The purpose of a job interview is to learn enough about the candidate to decide whether the potential exists for a long-term business relationship.

Few job interviews accomplish this.  Because they tend to be ritualized, interviews probably reveal less "relationship potential" than your typical blind date.

The problem lies in the typical interview questions. Anyone who can go online can summon up lists of "tough questions" and prepare "correct answers" to satisfy them.

The resulting interview is more like a stage play than a conversation. You end up interviewing a rehearsed character rather than the actual person.

As a result, a slick candidate who's well-rehearsed can come off looking great, even if he or she is wildly inappropriate for the job.

In short, job interviews are a crappy way to pick out winners and winnow out losers. According to one study, less than 1 out of 5 new hires (19%) end up successful!

There is, however, one interview question where the answer can't be rehearsed and which therefore elicits potentially revealing response:

How would you approach this company-specific problem?

A company specific problem would be a situation that's unique your company and ideally unique to the work situation into which the interviewee is to be hired.

For example, suppose you're looking to hire a marketer to create a lead generation program for a software product currently under development.

You could ask about background, experience, favorite books, spirit animals and all the rest of the ritualized folderol. Or you could ask this:

"Our lead designer is full of great ideas but struggles to see things from the customer's viewpoint. How would you help him overcome that limitation?"

Or this:

"We're hoping to keep software support at a minimum. How would you winnow out potential customers who might create a support burden?"

The more specific and detailed your question, the more it forces interviewees to apply their individual experience, skills and attitude to a real-life problem.

By listening to the answer and probing for details, you'll know exactly what and who you're getting, should you decide to hire this person.

As a bonus (and this is the really smart part), you may get some good ideas for handling your knotty problems, even if you decide to pass on that candidate.

Published on: Jun 17, 2016