Job Interview company's odd questions

Well not really odd. I’ve been interviewing for a few jobs and on two occasions the questions were remarkably similar to each other. Instead of asking about my technical skills and experience it was:

Tell me about a time you were unable to make a deadline.
Tell me about an incident where you could not satisfy a clients’ request.
Give me a specific case where you had a conflict and how did this get resolved.

Both companies went out of their way to indicate they were looking for “specific” examples (the word “specific” was so often and emphatically expressed that it was obvious to me that it was part of a script).

So it is also obvious that these two companies have bought into the same “how to invterview a prospective employee” program. I’ve also been able to get out of them that they went through some “training” on interviewing…another hallmark of a specific program.

My questions are: what is this program? What kind of meaning do they get from the answers provided by these questions (if any)? and What would be “best” answers for such questions, just in case I run into them again?

I doubt that they can accurately draw “IF the prospective employee says this; THEN it means that” but I wouldn’t put it past some non-rigourous non-scientific organization selling the program to make such claims.

For what its worth; one position is a technical expert sort and the other is a project manager sort. Both would have no one reporting to them, but would “interface” with client companies on a regular basis.

This is the STAR technique of interviewing. My HR is all over it and insists that I use it to evaluate candidates. Did I ever tell you how much I hate HR? This is a behavioral method of interviewing candidates and doesn’t necessarily have to do with skill. I guess I’ve been lucky that my department has always hired well-adjusted people that can do the job.

It’s called the STAR technique.

There’s a bit more about behavioral interviewing here. I can’t help but think it’s all a load, but it seems to becoming the very trendy thing to do.

In my former life, when I used to conduct interviews, I would ask the same questions I was asked in order to get the job I currently held. I really didn’t care if the prospective employee had ever missed a suspense or had failed to satisfy a customer. My concern was how the person responded to the question. If a person said something like: All the time, my boss was always giving me all the work and impossible deadlines, just to make me look bad. He was just doing it to get me fired because he didn’t like me. My response would be thanks but no thanks most of the time.
As to a time when a person could not satisfy the customer, I would expect the person to try everything within reason to satisfy the customer short of cheating the company. Some people can not be satisfied by mere mortals, and I understand that. An answer that would get you passed over would be something like: She sent her order back three times saying it was too spicy. So finally I told her she is just being a bitch and we don’t need her as a customer anymore. The appropriate response would be: I suggested she order mild chicken wings instead of Atomic Island wings, but she insisted she always ate Atomic Wings and we changed the recipe without informing the customer. I invited her to call the Regional Manager and even gave her his phone number. I of course told her she would have to pay for the 12 Singapore Slings and the appetizer she had already consumed, but not the wings.
The correct answer to the conflict question would be anything other than: I kicked his ass in the parking lot. Or: So, I challenged him to a duel. I can show you the scar.

SSG Schwartz

There is a lot to recommend the behavioral method but it isn’t magic. The idea is that you ask the candidate to discuss an actual event and how they really responded. This is to steer interviewers away from hypotheticals like, “If a customer disagreed with you, what would you do?” “Of course, I would smile sweetly and…” Anybody can guess what you want to hear and make it sound good. But there is some psychological advantage in asking for a real situation. If a candidate is sufficiently savvy and prepared, of course they can make up the “real situations” too, but most people don’t. And if you dive into their story a little, you can tell if they’re making up details as they go along.

I always ask about specific situations where the candidate has experienced conflict with a peer or a client to see how they view conflict and manage it. It works a lot better than, “How do you deal with conflict?”

Note that these kinds of questions are generally useful only for evaluating “soft skills”. If I am interviewing a programmer I am still going to ask him what’s the difference between a virtual function and a pure virtual function, and make sure he can do the work.

I am also a fan of this type of interview question. I think **CookingWithGas ** summarized it pretty well. **Sgt ** **Schwartz’s ** examples are actually more on target for what bad candidates say than you might think. Not badmouthing former employers is a key factor. Not namecalling customers or coworkers in a customer service or team environment is also important. Also, you get a sense for whether people do and do not actually have experience doing something–leading a project, negotiating, resolving conflict among team members.

One additional tip: I have had very good results as an interviewee giving this type of specific answer, even when the question was hypothetical “how would you …?” I think it gives the answer more credibility when there’s a specific case to back it up.

I always hated such interviews. Their job is to not get you the job. So I always make up someone’s negative issues and how I magically turned the situation into a positive one with increased company productivity and profit.

Have an acquaintance with a MBA who is a pure psychopath. He has been hired and fired by over 5 Fortune 500s. Usually he cannot make it over a year with any company as by then they realize just how dangerous he is. But he does know how to interview rather well. :wink:

As others have noted, it’s a form of behavioral interviewing. I see some merit in it, depending on the interviewer’s abilities. Used correctly, it has good success in identifying people who have inflated views of their abilities, and also identifying people who make things up.

Unfortunately, most companies are very poor at interviewing. You may run into someone who’s been taught to ask these questions without understanding how to do the proper follow-up. Alas, that person won’t get anything useful out of these questions! Still, it’s better than the old stand-by “What is your greatest weakness” (a friend of mine used to answer “chocolate ice cream”).

The idea behind these questions is that nobody is perfect, therefore anyone with sufficient experience will have run into problem areas. The question is, how did he or she handle it? Did he or she learn from it, change behavior, mitigate the fallout?

Someone who isn’t self-aware will stubbornly maintain that he or she has never had a problem. That’s a sign of someone who could create havoc in your company! It could also be that this person doesn’t have the experience he or she claims. It’s also possible the person can’t tell the truth, which is just as bad.

A reasonable person will have had negative experiences and be able to accurately describe what happened. A really good person will be able ot show that he or she learned from the experience, mitigated the ill effects, and survived the whole thing. That’s what you’re looking for.

So, when you go to an interview, be ready for these questions. Answer honestly, and be prepared with details of what you did to learn and grow from bad experiences.

Take a look at how resumes have been standardized and crafted over the years - and NCOER “bullet comments” - even the software for online job search sites would flag on words or phrases like “demonstrated” “accomplished” “responsible for” “accountability” etc., you get the idea. No idea what the current fetish in hiring/resume style today is about, but at one time the trend was towards 1 (one page) which means a lot of information has to be condensed. So might the interview technique be a way of seeing if the job candidate can follow through on their resume claims? It’s relatively easy to make or have made a very nice looking resume, there has to be some way of further winnowing through so many, and then so many candidates…

I ask questions like this in interviews all the time. The goal is to get a feel for how the applicant handles himself when things go wrong. The key, as other people have said, is in the follow up. It’s not enough to just ask “What’s the worst crisis you had to deal with in your last job?” and move on. You have to go off-script and ask more questions based on what the applicant says.

I’d’ve waited about 20 minutes before answering this one.

There’s an airline in Australia that ask these types of questions in their interview. They have zero technical questions (I guess the assumtion is that you’ve been flying for several years, you should know your stuff.)

Man that’s good… I did a full on belly laugh on this answer.

Another reason for these questions is to test the honesty of the candidate. No one ever didn’t satisfy a customer at some time, or made a bug (the question I ask.) It gets the candidate off the “I’m perfect” track. I agree that you have to follow-up. I also ask questions on exactly what went into the projects on the resume. Some people make these seem a lot harder than they actually are.

I had a behavioral interview from a company that had just been bought by Capitol One that consisted of a one hour phone interview and then a FULL DAY series of these types of behavioral interviews. For anyone that hasn’t done them themselves, they are extremely stressful and now I ask the type of interview before I agree to go one. Behavioral interviews are right out and I refuse to consider any company that does them (interviewing is a two way street after all). The problem comes when they ask you to outline a scenario that has never happened and it approached the “Have you stopped beating your wife?” type of logic. If you have never made a whole group of coworkers angry and then had to give a mass apology about correcting your mistakes what are you supposed to say when they ask you to go into a 5 minute monologue about it. The interviewer is generally just instructed to stare at you until you make something up. No thanks. This is capitalism and there are plenty of opportunities elsewhere and I don’t want to be treated like I am at a KGB interrogation.

Except that’s not true. In my job I simply don’t come into contact with customers at all, I am a strictly “in-company” man. Yet when interviewing I still get asked that very same asinine question, which tells me one of two things about the interviewer: 1) He doesn’t know jack-shit about the position I’m applying for, or 2) He’s just screwing with me to see how I’ll react. Both of the situations tell me I’d be better off at a company with more serious and professional managers.

I strongly agree with Shagnasty, these interviewing techniques are silly and demeaning, the only thing they screen for is the ability to bullshit and ass-kiss, which experience tells me are exactly the most important abilities that poor managers look for, which tells me I’d be better off at a better company.

The last time I was looking for work I also left interviews that relied on this bull. I also noticed another disturbing trend, the sit-behind. I go in to interview and there are three or more people on the panel, no big deal. Yet one or more of the interviewers seats himself behind me during the interview so that I can’t see them. This is rude and inhospitable, and it reeks of sneakiness and manipulation. I sat through one of these because it came as a surprise. The next time it happened I turned around and asked the guy if he would like to join us and take a seat where I could see him. He responded that this is how they interview. I thanked them for their time and left. Why would I want to work for someone who sneaks around behind me?

I agree wholeheartedly, and as I pointed out in my original post, these types of questions work if the interviewer knows how to do them. Otherwise, they’re counterproductive and guaranteed to chase off anyone really worth hiring.

I’ve heard plenty of stories about “panel” interviews, but never one about the “sitting behind someone” interview. I don’t think I’d just walk out on one of those, but I’d later on tell them that I was no longer interested in the position.

Sometimes, though, that’s a luxury. I hesitate to tell people to turn down a job; I’ve been through plenty of times in which even getting an interview was hard. You just have to deal with the craziness of certain companies as best you can.

I hope people don’t mind me bumping this after a couple of weeks idle.

Are behaviorial interviews currently in vogue? The only time I’ve had one has been for an in-house position in June, and it was terribly done. Half the questions had nothing to do with our company at all. I think HR found it on a website and printed it out verbatim, honestly.

Anyway, I’m hoping to be interviewing for a few jobs in the near future, and it’s been about 4 years since my last interview. Please tell me these things aren’t commonplace now.

Thank goodness I’ll never be interviewed like that. That conflict question… my current management has a large, readily accessible button marked “Foaming Mad”. For fun, I used to press it regularly, then get kicked out of his office laughing. Then I got asked by the staff who have to stay in the building not to do it anymore. :smack: So I try real hard not to now :o