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Can we be more creative with our interviews?

I struggled for a long time with standard, boring vanilla interview format for a couple of reasons.

  1. They’re often boring yawn-fests

  2. I rarely felt like I’d truly got to know the person behind their corporate mask

  3. Success rate was average at best

After trying a few new things over the last year and asking around about what others do it’s apparent that I’ve not been trying or looking hard enough as there are loads of great ideas out there. Here’s a bunch of them…

  1. Use a visual aid to talk around. I chose the ‘Agile coaching in a nutshell’ poster created by Dandy people to generate a bunch of questions and discussion points. I asked candidates to pick something they are familiar with on the poster and to tell me about it. You can do the same for areas they are not familiar with, and also ask them to critique elements of it. My experience is that this quickly leads to an informative conversation revealing the candidates knowledge, communication style and levels of curiosity.

  1. Do a card sorting exercise. At Cancer Research UK the coaching team put together a set of laminated cards with things the team does and doesn’t do, as well as things people think they do but don’t. This was in part to clarify among themselves, but for interviews they use a small subset of the cards and ask candidates to order them in their preference – making it clear there’s no right answer. They encourage questions to clarify what something means or why it’s there if needed. Once sorted in a single line on preference they then ask candidates to move cards left if they feel they would want coaching on them, right if they feel they could coach other coaches or facilitators on them, or leave them in the middle if they are confident to do them themselves. Awesome!

  2. Ask them to Fill in a canvas. As an interviewer I have given people the following canvas from Juggle jobs to populate as they see fit, and to simply observe how they use it and react to the exercise. It’s designed for hiring managers to use when creating job specs, but reversing it and having candidates populate it can also be fun.

  1. Fill in a canvas together. Option 1 My user manual from Atlassian. Work through the suggested template to reveal a detailed understanding of what it’s like to work with the candidate and also what they would need from you / the new company for them to thrive. Obviously you can tweak the template to better suit your context as needed.

  2. Fill in a canvas together: Option 2 – When I’m the candidate I like to play with this too and have adjusted Jeff Gothelf’s Lean UX canvas to populate together (or based on the questions and conversation that takes place)

  1. Use metaphors. A recent article using animal metaphors with job descriptions was quite popular, but it’s also possible to be playful with the candidate and ask a question like:

“For you, if a <insert job title here> was a structure, the structure would it be like what?”
  1. Use clean language. You may have noticed the clean language question above. Continue with this technique to dig deeper with the metaphor idea.

What kind of <insert some words from the persons response above here>? Is there anything else about <insert some words from the persons response above here>?

In summary, with a little forethought interviews can be creative, immersive, playful experiences. As an interviewer or an interviewee I encourage you to experiment with different ideas, canvases, games or visuals to bring your interviews to life.

What else have you seen or tried?

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