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Why one of the most used questions in a job interview is unfair and biased

Why one of the most used questions in a job interview is unfair and biased

August 16, 2022

The main objective of job interviews used in the recruitment processes is to collect the maximum amount of relevant information on each candidate, but doing this in a reliable way is not as simple as it sounds.

Much of the information that interviewers must extract from the interviewee is not expressed directly by the latter, but indirectly follows from their behavior and what they say.

In that ambiguous space between the expressed and the inferred, there is a lot of space for interpretation, but also for error and, in fact, there are reasons to believe that one of the most popular questions in job interviews is fundamentally useless and biased , as the organizational psychologist Adam Grant points out.


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The unfair question that should not be asked in job interviews

There is a point of job interviews, when the basic information of each application has already been collected, in which the interviewers decide to go a step further and know how the interviewee behaves in specific work situations that may pose a challenge.

Normally logistical limitations make it not possible raise in real time a challenge similar to that one finds in the job position that is chosen , so we try to access this information through an indirect question.


The thing starts like this:

"Explain what happened on some occasion when, in a previous job ..."

And from this approach, you can choose different variants:

"... has been especially proud of how he dealt with a conflict."

"... live a situation of tension with a client, and how he solved the situation".

"... he came to think that he did not have the strength to reach all the objectives set, and what he did about it".

Unlike other types of questions, these refer to real situations, and the answers have to take the form of a narrative with an approach, a node and an outcome.

The latter, coupled with the fact that they are referred to real work situations , it can lead to think that they contribute truthful information, because in the end the important thing in a selection process is to know exactly how someone behaves in the professional field, how he undertakes his objectives.


However, Adam Grant points out that this kind of mental exercises do more harm than good to the job interview. Let's see why.

1. It is unfair for young candidates

Grant points out that this type of exercise puts younger candidates in a clear situation of inferiority, because although they may be very skilled and have the theoretical and practical training necessary to perform the job, they have not managed to accumulate a reasonable amount of remarkable experiences that can be explained in this phase of the interview. In the end, the habit of confusing lack of stories with the lack of experience necessary for a position to make a dent in the selection process.

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2. It is a memory exercise

Another drawback of this type of approach is that in them the mentality of the person interviewed goes to a "recovery of memories" mode and not to one of conflict resolution in real time. This makes the information it reveals not speak so much about what actually happened but how it is remembered.

Keep in mind that decades of research in psychology have shown that memories are always changing, the odd thing would be that they remain unchanged. Specifically, It is very common for memories to blend with desires and intentions of one, even if one is not aware of it. Therefore, it may be that the panorama offered by the people interviewed is much more optimistic than the event that actually occurred.

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3. Verbal skills interfere

These exercises serve more to select skilled people when telling stories than to detect those who are more skilled when facing conflicts or dealing with stress. The lack of capacity and resources to explain what happened, for example, does not say anything about how someone would perform in the workplace, and in the same way explain an interesting story about how a work was done in the past does not say much about what would really happen if a similar problem appeared in the present.

4. Differences between jobs count

Another drawback is that the work contexts can be very different depending on each job position. If candidates are given the chance to remember a past work event, it is very possible that they talk about a very different type of organization to the one to which they choose to enter to work in the present.

The key is to raise hypothetical situations

According to Grant, to avoid the aforementioned drawbacks and get relevant information about the candidates , the selectors must pose imaginary situations and ask the interviewees how they would act in the face of such challenges.

In this way, the range of situations from which each candidate departs is reduced, making the situation more just, and at the same time they are invited to actively participate in the resolution of a problem in real time , something that will reveal important aspects about his work performance, his level of creativity, his intelligence and his predisposition to work as a team.

For example, they may be asked to think of ways to make a brand create a viral content on the Internet linked to its image, without spending more than 10,000 euros, or can entrust the mission of directing an imaginary selection process, with profiles of several candidates explained and the express need to coordinate the process with heads of two different departments.

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How to Conduct Interviews (August 2022).


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