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“What Kind of Tree would You Be?” and Other Stupid Interview Questions

By Joel A. Miller, ChateauHR Consulting

Expert Editorial

I’m amazed by the number of mediocre interviews in our industry.  Many use silly questions to gauge the candidate’s intellect or creativity.  Some classics:

 “If you could be any superhero, who would you be?”

“If you were stuck on a deserted island, what would you bring with you?”

Hiring managers mistakenly think they learn more about the candidate, but that’s rarely the case.

As a result, they often hire less-than-qualified people.  And when the inevitable failure happens, everyone wonders “How could we have hired that bozo?  Why didn’t we recognize these problems in our interviews?

The simple answer is usually “How could we have known?”, or perhaps “He is a poor Interviewer”.  But the reality is that we, as an industry, haven’t invested the time in developing interviewers in the first place.  As a result, we have massive inconsistency and predictably poor outcomes.  The costs are high.  First, there are the failures of the ill-qualified new hire on the job.  It could be the ruined tank of prime Chardonnay, or the balance sheet mistake, or the upset customer.  And then, after we fire the bad hire, we have to restart the whole process again, and perhaps hire another bozo.  And I won’t even delve into the legal exposure of discriminatory questions. The tragedy here is that it is all preventable – if we can see the vineyard through the vines.

When I poll Wine Business Institute graduate students about interviews, I get consistent results.  My first question: “How many of you are involved in interviewing and assessing candidates?”  At least 95% raise their hands, as these are leaders at their wineries.  The second question is telling:  “How many of you had more than four hours of training about how to interview?”  Almost all the hands go down.  So here’s the problem – we need and expect interviewing skills, but never invest in building these skills.  It is a systemic failure, not an individual manager’s error.

Growing up in a large high-performance corporation (P&G), I lived the opposite approach.  P&G managers were not allowed to interview others until they had a week of training and demonstrated their new skills in practice sessions first.  Yes, it was a large time commitment.  And the end results were impressive.  While hiring wasn’t perfect, it was unusual to see a poor hire…and that was in a very demanding culture.  Similar approaches are common at other world-class outfits like GE and IBM.  Tech giants like Google and Microsoft have further evolved their approaches to assessing candidates, and they invest lots of training time as well.  They closely track results over time to fine-tune both their process and the interviewers’ skills.  It is time for the Wine Industry to join these ranks of the competent.

Good news – world-class interview skills can be learned by almost anyone, and it doesn’t take long to gain competence.  There are a variety of techniques that an experienced interviewer will use.  Old-school “Traditional” interviewing focuses on candidate skills and technical qualifications.  It is easy to learn and use, as the interviewer follows a simple series of questions.  While this provides good information on the candidate’s background, Traditional interviewing isn’t sufficient to really gauge whether the candidate will be successful in the company.  As we all know, knowledge alone doesn’t equate to success at work.

Most experts recommend the techniques known as Behavioral-Based Interviewing.  This is a structured interview process that focuses on candidate capabilities as demonstrated by past behaviors. The key here is that past behaviors – what the candidate actually did – is the best indicator of future performance.  Recent studies indicate that Behavioral-based techniques can predict future job performance over 70% of the time.  While far from perfect, it smokes all other techniques.

Many Traditional interviewers like to ask hypothetical questions, such as “How would you fix this problem” or “Prioritize your steps to implementing this project.”  While these questions provide insight into the candidate’s smarts and education, they fall short.  Just because someone knows how they should do something doesn’t mean that they can or will actually perform it well.  Instead, the Behavioral interview asks “Tell me about a time when you fixed a similar problem” or “Explain how you led a major project.”  By listening closely to the responses, the interviewer can better predict what the candidate will actually do on the job in similar situations.  Even less experienced candidates, such as recent graduates, will have situations that can be used to judge their real capabilities.

The demand for quality talent has never been higher, and wineries can ill-afford a hiring mistake.  So the time is now to invest a little in interview training, and reap the rewards many times over.

Joel A. MillerExpert Editorial

by Joel A. Miller

Joel A. Miller, Principal at ChateauHR Consulting, has led Human Resource teams in both public and private firms across multiple industries.  He specializes in small and medium-sized businesses looking to better utilize their talent and drive business results for long-term success. He has deep expertise across all facets of HR and strategic planning.   Joel also serves as an Adjunct Professor in Sonoma State University’s Executive MBA Program and Wine Business Institute.  You can learn more about his work at www.ChateauHR.com, and reach him at Joel@ChateauHR.com or (707) 217-2468.

 

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