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Thursday, September 10, 2009

Bizarre Interview

I went through the weirdest interview yesterday. I interviewed with a panel of managers. The managers had five key questions. I was told at the beginning of the interview that they had received 200 applications and that staffing used the resumes to select 25 qualified people to interview. The hiring managers were not part of the initial screening (this is an HR related job so they were all in HR) and did NOT want to see our resumes so that they had no biases towards the candidates before the interviews. They asked us a total of 5 interview questions. They had a score sheet and were checking off answers to the questions as we went along. Maybe I am inexperienced, as I have only been in the field for two years but is this normal? Does this method add value? I am curious your opinion as an experienced HR professional on this style of interviewing.

I find this utterly bizarre. The only thing I can think of that since this is a fairly entry level position (since you only have 2 years of experience and were part of a group of 200), that the final 25 must have extremely similar backgrounds.

Why would you not want to know about experience? Why would you not want to question people about what they say they've done?

I don't get it. Maybe some of my readers do. Heck, maybe one of my readers interviewed you and can explain. (Wouldn't that be awesome?)

18 comments:

Kerry said...

Nope. I'm pretty sure they're idiots.

Sally said...

Why am I reminded of Olympic judges or the final scene in Flashdance here? After the interviews, are they planning to select the candidate with the highest average score?

Taria Shadow said...

"After the interviews, are they planning to select the candidate with the highest average score?"

I wouldn't be surprised. I've worked for companies that had scored averaging systems to make decisions on a lot of things that they really should have put more thought into than just answering 10 or 15 questions. It's sad....

Allyson and Dave said...

The only thing I can think of is that this is just a first round of interviews. They must trust those who did the screening to select only applicants that are qualified. Then maybe this panel interview was more for persnality fit. After they narrow down the selection maybe they will do a more traditional interview...that involves a resume. That is the only way I could possibly justify this.

stutefish said...

What were the five questions?

The Engieer said...

A set number of fixed questions asked exactly the same to every candidate is representative of my experience in government hiring. Panels I have been on will sometimes rotate who asks what question. Documentable fairness???

We did freely ask follow-up questions based on the applicants answers. And yes, the candidate with the highest combined (or average) score was offered the job first. There was some flexibility if you ranked instead of scored. Another approach was to have the score count for part and a rank count for part of a total evaluation. HR makes darn sure that we understand that if there are multiple candidates with the same (or nearly the same) scores then we are hiring the "protected class" if one is present.

It would be interesting to know the questions. I have seen hiring from a similar sized group, but it was for 8-12 openings of the same position. For the record, I hate interviewing that many candidates because the 8 am on the first day is never the same as the 4 pm on the last day.

Leslie said...

Hi all, I'm excited to say this is my first comment on this blog! I work in HR for a municipality and this process is exactly what we call an oral board. The process is designed to narrow down to the most qualified apps, assign scores to the answers based on suggested responses, and place those who pass on an employment list for departmental review.

Welcome to the bureaucratic world of civil service :)

RJ said...

Does this organisation have a history of "old school tie" favouritism?

Maybe prejudice towards Massapequa Community College instead of Podunkhawk Regional University?

It means that biases derived from alma mater connections could be discounted at least.

Matt said...

I have seen similar systems implemented in many public sector executive positions. If the position has an easily defined set of requirements for experience and skill set, and all 25 meet the requirements, they will cattle-car people through, looking for a specific set of attitudes and cultural fits. They'll ask everyone the same questions, and pick the individual who is the best "fit" to their expectations. Often, a set of scores is attributed to the answers, and they grade on a rubric system.

This is often employed when they have replaced this position many times (the job has a high turnover rate), and the attrition had more to do with "fit" than competency. In my opinion, it is a very cynical way to address what is an internal problem with the organization, not a problem with their candidate pool.

Anonymous said...

I am the original poster. For some background: I am assuming that while I consider myself entry level, it was not an entry level position. I talked with the individuals who interviewed before and after me. They were seasoned professionals.

The position was with a government agency. From everyone's response, it seems like this is a typical practice. So as a job seeker my follow up question is:

If they ask you why you are qualified, do you take them through your whole resume? Or do you point out key highlights? What are they looking for and what is the most strategic method for answering these questions?

As a recruiter, what information would you gain from these responses?

I feel like my prose was like verbal vomit where I covered everything under the sun and kept speaking because I could see them mark off their magical little check boxes. I just don't see the value in this type of interviewing because intuitively this style of interviewing makes the candidate appear disorganized and encourages them to talk too much, both of which I find distasteful in a candidate when I am interviewing.

I also think there are better ways to ask questions to find out whether a person is a cultural "fit." If you have used this type of interviewing, what were you looking for?

The Engineer said...

At the Original Poster -
If I ask why you are qualified then I expect a good presentation on why you are. Nothing hidden in that. I typically phrase it as "why are you the one we should hire." This is your chance to expound upon the brevity that should be your resume and application. Its showtime. Make the best of it.

I don't see how prepared questions force you into "verbal vomit." Perhaps there are more relevant details to the process you experienced. Check boxes for key points expected in an answer seems a good idea when you want to consistently review 25 candidates. I write notes about responses to questions almost constantly while the candidate is talking. You are in control here. You should know how to cut yourself off.

To me it appears that the questions were perfect in determining "fit" for you relative to this position. If this employer finds value in this system (and you said this was in HR and these were HR managers) I would expect you to be doing the same if you got the job. If this was a government position, then as others have noted, this is par for the course.

Anonymous said...

This is very similar to the process we use at my community college (although we have the vitas available before). In fact, we tell the candidates that if they want us to consider something, be sure to mention it at some point during the interview. There's a lot to it behind the scenes that the candidate won't be aware of, so it may look overly simplistic and regimented on the surface. I've been on many, many committees, however, and I have to say that I've drunk the koolaid--in my experience, the process works and we're almost always happy in the long run with our hires.

dickgrote said...

Leaving aside all the content of the post except for the observation that none of the interviewers had read the resume, actually, that's a pretty good idea.

A study done several years ago by McGill University indicated that if a person were being interviewed sequentially by several interviewers, it increases the probability of getting new and useful information if one of the interviewers deliberately doesn't read the resume or get any other information about the applicant/candidate in advance.

Too often interviewers interview just for the data on the resume without broaching new territory.

Start the interview by saying, "Pat, I deliberately didn't read your resume or get any information about you. Why don't you tell me what I need to know about you and why you're right for this job." Then spend the next 45 minutes going from there.

It's amazing the amount of information a naive (uninformed) interviewer can pick up that those who were bound by having seen the resume missed.

Dick Grote

doreen said...

This is pretty much the same process we use for promotions at the government agency I work for. Resumes are useless- everybody has pretty much the same experienceand education. I'm not sure what kind of questions the OP was asked. At my agency, for managerial jobs the questions tend toward "Given the agency's new focus on X, how would you deal with your employees' resistance to change?" Those interviewing for supervisory positions are asked how they would respond to some common, urgent scenarios. We're not interested so much in what they have done in the past as we are in determining whether they can make good decisions under time constraints- one scenario involved a crowded waiting room late in the day when a bomb threat was received. The candidate who was going to investigate why the waiting room was so crowded was not chosen.

Dr. Miller said...

Interviews are not the most effective way to find a candidate. They judge who has the best answers for questions that have little to do with how they can perform the job. This is why most companies hire a person who may be a popular people person, but are utterly loss on the job. I am a professor of sociology in Florida and we did a study on this and found that hiring strictly just off education and experience had a higher success rate than interviewing and application consideration. Too many people either hire those that act and look like them or have the same personality.

Anonymous said...

1 vote for most innefective interviewing technique ever...anyone else?

Jennifer Riley said...

Rather than asking why they did this, maybe you should ask "Do I really want to work here?" I'm not sure that is a culture for all candidates.

dickgrote said...

Leaving aside all the content of the post except for the observation that none of the interviewers had read the resume, actually, that's a pretty good idea.

A study done several years ago by McGill University indicated that if a person were being interviewed sequentially by several interviewers, it increases the probability of getting new and useful information if one of the interviewers deliberately doesn't read the resume or get any other information about the applicant/candidate in advance.

Too often interviewers interview just for the data on the resume without broaching new territory.

Start the interview by saying, "Pat, I deliberately didn't read your resume or get any information about you. Why don't you tell me what I need to know about you and why you're right for this job." Then spend the next 45 minutes going from there.

It's amazing the amount of information a naive (uninformed) interviewer can pick up that those who were bound by having seen the resume missed.

Dick Grote