published September 19, 2013

By Harrison Barnes, CEO and Founder - BCG Attorney Search left

Hiring on Responses to the Most Common Interview Question

Hiring on Responses to the Most Common Interview Question

The importance of a common question like "What's your strength?"

This is a question that has withstood the test of time, and though it might seem overused, it works as an effective icebreaker, and helps to cue candidates to put their guards down.

As candidates walk into an interview expecting to face the question, their responses provide a clear insight into their preparations. But more than that, it helps to seed out those candidates whom we don't want, because a majority of them would invariably take the interviewers as unintelligent, when faced with a common and overused question, and would let their guards down.

Asking "what's your strength?" helps us to get the ball rolling and crack the armor of those candidates who have little respect for employers, or think they are smarter than others.

In a time when there are grooming schools all over to prepare candidates for interviews, overused questions can be great if the interviewer uses such questions to his or her advantage.

How to interpret an overused interview question like "What's your strength?"

As an interviewer, if you are trying to fill up your time or looking for the same responses and interpretations of common questions, then the candidates may be right to hold the interview in low esteem.

Overused interview questions help the interviewer only where the interviewer knows how to interpret them and what to seek.

There are two things to look for in responses to a common question on a candidate's strengths:
  • First, mark the list of adjectives a candidate uses – the candidate's esteem of an interview becomes clear as soon as we see lofty adjectives and industry jargon – we can press further on explanation on those adjectives
  • Second, the strengths of a candidate may not be in harmony with the strengths sought for the job position – if so, the responses would support a decision of rejection
Go after the adjectives

Candidates are bound to use adjectives to explain their strengths. Whether such adjectives actually apply to the candidate or not is what an interviewer needs to find out.

A self-qualifier that we hear every day is "I am hard-working."

An entire hiring decision might depend upon the interpretation a candidate puts upon such an adjective, and the interpretation would vary from candidate to candidate.

For example, when asked what a candidate means by "hard-working," a candidate may answer that it was hard work that made him/her receive four promotions over three years in a company.

If vertical promotions are taken as proper rewards against "hard work" by a candidate, and if the job position you have open has very little scope of vertical growth – there might be a mismatch.

It does not mean the candidate is bad – it means the candidate is the right candidate, but the opportunity is wrong for such a candidate – hiring them would be the wrong decision.

Thus one of the most overused interview questions, "What's your strength?", can lay bare the motives and expectations of a candidate and reinforce a hiring decision.

Overused interview questions keep being used, because they provide results where the interviewer knows how to use them, and what to take away from the responses.
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