Ask a Question and Shut Up

Toward the end of our last vacation—where we saw the big five game animals in all their glory at the Phinda Game Reserve in South Africa—my wife and I stayed at the Oyster Box hotel. As we enjoyed our breakfast overlooking the Indian Ocean, I could not help but overhear a job interview that was taking place over my left shoulder. I pushed my chair back slightly so I could eavesdrop. After all, what is a recruiter to do? Maybe I could pick up some tips. I could hear that the interviewer was English and that the interviewee was South African, and after the pleasantries were over, the questions began. However, they weren’t actually questions but statements—long-winded statements.

The interviewer said, “You know, we are looking for a leader. We had this one chap who wanted to take all the credit for himself. He wouldn’t acknowledge anyone in his team.”

The candidate replied, “I see. I understand.”

The interviewer continued, “So we are looking for someone who can build and develop leaders within their team, can really develop talent.”

The candidate was now given an opportunity to get a word in. “Right,” he said.

The interviewer was off again: “The ideal candidate would be someone who can delegate, praise, and edify the team members . . ..”

And so the interview went. Well, it was less an interview than a diatribe from the guy in charge. You get the picture. The poor candidate couldn’t get a word in edgewise. The interview made Donald Trump look like a shrinking violet. This guy could talk a dog off a meat truck. I almost lent back and said, “Mate, ask a question and shut up.”

The interviewer broke the number one rule of interviewing—let the candidate do the talking. The candidate should be speaking 80% of the time. How else can the candidate be evaluated? With this line of questioning, it was impossible for the interviewer to get any insight into the candidate’s strengths or weaknesses.

It’s best to ask the candidate how he would solve a common problem, which may be technical or people related. Following this, the aim is to then get into a discussion so that the interviewer can understand the thought process of the candidate. The interviewer should try to find out how candidates think, how they are able to adapt, and whether they can visualize a solution.

A great way to learn how to interview is to observe someone who has done hundreds. One such person is English journalist and broadcaster Michael Parkinson. He does his research and then asks a question and lets his guests talk. By giving them the latitude and enough rope, he consistently pulls off great interviews. People are willing to divulge everything if they are given the chance. After all, most people’s favorite topic is themselves. Get the other person talking, and you’ll soon see if they are a match for your organization.


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