Kid Validated Interview Questions
Thomas A Stetz
Hawaii Pacific University
Recently I was interviewing for a new job. When I mentioned this to my three officemates, they took it upon themselves to help get me ready for the pending interview. For several days they peppered me with interview questions, occasionally yelling them out at random intervals and heckling me while I answered. Not being I-O psychologists, they turned to the Internet for questions to assault me with. (Actually I don’t really know what they do— something with computers I think—which reminded me to avoid all discussion of my interpersonal work skills during the actual interview.)
Any one who has searched the Internet for practice interview questions knows how many sites come up—a lot. And, the sites all seem to have similar questions and provide similar ideal answers. I am sure you’re familiar with the types of questions.
- What’s your greatest strength?
- What’s your greatest weakness?
- Do you prefer to work individually or in a group?
- Do you have any questions for me?
To me all of these questions seemed so simple that even a kid could answer them well. Luckily I have a seven-year-old daughter and put this to the test. I decided to do a mock interview with her. The interview started something like this.
Before people get hired for a job they often have to talk to the person who will be their boss and answer some questions. He or she will then decide if they want to hire them.
Think about a job that you would like to have. What’s the job?
OK. Let’s pretend that I’m the boss talking to you about a job to see if I should hire you. I am going to ask you some questions.
The job my daughter identified was a preschool teacher. Below are some excerpts from my interview.
Interviewer:â€ˆWhy would you be a good preschool teacher?
7-year-old: I like kids and it has always been my dream to be a teacher.
That sounded pretty good, and she didn’t even need to look on the Internet see how to answer (although she is already scary good at that kind of research).
Interviewer:â€ˆWhat would be your greatest weakness as a preschool teacher?
7-year-old: Sometimes I don’t stay in the lines when I color.
That too sounded like a good answer. Maybe was not as good as the classic “I work too hard,” but still good in that it was honest, came off as sincere, and touches on a relatively minor teaching skill: coloring between the lines.
Interviewer:â€ˆDo you prefer to work in a group or by yourself?
7-year-old: I like to work in a group, but sometimes I like working alone.
Good answer once again, and one that nearly all interview sites would suggest. Finally I wrapped up the interview with this.
Interviewer:â€ˆDo you have any questions for me?
7-year-old: How many kids will be in my class?
7-year-old: How much money will I make?
Interviewer:â€ˆHow much money do you want to make?
7-year-old: Like $20 a day.
It seems that even a seven-year-old can ask appropriate questions at the end of an interview. How many kids will be in the class is actually a very good follow-up question. However, I felt it was too early in the interview process to begin negotiating salary. I’m going to have to work with her on her negotiating skills. After all she may be taking care of me in my old age. I strongly recommend that everyone continue to use this question because, who knows, maybe you can hire someone for $20 a day.
What’s the lesson from all of this? HR professionals and managers often turn to Internet sites when preparing to make a hiring decision. As I-O psychologists, we need to caution them about doing this. We should let them know that when a question is so easy that a seven-year-old can answer it appropriately its usefulness in personnel selection is quite questionable. HR professionals and managers fear the word discrimination. However, we know that discrimination is what personnel selection is all about. Questions should discriminate, in a good way. They should discriminate the excellent performers from the good performers and the good performers from the poor performers. The questions need to do this while avoiding discrimination against protected classes of individuals and avoiding the creation of negative applicant reactions.
Questions that everyone can answer well (even a seven-year-old) do not discriminate. We need to teach them that a useful question must have variation in how people answer it. If everyone answers a question well there is little variation. With little variation in the quality of answers, the hiring manager has to make very fine distinctions, and fine distinctions are notoriously hard to make. Although nearly every manager believes that he or she is above average at interviewing, reading people during the interview, and making such fine distinctions, the evidence is actually quite to the contrary—and not everyone can be above average.
We also need to tell them that a large body of research shows two types of particularly effective interview questions exist, situational questions and patterned behavioral questions. Then explain why these question types are effective—because they are highly content-valid drawing upon real-life work situations that applicants are likely to face on the job. They both also focus on behaviors ignoring more subjective traits, motivations, and the like, which are easy to fake and hard to assess.
Finally we need to be upfront about advantages and disadvantages. For example, these types of questions do take more time and money to develop, but the likely payoff is better selection decisions. Situational interview questions are a little more flexible as the interviewee might not have experienced certain work situations, preventing a past behavior question. Of course there is always the issue of can do versus will do. In a situational interview, just because an interviewee knows what to do doesn’t mean the he or she will actually do it. One the other hand, if he or she doesn’t even know to what do it is pretty clear that they won’t do the right thing on the job. Behavioral questions may be prone to inflation or outright fabrication on the interviewee’s part. Research, however, shows that simply asking the interviewee to provide a contact person who can verify the story prevents inflation (regardless if you plan on following up or not).
I know all of this stuff is pretty basic for an I-O psychologist, but next time you are brought in to help a hiring manager or develop a selection system ask the manager, “Is this question so easy even a kid could answer it?” This seemingly silly question and a silly story such as mine may help make the case for a more rigorous selection interview. Making sure that all interview questions are kid validated will go a long way in helping them make right selection decision.