One of the most popular job interview questions is biased and unfair, says Adam Grant

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This article has been re-shared from it’s original source, Quartz

BY Leah Fessler · Aug 8, 2017

You’re 10 minutes into a job interview. You’ve had a bit of small talk and run over the basics of your resume. Then the interviewer leans back and asks a question that begins the dreaded phrase: “Tell me about a time when…” Who knows what will follow? “When you overcame a professional challenge.” “When you managed workplace conflict.” “When you slew a wild unicorn.”

Behavioral questions like these are among hiring managers’ favorite interview tactics. They’re meant to offer unique insight into a potential employee’s personality and how a person might fit into company culture. But according to Adam Grant, an organizational psychologist, professor at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, and author of the book Originals, these ubiquitous questions are unfair to job applicants—and ineffective to boot.

“Tell me about a time when”

In the August edition of “Wondering,” Grant’s monthly feature in which he answers reader emails, Grant takes issue with the phrasing of behavioral questions.

“When you ask questions about the past—’tell me about a time when you…’—interviewees with less experience in that situation are at a disadvantage,” Grant tells Quartz. The more jobs you have, the more you navigate professional conflict and success, and the more workplace anecdotes you accumulate. Meanwhile, even competitive younger candidates haven’t had enough professional exposure to narrate an equally nuanced story.

A job applicant’s “story” often isn’t particularly revealing. “What you really want to know is how the candidate will handle the challenges in this job at your organization—not how they approached another job in a different organization,” says Grant.

Moreover, Grant argues, when you ask a traditional “tell me a time when” question, you put people in “recall mode,” forcing them to retrieve a memory rather than engaging in the present. “Alternatively, asking about the future puts people in problem-solving mode: they’re thinking in real-time about what they would do,” says Grant. When you hire a new employee, their real-time critical thinking skills will prove essential. Their ability to frantically recall relevant anecdotes will not.

Lastly, behavioral questions are easy to game: “You end up hiring the candidate who’s the best talker, not the best contributor,” Grant writes in “Wondering.” If improvisational storytelling is key to the job you’re hiring for, then that works out fine. If not, it’s time for hiring managers to switch their strategy.

 

 

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