Drop The Formality

Chihuaha in tuxedo

Many of my coaching clients are too stiff and formal in how they present themselves when interviewing a candidate. The most common form of this overexpressed politeness is that they often ask “would you be willing to share…" or “could you please tell me…” before virtually every question. There are a few problems with this:

  1. Of course the candidates is willing to share with you—they are literally here for a job interview.
  2. As a result, you’re just wasting time and padding the length of your questions.
  3. These stilted, longer questions halt what could be a smooth, fast, back-and-forth flow between you and the candidate. Specifically, they really handicap your ability to interrupt the candidate. You cannot jump in nearly as effectively to ask quick follow-up questions when you are appending a “politeness preamble” to all of your questions.
  4. Re-asking for permission subtly implies that the answer might be no, and also subtly implies that the two of you may not be that connected. Neither of which is good.
  5. It may indirectly remind them that they are in a high-stakes interview. As a result they will be more guarded, scripted, and spinny with their answers. You want someone to relax—being excessively polite does not make people relax. It makes them think they are with a stranger.
  6. It’s also slightly dehumanizing—you come across as more scripted and less human that you otherwise would. As a result it lessens the emotional connection that the candidate can form with you.

A good litmus test for interviews is: would I act this way in front of my friend who is telling me a fascinating story? The answer here is a resounding no—you are not “polite” with your friend (you’re not rude either I hope…). The main quality you want to be conveying is rapport—a mixture of genuine fascination, curiosity, and warmth. That is what gets someone comfortable sharing real information with you.

Side note: this is a related application of our principle of “assume data”—meaning you should ask your questions in an open-ended way that assumes there is in fact data. This is one of the reasons we ask “What was your biggest mistake in that role?” rather than “Did you have any mistakes in that role?”.

In essence, while politeness and formality have their place, they should not undermine building a genuine connection. By asking questions directly and with genuine interest, you can foster an environment where candidates feel comfortable being their true selves. This is the key to uncovering whether they're the right fit for the role.

UPCOMING WEBINAR: To celebrate the official launch of our Talgo On Demand offering, we’re hosting a free webinar on March 7th: “What Interview Questions Should I Ask?” You can register here. Please share this with anyone who you think might benefit from our approach to interviewing and hiring.

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