No Comparison!

Have you ever read a feature (online or in print) that claimed to offer two views of the same idea, topic or product?  There are all kinds of examples of this “two sides of same coin” column in a wide variety of publications.  But upon reading them, frequently the questions asked are not the same to both opinion providers.  Yes, the opinions of the topic, product or service may differ, but respondents’ answers are too often not about the same features or functions of what is being discussed, likely because they are not being asked the same questions.
If a business is trying to evaluate prospective hires, during the interview process it behooves the employer to have discussions with all candidates that are as similar as possible.  This can best be accomplished by developing a list of questions that are asked of all candidates interviewing for that position.
Not that long ago, I was asked to sit in on a series of interviews at a small business where an executive was trying to fill a single position.  For several hours, I watched as the executive asked entirely different questions of each candidate making it very difficult to assess and compare the strengths and weaknesses of the applicants.  By asking different questions, the exec found that she was unable to properly ascertain which of those in consideration would be most appropriate to fill her opening.  It was certainly apparent that each of the interviewees had assets they could bring to the business, but direct comparisons of their communication skills, let alone their relevant job skills were not possible.
This kind of thing happens for a variety of reasons, but most typically because the interviewer is trying (too hard) to come across as friendly and welcoming of the candidate.  Yes, an interviewer wants to project a positive image of the company, and get to know the candidate.  While being friendly and inquisitive about the individual is important, it should not be at the expense of learning about the applicants abilities as they pertain to the job and the business’ needs.
The other problem with being too friendly during an interview is that it is too easy to fall into the trap of asking irrelevant questions, or worse, asking questions that border on, or are illegal.  By law, employers are not permitted to pose any inquiry into a person’s age, national origin, religion, race, marital status, sexual preference, disabilities, and other topics about protected characteristics.  But when conversation gets casual, things unrelated to the job and business can accidentally be revealed by the job seeker, or invited by the interviewer.  Once that personal information has been revealed by the job seeker, it can open up other areas of questioning that might best be avoided, or would be ignored entirely under proper interviewing conditions.
Now you may be thinking that these sound like rookie mistakes made by inexperienced HR interviewers.  But you’d be amazed at how frequently employers ignore professional and legal protocols and ask the wrong questions.  And in our litigious society, if it does happen, the employer is opening himself up to possible formal accusations of illegal employment practices that could cost the business their reputation and a ton of cash to defend, even if the charges are unsubstantiated!
How can an employer improve their candidate inquiries?

  • Determine the core skills and professional qualities you require of the new hire.
  • Make a list of at least 15 questions that will encourage applicants to talk about the value they bring to your business and their ability to do the job that needs to be done.  And ask the same questions of each candidate.
  • Ask open-ended questions that elicit detailed, experiential responses, rather than simple “yes” or “no” answers.

  • Ask job-specific questions to determine the interviewee’s knowledge of what must be done, and how the position fits in to your company and its relevance to your industry

  • Get applicants to talk about difficult decisions they’ve made, how they handle stress, their future plans, and what they expect from their job.

  • And get candidates to talk about loyalty, trustworthiness, company security, and leadership.

Remember that the whole point of the interview process is to find the employee that’s the right fit for your needs.  Make the selection process easier by collecting consistently focused data from all of your candidates.  Your analysis of the interviewees’ responses to the same questions will enable you to make a reliable comparison, and a more sound hiring decision.

And for more tips for employers and job seekers please search this blog, or visit:


  1. Hank -

    Thanks for your comment.
    “Luck or skill?”
    Hopefully it becomes more about intuition based on broad-based experience, PLUS the skill!
    Glad to hear your hire is working out.
    Hank London

  2. Mamasnydes -

    I really liked this piece and tried to execute these points during my recent search for a paralegal. I had read some similar advice on the NHRA website. It went well for about 3 or 4 interviews, and then it got stale. I felt too automated, robotized if you will. I ended up debating with the managing partner for the candidate that gave me the best gut feeling, while he wanted the one who had all the “right answers and qualifications”. It’s been just two months, but she’s working out really well and no one regrets the decision. Luck or skill?

Comments are closed.