Why interviewers need improvisation training

by Sue Parker27 Jul 2016
Job interviews are quite absurd and ironic if you think about it. Both sides seek to learn the truth about each other, but what transpires is filtered and miles away from what is needed. 

What should be a direct, authentic, and engaging discussion is often packed with embellishments, tangents, and irrelevancies. Honesty is denied, interrogations strutted and information omitted.

Therefore, disconnect flourishes and the oxygen of humanity gets sucked right out of the room.

PwC research found that nearly 1 in 4 employees leave their new job within 12 months. The cost of this turnover in Australia was estimated at $3.8 billion in lost productivity and $385 million in avoidable recruitment costs. 

It’s clear that current scripted interviewing and hiring methods need to change, as reality does not always meet rhetoric.

Just like a Shakespearean play, everyone has their part foisted upon them and enters the interview stage with a given character, costume and mask. 

Improvisation is rarely encouraged and without agile ad-libbing training the actors don’t have the skills to tweak the play around to match the different audience and  performances.

Interviewers mostly ask the same rehearsed hackneyed questions in the same manner, and the interviewees answers with the same rehearsed hackneyed responses.

The Google highway is filled with a plethora of articles on how candidates should answer standard and difficult interview questions. And HR, recruiters and hiring managers follow a standard list of questions - so everyone is prepared with robotic inanity.

Interviewing to truly uncover who is behind the mask is a specially trained skill.

It’s more aligned to investigative journalism than HR. Reflect on the mastery of Andrew Denton in his acclaimed ‘Enough Rope' TV series. He was able to extract from guests far more information than they intended. 

Behavioural interviewing techniques (CAR = Context, Action, Result) have been the interviewing fashion for the last 20 years and the ideology is sound in part. 

But whilst CAR should still be a component of the interview framework it needs revaluation and a move away from full reliance. There are just far too many people who have the gift of the gab and can easily and fraudulently sell ice to eskimo's during a CAR drill down.

Also, the current reliance on behavioural questions can thwart determining just how a candidate can solve your companies specific problems and fit in culturally. Proof is key and including role plays, hypothetical task activities, and off the record /office meetings will deliver better insights.

Interviewers must be brave, confident, malleable and go ‘off-script’. They must train to excel at improvisational conversation.

A few tips to go 'off-script':

DO – Reset the interview mindset to be a two-way business discovery meeting.

DON’T – ask the dreaded and vague ‘Tell me about yourself’ question. Be clear and specific to what you are seeking to know – ie  “Tell me about your last five years work experience” or “Tell me about your career objectives going forward ”. Be creative and not lazy.

DO - encourage a platform and culture of storytelling vs rigid Q&A.

DO - Ask “what you would like to learn more about?” – Ditch the ‘what are your major weaknesses’ question. There are far better Q&A’s to determine EQ and self awareness.

DO - Flip the last question of ‘do you have any initial questions?’ to the front of the interview. This will show just how prepared and keen the candidate is and can flip conversations to demonstrate far great competencies and fit. You can still ask the same question at the end again.

DO – Give candidates permission to be ‘real’ and be ‘real’ yourself. No company, manager or candidate is perfect – leave ego’s in the basement.

DO – Ask “ how you would handle XYZ if it happened?” (vs : how did you handle XYX in the past). Hypothetical questions really show up competencies.

It’s time to go ‘off script’ to really uncover who people are under the interviewing masks.

Sue Parker is Founder and Principal of DARE Group.