A top consultant to Fortune 500 companies explains how managers can avoid the biggest job interview trap

Marcus Buckingham
Marcus Buckingham. Marcus Buckingham

The best way to find great job candidates? Let them do 90% of the talking in your interview.

That’s what Marcus Buckingham’s research has taught him, he told Business Insider.

Buckingham is the founding CEO of The Marcus Buckingham Group, which has helped companies like Facebook, Toyota, Coca-Cola, and Wells Fargo refine their management practices since 2006. He’s also the author of nine books, including the acclaimed bestsellers “First, Break All the Rules” and “Now, Discover Your Strengths.”

Buckingham has found that managers often get the wrong impression of candidates because they spend the interview trying to fit the person into a characterization based on initial assumptions. Because candidates often pick up on this, they may start giving answers they think are expected, plunging the interviewer into a trap of their own making.

Buckingham said he has two fundamental pieces of advice for managers giving job interviews: “Ask open-ended questions and then shut up,” and “Never probe.”

“Every time you ask a question you give something away,” he said. “You don’t want to give anything away.”

He gave an example scenario. An interviewer says, “Tell me about a time you overcame resistance to one of your ideas.”

If the candidate begins with something along the lines of, “Well, last week… ,” then you should assume that it’s regular behaviour, since, as Buckingham said, “It’s not quite true to say past behaviour isn’t an indicator of future behaviour; frequent past behaviour is an indicator of frequent future behaviour.”

On the contrary, if the candidate begins with something like, “I think it’s really important to stand up for your ideas… ,” the interviewer should let them continue. The interviewer should not interject with, “Can you give me a specific example?” because, as Buckingham said, “you’re showing your hand.”

According to Buckingham, managers should not conduct a job interview the same way investigators would, digging until they find all the details on their checklist. They should be doing an assessment of candidates’ characters and getting an indication of how they will behave in the workplace.

If you’re not leading candidates to the ideal answers, the best candidates will reveal themselves, he said.

“And the other thing I always say is, whatever someone says, believe them,” Buckingham said. He explained that our unconscious can’t help assessing someone within 30 seconds of meeting them, so it’s the interviewer’s job to refrain from letting their first impression determine the rest of the conversation.

For example, if an interview for a demanding position is going well, and the candidate says they’re an underachiever, then don’t try to convince them otherwise.

“You ask your open-ended question, you shut up, and then you let the person take you wherever they need to take you,” Buckingham said.

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