Monday, July 14, 2008

Avoid asking hypothetical questions in interviews

I have taken part in many interviews as interviewer and interviewee. I have seen many interviewers ( including me ) ask many  hypothetical questions especially for management positions. 

Hypothetical question example :
When one of your team member does not show up on time for work, how will you handle the situation ? 

The interviewee usually comes with a textbook answer. Something like , 
I will talk to him/her about him/her not showing up on time. 

This is a very good answer. But this answer does not mean that the interviewee has any experience handling these kinds of situations. It just means that the interviewee had read some books about management. So instead of asking hypothetical questions, we should be asking "behavior description questions"

For example instead of asking 
"When one of your team member does not show up on time, how will you handle the situation?"

we should be asking 
"Tell me about a time when one of your team member was not showing up on time, how did you handle that situation?" .

This way of questions will help interviewee to explain how they worked in their past instead of coming up with some hypothetical answer.


Sudhindra Rao said...

Hi Siva,
I think hypothetical questions are about assessing the ability to think outside the box. Especially given a situation that is totally made up. So instead of asking a question "If you had a team member turning up late to work, how would you address it" the question should be something like "Say that you want to move Mount Fuji"(one of the famous questions asked in the book - How would you move Mount Fuji).
Also you should still continue to ask for behaviour by saying "Tell me something interesting about your past and tell me how you contributed to improving that and what was the result."

Hope I am making sense


Siva Jagadeesan said...

Hi Sudhindra:

Yes that is a very good explanation about hypothetical questions. The problem is sometimes interviewers use hypothetical questioning techniques to find out how much experience interviewee has, rather than for finding out how creative interviewees are. That is what prompted me to write this blog.

Said that, I think I should change my blog title from “Avoid asking hypothetical questions in interviews” to “Avoid asking hypothetical questions in interviews for assessing interviewee’s experience”

Thanks for your comment.

--Siva Jagadeesan