this one except with the stock answer indicating that I want to be creating great solutions for Company X. It seems more like a filler question than one that can yield any real results. I guess it would be a way to weed out someone truly horrible. After all, if the response was, "Doing hard time because of my drug habit" that would be a red flag. I suppose also that this question is a way to determine whether or not someone is really interested in sticking around the company, but it seems like a throwaway these days.
  • "What is your biggest weakness?" - By this point, everyone expects the question and has a stock answer prepared. Again, it doesn't seem like much valued can be derived here. I get that interviewers want people to admit that they're not perfect. Maybe answers like, "I just such a darn perfectionist!" actually work against people at this point since it says to the interviewer that the person isn't as self-aware as he should be.

These kinds of questions are pretty unimaginative and if they're indicative of the management style of the organization might indicate that they're not doing everything they can to bring great people on board.

4. A single person doing all the work

I don't believe in single-person interviews although I have been subjected to some over the years.  A single person can't gain enough perspective on every single person brought in and can't gauge exactly how every team member will react to the new hire.  While I believe that an interviewee should have some one-on-one time with the hiring manager, members from the intended workgroup and from other areas of the organization should participate in the interviews to provide different perspectives.  If you want the right people on the team, make sure the team gets a say.


Obviously, someone sees some value in some of these techniques but, to me, they just seem like excuses to get through the pile rather than to really zero in on the right person.

What are some awful interviewing techniques you've seen?

By Scott Lowe

Since 1994, Scott Lowe has been providing technology solutions to a variety of organizations. After spending 10 years in multiple CIO roles, Scott is now an independent consultant, blogger, author, owner of The 1610 Group, and a Senior IT Executive w...