Why You Should Retire These 5 Common — and Unnecessarily Stressful — Interview Questions

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Interviews are naturally a little nerve-wracking, but an unnecessarily stressful experience can permanently damage a candidate’s perception of your company. It can also make it harder for you to evaluate their fit for the role, since an overly nervous or uncomfortable person may struggle to show everything they could bring to the role.

While you probably take steps to put every candidate at ease, some of the standard questions you may ask could unintentionally leave them squirming.

Digital marketing agency Reboot conducted a study in which candidates were asked to wear a health and fitness tracker during an interview. They were then asked common interview questions while their heart rate was measured. In some cases, their beats per minute almost doubled.

Here are the interview questions and scenarios that were found to raise candidates’ heart rates the most — and some tips for getting the answers you need, without making your candidates sweat.

1. “We’re going to give you a quick test”
Hearing that they’re about to be tested is enough to make anyone’s heart pound. Reboot found that this announcement causes, on average, a 93% increase in a candidate’s heart rate — up from around 80 beats per minute to 154.

Sometimes a test is the best way to evaluate and compare candidates’ skills accurately and fairly.

But there are still things you can do to make tests more productive and less stressful. Letting candidates know in advance that there will be a test component to the interview gives them time to mentally prepare, so consider mentioning this when you send the agenda. Giving them an idea of when this assessment will take place — for example, between meeting different interviewers or at the very end of the day — also means they won’t spend the entire interview wondering when it’s coming.

Unless the role will absolutely require your new hire to complete tasks within a set amount of time, it may be best to avoid time-bound assessments. Indeed, you may want to make your test a take-home assignment. Keep in mind that some candidates may take longer to read and process instructions or perform certain actions, despite being entirely capable of performing the job. So while it’s OK to let candidates know the test won’t be too time-consuming, assuring them that they can take as long as they need may help you to assess their abilities more accurately.

2. “What salary range are you looking for?”
It’s clear from the hundreds of online articles that coach candidates on how to answer salary-related questions that many dread being asked about pay. In some places, it’s now illegal for companies to ask about salary history. But questions around salary expectations are still common and Reboot found they cause a 66% increase in heart rate.

Research shows that scrapping questions around salary history is the single biggest step you can take toward achieving pay equity at your company. But asking about the candidate’s expected salary range isn’t necessarily a productive alternative. Since candidates will usually base their expectations on what they’ve previously earned, this question may ultimately perpetuate pay inequality.

Instead of asking about expectations, companies like Glitch share transparent salary ranges to ensure people know what to expect and feel confident that they’ll be paid equitably. Starbucks, meanwhile, achieved 100% pay equity by creating a salary calculator that generates narrow pay ranges based on factors like skills and experience. Strategies like these take the salary question off the table altogether, shifting the onus from the candidate and allowing interviewers to dedicate more time to assessing their skills.

3. “Do you know what we do here?”
Ideally, every candidate will have spent some time researching your company before their interview. But according to Reboot’s study, one question designed to test that — “Do you know what we do here?” — leads to a 63% increase in heart rate.

The wording of the question might be the problem here, since it has the potential to come across as condescending or even a bit threatening. Candidates may get the impression that interviewers assume they’re not prepared, which could stress them out, even if they’ve done their research.

Instead, you could reframe the question by asking something like “What inspired you to apply here?” or “What is it about our mission that resonates with you?” With these subtle tweaks, you can not only gauge how well they understand your company’s work and goals, but also get a sense of where their passions and interests lie.

4. “What would your last boss say about you?”
The question “What would your last boss say about you?” might seem like a harmless way to learn about candidates’ previous working relationships, but it can lead to a 61% increase in their heart rate.

Part of the anxiety around this question might stem from the fact that it’s highly speculative. Candidates know that you might contact their last boss for a reference check, so they may be mentally scrambling to make sure they tell you something that will match up with what their former manager is likely to share — easier said than done for people who can’t read minds. It’s also entirely possible that they had a negative relationship with their last boss for reasons beyond their control, which could be the reason they’re looking for a new job in the first place. But if they give a negative answer, they may worry about it reflecting poorly on them.

Save candidates the mental gymnastics by asking a similar question that doesn’t carry as much baggage: “What was the best working relationship you’ve had with a manager and why did it work so well?” By focusing on positive relationships, you can find out more about the person’s values and learn insights that could help the hiring manager successfully manage their future hire.

5. “Why are you looking to leave your current employment?”
Asking candidates why they’re looking to leave their current job is also likely to get their hearts beating faster — 51% faster, to be precise.

That might be because this is another loaded question. There are countless reasons why a person might be job hunting, from COVID-related layoffs to a change in career direction to a toxic culture in their workplace. Candidates are often left walking a tightrope, trying not to come across as too negative while also worrying about looking flaky for wanting to leave or disposable for being out of work.

You’ll likely get more value from this line of questioning by looking forward, not back. Ask what they’re looking for in their next manager, team, and role. In reflecting on what they want, candidates will often draw on past experiences, both positive and negative, giving you a more well-rounded view of where they’ve come from as well as where they hope to go.

Final thoughts: Take unnecessary stress out of the equation for a more seamless and productive interview process
The best interviews often feel like a conversation, not an interrogation. By putting candidates at ease and avoiding questions that may do more harm than good, you can get more value from every interview — making it easier to find the right person for the job.

To identify more areas where your interview process could be improved, it’s worth gathering feedback from every candidate who goes through it, not just the ones you ultimately hire. Sending out a quick survey, with an assurance of anonymity, is an easy way to find out if candidates had a good experience with your company — and what you could do to make the experience for the next candidate even better.

Article in LinkedIn by Samantha McLaren
Content Strategist by Day, Horror Critic by Night
July 6, 2021

Image from Pixabay by Tumisu

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