Ignore these interviewing rules
Use these new frameworks to win
This is Part III of a series focused on hiring and building marketing teams. Part I was on ignoring interviewing rules and Part II on how to interview marketing candidates quickly and carefully.
Some interviewing best practices seem written in stone.
They’re so common, and we’ve all done it this way for so long, it’s just the way interviews are done. But in my experience, some of these rules are not as useful if you have limited time or bandwidth.
So with that said, here are rules you have permission to ignore — and new frameworks that may better serve you.
1. Old rule: Ask “Tell me about a time when…”
New rule: Focus on forward-looking questions.
“Tell me about a time when” questions are backward-looking. They look into the past, and ask candidates to talk about previous experiences and examples.
These types of questions don’t tell you as much as you think they do. Here are the challenges:
(a) Savvy candidates know you’ll ask this, so they have go-to examples to share. This only shows they are a good interviewer and storyteller.
(b) People are unreliable narrators. We have horrible memories. We regularly rewrite our own memories. And we always think we played the biggest part in a situation because we’re the heroes in our own heads.
(c) It’s hard to think of examples on the spot, but it doesn’t mean the candidate is bad. We’ve all been there. “This happens ALL. THE. TIME. Why can’t I think of an example off the top of my head?” I don’t want to penalize candidates for not being able to think of an example in the moment.
There’s a better way: Let candidates show you how they think in the present. If they mention tactics they’ve done in the past, that’s totally okay. Why? Because it’s with the lens of how tactics apply to your company’s situation in the now.
Try asking candidates this question:
“This is where we are: [insert brief description]. Walk me through how you’d get us in front of the right customers, nurture those customers, and close them. You can think loosely of a funnel if that helps organize your thoughts.”
Note: These are not case study questions in the traditional sense per management consulting firms.
The posture is different. It’s not about saying “Gotcha!” and trying to stump the candidate. This is about inviting the candidate to share how their brain works and exploring ideas together. It’s meant to bring out the best in candidates.
You want to see where the candidate naturally goes, i.e. what excites them and what they spend more time talking about. When in doubt, we go to topics we know well. What they talk about is likely to be what they’ll suggest when they start the job.
2. Old rule: Go through your entire list of interview questions.
New rule: It’s okay to spend the entire interview on one question (if you’re getting what you need).
Keep the bigger picture in mind: You’re doing the interview to understand the candidate’s skills, strengths, personality, attitude, instincts, and posture.
If you’re getting a lot of data points (from both what’s said and unsaid), there’s no need to rush to other questions.
For example, if the candidate has a lot to say about the marketing tactics they’d want to implement (and you want to hire someone with fresh ideas), let them keep going. It’s a juicy question where you could spend 20 minutes or more digging deep.
Don’t feel compelled to move on. The point is not to get through your list of questions. The point is to gather the information you need about the candidate.
Make sure you’re getting valuable insight, though. If the candidate starts rambling, gently cut them off and redirect the conversation.
3. Old rule: Give the candidate plenty of time for questions.
New rule: 5–7 minutes for questions is plenty.
In 5–7 minutes, you’ll get a sense of how the person thinks from the 2–3 questions they ask.
If you give too much time for questions, you get diminishing returns.
Why? Mainly because you (the interviewer) will end up talking too much! You won’t learn much more about the candidate that you didn’t already know.
Here’s how to wrap up at the end:
“If you have more questions we didn’t get to, feel free to email me. If you think of any other ideas or insights after our interview, feel free to send those over too.”
Sometimes when we mull on a problem, we get great ideas after the moment. So inviting candidates to reach out keeps the dialogue open. You get to see whose brain was spinning and who was so inspired they wanted to follow up with more ideas.