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How can employers cut through rehearsed responses during interviews and learn more about the candidates?

The overly prepared candidate can be a puzzle for recruiters and hiring managers who are trying to determine the true essence of a candidate’s fit with the position. There are so many books, magazine articles and web sites that teach applicants not only what questions to expect, but also what answers to give, that it can seem impossible to get a straight answer from the person across the table from you. There are, however, some techniques interviewers can use that may reveal more candid information from job candidates. 

The first approach may seem obvious, but it is worth considering. Review the questions that you are asking and do some research to determine if these questions are on popular interview preparation web sites. If all your candidates enter your building with the response to, “Where do you see yourself in 10 years?” on the tips of their tongues, you may be wasting everybody’s time by asking that question. With some additional preparation, you may be able to generate relevant questions that candidates would not anticipate.

If the questions you are asking are commonly found on interview preparation web sites, but you still feel that they are important questions to ask, consider how you can push candidates beyond their prepared responses.

One way to do this is to wait until the applicant has completed the recitation of the prepared response and then look at them expectantly. Wait for the candidate to fill the silence. Or you can prompt them vaguely by asking, “Can you tell me more about that?”

You also can ask follow up-questions: “You mention that you recommended that your former employer diversify its product line. What experience did you have that led you to conclude that diversification was the best route?” You can keep asking questions about a rehearsed response until you hear an answer from the candidate that sounds genuine and thoughtful rather than studied and coached.

Caution is necessary, though. In trying to generate questions that don’t elicit rehearsed responses, don’t wander astray and ask questions that are irrelevant. Those types of questions give candidates the impression that you are making employment decisions based on factors that are not related to their potential for success in the job. Further, don’t unintentionally turn the interview into a stress test for the candidate. You can burrow for authentic answers without frightening your applicants.

Lastly, consider that the rehearsed responses may be legitimate and informative responses. The fact that a candidate has prepared a response does not necessarily mean that the candidate is being insincere or untruthful.


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