Podcast: Designing Effective Interview Questions and Hiring Processes with Benjamin Mead-Harvey

Posted on June 15, 2021

Benjamin Mead-Harvey

Benjamin Mead-Harvey
Adjunct Instructor
University of Illinois, School of Information Sciences
Bio | LinkedIn

Get a little better every week. Benjamin Mead-Harvey, Adjunct Instructor for the University of Illinois School of Information Sciences, joined the podcast to discuss interview processes and reducing bias in hiring. He discussed types of interview questions including behavioral and situational questions. He also shared his career path and passion for management problems, which he writes about on his website Better-Boss.com.

Host: Kirsten Wyatt

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Episode Transcript

Kirsten Wyatt  00:07

Coming to you from Portland, Oregon, this is Gov Love, a podcast about local government. Gov Love is produced by ELGL, The Engaging Local Government Leaders network. We engage the brightest minds in local government. I’m Kirsten Wyatt, the ELGL co founder and executive director, and today I’m joined by Ben Meade-Harvey, an instructor at the University of Illinois, who teaches courses on personnel management and financial management of libraries and information centers. He’s also the author of better-boss.com, that’s better-boss.com, a blog about managing people effectively. Ben Welcome to Gov Love.

Benjamin Mead-Harvey  00:46

Hey there, Kirsten, super happy to be here. I I recently started listening to the podcast and I just can’t get enough of it. You guys produce so much content. I’m blown away. 

Kirsten Wyatt  00:54

Wonderful. I’m so glad and we’re just so glad to have you here. Today we are talking about bias and local government hiring and how your organization can build out more effective interview questions and processes. 

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Kirsten Wyatt  02:11

We need to get started with a lightning round. So Ben, what is your most controversial non political opinion?

Benjamin Mead-Harvey  02:18

I thought quite a bit about this one, I think you know, the best opinions end up leaving half of the people mad at you, so the one I picked, I think the definition of a fruit or a vegetable should be based exclusively on how you use it in the kitchen. It should have absolutely nothing to do with where it grows on the plant or genetics or biology or any of that. That’s my controversial opinion.

Kirsten Wyatt  02:41

Okay, so give me an example of a fruit that might or a vegetable that might be controversial. 

Benjamin Mead-Harvey  02:46

Yes, yes, exactly. So, listeners, I’m gonna I’m gonna give you a list of things that are technically fruits according to current definition. And if you agree that all of these are fruits, you can fight me. Again, my website better-boss.com, shoot me an email and we can argue about it. Here are things that are technically fruits. Tomatoes, everybody knows tomatoes. That’s a classic one. Cucumbers, squash, zucchini, and bell peppers. Actually, all peppers, Serranos, jalapeños, all of those are technically fruits. But come on. How are you? Come on? Those are fruits. Right?

Kirsten Wyatt  03:25

Well, wait. So So you’re saying that they are technically fruits, but you consider them vegetables?

Benjamin Mead-Harvey  03:31

Exactly, because of how I use them in the kitchen. I eat them like a fruit. I’m not going to take a big bite of a jalapeno pepper like I do an apple.

Kirsten Wyatt  03:39

So it’s not it doesn’t really have anything to do. I mean, you don’t buy into like the science behind the fact that it’s they have seeds, right. 

Benjamin Mead-Harvey  03:46

That’s my stance. Yeah. 

Kirsten Wyatt  03:48

It’s just all about how Ben enjoys to eat these different foods.

Benjamin Mead-Harvey  03:51


Kirsten Wyatt  03:52

Got it. Okay. Well, that makes sense. I mean, that you really are establishing yourself as somone with expertise heading into this discussion. 

Benjamin Mead-Harvey  04:00

Right, right. Absolutely. 

Kirsten Wyatt  04:01

Okay, so another food question for you. If you could only eat one thing for lunch for the rest of 2021, what would you choose? 

Benjamin Mead-Harvey  04:10

Yep. So I’ve been thinking about this one. I posed this question to a couple of my friends. And they all, I feel like they all did cop out answers. I got tacos for one answer, which like, that’s, tons different things is you know, you can put all kinds of different stuff and call it a taco. And salads was the other one that I consider a total cop out. answer. You could slap a steak on top of bed of lettuce and say, hey, that’s technically a salad. So I didn’t go with a cop out answer. I went with my heart. And I would eat ramen every day for lunch. And specifically, there’s a ramen place in Oklahoma City, Goro Ramen, you’re not going to believe, I think it’s the best ramen out there. I’ve had ramen in New York City, Austin, Texas, San Diego, here in Phoenix where I live. I’m not gonna say that the Oklahoma City Ramen is necessarily better than all of them, but it’s at least on par with everywhere else I’ve ever been.

Kirsten Wyatt  05:03

Wow. And so what sets it apart? Is there something distinctly Oklahoma, Oklahoma about it?

Benjamin Mead-Harvey  05:08

No, no, it’s totally classic. There’s actually a really cool Japanese movie that’s like just a love affair with food called Tom Popo. And the the store called Goro Ramen is the name is based off of a character from that movie. And the ramen they make, their classic ramen at the restaurant is exactly the same ramen that’s described in that that Japanese movie, I think from the 80s. 

Kirsten Wyatt  05:35

Awesome. All right. Well, and for our listeners who are in Oklahoma, make sure you check out this restaurant and then get back to Ben at better-boss.co and let him know if he’s right. 

Benjamin Mead-Harvey  05:46

Exactly. Another thing you can fight me about. 

Kirsten Wyatt  05:48

Yes, there you go. Okay, so this next one, this is an important question. Ghosts, alien Sasquatch. So can you rank order them based on which ones you believe in most to least? 

Benjamin Mead-Harvey  06:03

Absolutely. I mean, if aliens gotta be the one you believe it, right? 

Kirsten Wyatt  06:07

Oh, absolutely. I fight with people about this all the time. Aliens is number one. I agree with you.

Benjamin Mead-Harvey  06:12

Number one. Absolutely number one. You know, you think of all the planets out there in the universe. There’s literally billions of them. And many of them have potentially habitable climates. It’s gotta be aliens. The other two basically, you know, tied for third.

Kirsten Wyatt  06:30

I mean, cause ghosts, I usually put number two like, it’s possible. But like Sasquatch. I mean, I live in the Pacific Northwest. And it’s not real.

Benjamin Mead-Harvey  06:40

If anybody’s gonna know, you’re gonna know.

Kirsten Wyatt  06:41

Yes, exactly. Exactly. All right. And last lightning round question. If you could give advice to your 18 year old self, what would you say? 

Benjamin Mead-Harvey  06:50

So how much time do I get with him? 

Kirsten Wyatt  06:52

Um, you get about five minutes? Because you’re doing kind of like a, you’re doing a greatest hits tour of your life.

Benjamin Mead-Harvey  06:59

Sure. Okay. So I’m visiting different, it’s sort of Ghost of Christmas Past, and these guys get to see me for a few minutes? 

Kirsten Wyatt  07:05

Yes, yes. 

Benjamin Mead-Harvey  07:06

Um, in that case, it’s going to be advice along the lines of, you’re going to worry way too much about what people think. You should really just be your authentic self. People tend to like you more when you’re just going all out and fully being yourself and not hiding your light under a bushel. That would be the advice I’d give.

Kirsten Wyatt  07:26

That’s perfect. That’s great. So let’s get started. Start by telling us about your career path. How did you get to where you are today?

Benjamin Mead-Harvey  07:36

So yes, back in undergrad, I was working at the university library. And it was coming towards the end of junior year, the beginning of senior year, and I just, I could not figure out what I wanted to do with my life. You know, nothing felt like a calling, really. But then I started to realize, you know, here I am working in libraries. And I started to examine the purpose of libraries. What they’re really about is enriching people, giving people knowledge, giving people more to their lives. Even if you look at public libraries, and the patrons who just come in and get a bunch of fiction books to read, you know, that’s still a form of enrichment, they’re still developing themselves in some way, even if it’s just that that time away from everything else, where they’re where they’re getting into a good book. And that was a cause I could really get behind. So straight out of undergrad, I went to my master’s program for library science. And as soon as I got into that master’s program, I realized, I loved the purpose of libraries. But I actually wasn’t super interested in the things that librarians do. I was, however, really drawn to the management aspects, I took every management course that the library school had to offer. But um, as I understand education, you can take sort of a teaching path, or you can take sort of an administrator path. There’s not really any administrator path in the library world, what typically happens is you have to be a library for three or four years. And then if you’re, you know, quite successful, you get promoted up into management. I didn’t want to take that path. So shortly after my library degree, I went and got an MBA to really try to signal to employers Hey, I’m serious about this. That ended up working, I ended up getting a job as a branch manager in Oklahoma City. And pretty shortly after getting my first management position, the organization reorganized, and I suddenly had three supervisors underneath me, and all three were brand new to supervision. That’s when I discovered that I, my real passion, what I really love to do is things like what we’re doing in this podcast episode, talking about management, talking about how do you be an effective manager day to day, what are the fundamental things you need to know in order to do the job well? You know, nobody really teaches those fundamentals. Kirsten, I assume you’ve done some management in your time.

Kirsten Wyatt  09:54

Yes. And and, you know, as you were talking, I was thinking, you know, so I got a master’s in public administration which, you know, some might say is kind of the exact opposite of like, because it’s all, you know, kind of management management principles, you know, organization theory, and maybe lighter on the the practical, you know, here’s how you get the work done that you might get in library program. So, so right out of the gate, this is really fascinating to me to kind of hear the difference between those different approaches that we take to manage in local government.

Benjamin Mead-Harvey  10:27

Yes, exactly. And, and, you know, anytime we change careers, if I were to become like a computer engineer, I’d go back to school and study for two years before ever getting a job, two years or more, right? With management, it really is a completely new career with a completely new set of skills. But we don’t spend that time we just get thrown into the deep end of the pool. And people around us say, you’re probably going to choke on water from time to time, but hopefully you’ll learn to swim.

Kirsten Wyatt  10:55

Isn’t that like the Peter Principle? Isn’t that what it’s called? You know, where you’re, you’re promoted to your-

Benjamin Mead-Harvey  11:00

To your level of incompetence, right. Right. 

Kirsten Wyatt  11:03

And so and I would think that management, management tactics or management approaches, sometimes brings out that incompetency faster if you haven’t had that, that perspective, or that training that you’re talking about. 

Benjamin Mead-Harvey  11:15

Right, right. And so I really, I feel strongly it doesn’t have to be such a painful experience. I think that if if we spend time telling people, hey, here are the basics, here are the fundamentals, here are the skills you need to learn and the day to day activities that you need to engage in, in order to be an effective manager, people will be far more successful far more quickly, with far less pain. So having realized that, I love to talk about management, love to teach management. And also having this burning desire to help the world stop treating our managers so badly, and make more effective managers, I’ve sort of pushed my work in that direction. I ultimately, as you mentioned, I developed and now I’m teaching a personnel management class for the University of Illinois. And then, you know, about six months ago, I started that blog that you that you mentioned, just to start to get down on paper somewhere that people can see and read these, just these everyday basics, here are the fundamentals. If you do these things, you’re going to be basically successful. And then you can start to do those big innovative things that people love to talk about.

Kirsten Wyatt  12:23

And so where did this, where did this interest come from? Like, if you look back, and you look at, you know, 12 year old Ben, was there something that that? Or is there something that you can maybe think to or point to that that kind of sparked this interest in management versus, you know, maybe someone else who, you know, who doesn’t have that, hasn’t caught that bug yet.

Benjamin Mead-Harvey  12:43

So, I think what it really boils down to is I’ve always been drawn to the most complicated problem. And when I hit library school, you know, I went, and I got an undergrad degree in psychology, so that developed my interest in people and social interactions. And you know, some of the stuff we’re talking about today with bias and human cognition. And then I got to library school, and the most difficult, complicated stuff was the management stuff, how do we, you know, this is this stuff that’s sort of, you know, most challenging for a lot of people to grasp. Then when I hit my career in management, I really started stepping on the grass in terms of looking for what’s really the most effective way, you know, when you’re sitting down, you, you show up on the job, you got 20 people under you, and your boss gives you a three hour explanation of how to use the, you know, the computer processes, and then leaves the building. And suddenly, you’re on your own. There are 1,000 different things you could do. What are the best ones? What are the ones that are actually going to have an impact? That was the most complicated question that was in front of me, and I just tend to be drawn to those. Okay. And so I know, we’ll probably get into this a little later, but I just have to ask, you know, right, as we get started, are some people born managers? Is this, you know, maybe she’s born with it? Or maybe it’s Maybelline? Or what’s the like, do you have kind of a gut reaction to that, and I know we’re going to get into some of the the different things that you teach and share but but, but are some people just born better than others at management? I really don’t believe that’s the case. I think, I think that empathetic people, people who identify with others and and want to make sure that other people are doing well and are strongly compassionate, I think those people are going to take to the most effective management practices more easily. But that’s not, to be perfectly honest, that doesn’t describe me at all. I mean, I’m a purely analytical person. When I was 10 ,11, 12, a couple of my uncles were certain I would become a lawyer, you know, I was told I should be as car salesman, a lawyer, you know, like things that you do not, do not associate with empathy, right? So I really do believe that it that it shoots us in the foot a little bit to believe that there are types of people that are effective managers rather than simply effective behaviors, effective things that we can do. And if we do these things, generally speaking, anybody who does these things is going to be an effective manager. 

Kirsten Wyatt  15:21

Okay, so let’s dive into, you know, one of the, the most important elements, I think of managing people, and it’s, it’s starting to recognize and think about bias. So define for us bias, and let’s dive in and talk about that.

Benjamin Mead-Harvey  15:38

Right. So at its most basic, the word bias just means that you have a greater or lesser inclination towards something than other people would in your same circumstances, we usually talk about bias against something. But it’s just as easy just as common to have a bias towards something, I might have a bias towards the color green, or a bias against the color green. Now, that’s a very basic definition. And it’s more or less a synonym with the word preference, right? There are two features of bias that separate it from preference. First, you can usually explain a preference in some rational way. With biases, there’s usually something unfair about how you’re in favor or against the thing. That makes sense? So a preference for the color green might mean I like I like to wear it, or a preference against the color green might mean I just don’t like to wear it. A bias against the color green is more extreme. Maybe I automatically tend to dislike people who are wearing green. That would be unfair. Right? That would be irrational, you know, it has nothing to do with the person, their their, their human, their, their humanity, their personality, it’s just the color they’re wearing. So it would be totally silly of me to dislike that person, just because I’m biased against the color green. The second component that separates bias from preference is that we’re typically unaware of our biases. Using the same example, I would probably rationalize some explanation about why I didn’t like that person in the color green. You know, maybe I chatted with them for two or three minutes. And I land on something that they said or some tick in how they, you know, compose themselves or something along those lines. And I say, I don’t like that person for such and so reason, where subconsciously, the fact is, I didn’t like them because they were wearing green. And if they had been wearing like, if they’ve been wearing red or wearing blue, I probably would have liked them just just fine. I’m using kind of a silly example to keep to keep the conversation light, but the same thought process, the same facts go for all sorts of prejudices. You’ve got your racist boss, your sexist boss, the boss, who doesn’t like people who speak with accents. If you were to try and point that out even a little bit to any of them, they probably react very badly. Right? They probably deny vehemently that they have any sort of bias. Right?

Kirsten Wyatt  18:06

Right. Or justify it, I guess sometimes as well.

Benjamin Mead-Harvey  18:10

Right, right, they would come up with some sort of explanation. Right? I don’t, it’s not that I don’t like women. It’s that I don’t like Kirsten and here’s why. And I’m coming up with a reason. Even though everybody around this sexist boss has seen them act this way, time and time again. Right.

Kirsten Wyatt  18:26

Right. And there are different types of bias. I mean, you’ve described them in the example, but share with us more about how you see this play out, especially in workplaces. And, and you know, and then kind of the resulting effect on what that can do for an organization.

Benjamin Mead-Harvey  18:43

Yeah. And so heading a little bit further into what we’ll be covering in detail – interviews, I’m going to talk about, I’ll just list three types of bias and share them. If listeners are interested, you know, you can, you can hop on the internet and search cognitive bias or the word bias. And there will be Wikipedia articles of a dozen different types of bias that have been studied. But for our purposes, we’re just going to talk about three and these three very commonly show up sometime during the selection process. So first, we’ve got what’s called the halo effect. The halo effect is when one positive characteristic about a candidate influences your opinion globally about all sorts of things, even in areas where it would make absolutely no sense at all. So the very common for instance, people tend to be biased towards candidates who are relaxed and outgoing during interviews, people who don’t show their stress, even though it’s an extraordinary stressful situation, that that quality, people who can pull that off, tend to get high, highly rated by the interview panel. totally independent of how successful they actually are. But that’s the halo effect at play. There’s this one characteristic, this candidate is capable of looking relaxed during a stressful situation. And we apply it to all sorts of things and tend to rate them higher on everything. Does that make sense?

Kirsten Wyatt  20:09

Yeah, and is, I think there’s that book Quiet about the being an introvert in an extroverted world. And I felt like that was very much touched on in that book where extraversion in an interview setting is rewarded, likely because of the halo effect.

Benjamin Mead-Harvey  20:24

Yes, absolutely. Absolutely. And as we go further, later in the conversation, we’re gonna be talking about ways to remove bias from your thinking and from your decision making process to the extent that it’s possible so that we are balancing that a little bit better, more in favor of, of the people who have traditionally had problems with interviews. So the next bias to cover is called the similar to me error, pretty much what it says on the tin, we are inclined to like, to appreciate, to identify with people who are similar to us, this could be as explicit as like, we have the same hobby, you know, during small talk prior to an interview, I end up finding out that one of the candidates has the same hobby as me, I’m inclined to like that person. It can also be very subtle, however, it can be things as subtle as the way we use the English language, from accent from, from the types of idioms that we use to, you know, really subtle things, it can be other subtle things like similar background, similar religious background, even if we never discuss it that has influences and how we conduct ourselves with each other, right? So we will tend to like and tend to identify with and tend to rate more highly people who are similar to us. This is obviously a huge problem from an equity, diversity, and inclusion standpoint, right? We end up liking, end up rating highly, and end up hiring people who look like us, it’s a big problem.

Kirsten Wyatt  22:00

Well, and I feel like the way that manifests is when people try to talk about fit, and they try to talk about, you know, this person would fit really well with our team. And, you know, fit really becomes just another way of saying, you know, I, we like the same restaurants, we can go to lunch together, you know, we, you know, worship on the same holidays, working the same days off like, I mean, it could just manifest in so many different ways. And I think people try to justify that by saying, you know, they’re so worried about fit with the team.

Benjamin Mead-Harvey  22:31

And again, I want to reiterate, we’re not talking about things that we’re intentionally doing, no one’s intentionally holding someone similar above the rest of the crowd, it just happens naturally, because we get along with that person more easily because we have shared backgrounds. So regardless of whether it’s intended, it’s a problem. And that’s what we’re trying to solve. The third one I just want to quickly cover is called contrast effects. So thinking of prior to the interview, when you’re reviewing applications, imagine a perfectly average application, it’s right on the fence between whether or not you should give this person an interview, or put them in the discard pile. If you have an application just before that one, that’s absolutely garbage, totally terrible, you’re going to look at that average application in a much more positive light. And you’re almost certainly going to push it over into the let’s go ahead and interview them category, simply because you’re subconsciously comparing the two. And the converse would happen as well, if you review a total, you know, brilliant, excellent application, this is, you know, this is a top candidate. And then you look at this average person, you’re almost certainly going to throw them in the discard pile much more easily, because you’re subconsciously comparing it to someone who was great. This one’s very difficult to get away from, we all do it, you do it, I do it. Anytime we’re comparing things, we tend to compare to the prior one rather than comparing something on its own independent merits. It’s just very difficult for the human brain to get away from that.

Kirsten Wyatt  24:08

So let’s talk about how we try or at least can try to design interview processes that that can move us away, or at least become more aware of the halo effect, the similar to me effect and contrast effects. So let’s jump in. And I just would love to hear more about some of the recommendations you have on developing interview processes and making sure that you’re aware of these of these biases.

Benjamin Mead-Harvey  24:38

Excellent. So before we get into the meat of the thing, just a quick caveat. The dirty little secret about interviews, despite the fact that almost universally organizations do interviews, they’re not all that effective at predicting the best person for the job. statistical analysis suggests that there’s about a 0.1 correlation between interview success and job success. So what that means is that it has, quote, weak predictive validity. Interviews can help us find the right candidate. But it’s not a perfect relationship between best interviewer and best at the job. The analogy I like to use since my background is in libraries and books and things, think of an acquaintance you’ve talked to three, four, or five times. And that acquaintance really likes to recommend books to people, they’re going to be better than a stranger off the street at recommending books you’ll like, but they’re by no means going to be perfect at it. Right? interviews are kind of the same way. There are a couple of things we can do to make them better, though. And that’s what we’re going to jump into. Throughout this conversation, I’m going to be using the word valid. And I’m using it in the statistical sense. So the statistical definition of validity is that it’s the extent to which an observation or instrument measures what it’s intended to measure. So what are we trying to do with an interview, with the selection process, what’s our goal?

Kirsten Wyatt  26:05

Obviously to you know, find the right person and to figure out who’s going to do the best job for, best work for the job at hand.

Benjamin Mead-Harvey  26:13

Exactly. So the tool is the interview process. And the the intended measurement is who will be best. The extent to which an interview question is valid, would mean, the more valid an interview question is, the more likely it is to help you pick the best candidate, the less valid it is, the less likely it is to be effective in helping you pick the best candidate. So when I use that validity or valid throughout this conversation, that’s what I’m talking about. Okay?

Kirsten Wyatt  26:45

And just really quickly, does reliability come in as well? Or are we just talking about validity? In terms of making sure, because I think you know, could it be that a valid interview process or question, like it might look or kind of be different for somebody else? Or are we just like strictly looking at the validity of it all?

Benjamin Mead-Harvey  27:07

Excellent question. Excellent question. For the sake of simplicity, I was leaving out reliability. So reliability, for listeners who don’t know, would mean that a variety of interviewers would come to the same conclusion with the same information. And yes, to answer your question, the things we talked about today will both increase validity, and reliability. So the first thing to talk about with interviews is two broad categories. there’s basically two ways that you can do interviews, you can have a structured interview, or an unstructured interview. Structured interview means that the questions have been prepared in advance, usually with the help of HR. Usually they are chosen based on some aspects of the job, the knowledge, skills and abilities necessary. And all candidates are asked the same questions in the same order. The interview looks the same for everybody. That’s like classic government, right? Hopefully, hopefully, yes. unstructured interviews have no plan. An unstructured interview is, the interviewer pulls in a candidate, talks to them for however long they feel like talking to them, there’s no script whatsoever, and then they send them along on their way. The interviews could look very, very different depending on how things go, or what questions are asked. Unstructured interviews are scientifically proven to be terrible. They’re, they’re just useless. As you mentioned, hopefully, the vast majority of governments have already fixed this problem. HR departments 30, 40 years ago, had been wise to the fact that unstructured interviews are really not effective in picking the best candidate. And so governments, for the most part, have eliminated unstructured interviews, which is great.

Kirsten Wyatt  28:56

But can, can a too, an interview be too structured to the point where you lose the ability for, you know, authentic and real conversation?

Benjamin Mead-Harvey  29:08

Yes, yes, absolutely. Late in this conversation, we’re going to be talking about some misconceptions about the stuff that we talked about. And that’s essentially me cautioning the listeners not to take this too far to the point where as you said, it becomes so sterile and and inauthentic, that it totally distracts from the purpose 

Kirsten Wyatt  29:28

And like suck the life out of it. Yeah. 

Benjamin Mead-Harvey  29:31

Yes, so we will talk about that in more detail later on. So the next thing I want to talk a little bit about is question type. And this is actually going to be the most important thing we discuss. It is the most important factor in determining whether your interview process will be valid, will be the types of questions you end up asking. In my book, this isn’t official or anything, but broadly speaking, there are three types of interview question. The first time I want to discuss is called behavioral interview questions. Are you familiar with that phrase?

Kirsten Wyatt  30:04

I am. But I would love for you to explain more for our listeners, and then I also would love some examples.

Benjamin Mead-Harvey  30:11

Absolutely. So with a behavioral interview question, what we do is we ask the candidate to relate a specific experience that actually happened to them. It almost always starts with the phrase, tell us about a time when you, dot dot dot. And so an example, let’s say, for instance, we want to, we want to assess their capabilities on teamwork. We could ask a question along the lines of, Tell me about a time when you were working on a team, and you disagreed with the plan? What did you do about it? And what was the outcome? So that’s an example of a behavioral interview question right there. The reason that these works so well, is because past behavior is highly predictive of future behavior. The way someone did something in the past, is very likely to be similar to the way they will do it in the future. Composing behavioral interview questions is very easy. You just take a list of the most important knowledge, skills, competencies, whatever is most important to you or your organization, and you just build a what would you do in or tell me about a time when you question around it. So I gave the gave the example there with teamwork. Let’s say we had a, we had a position where problem solving was really important. You could ask a question along the lines of, tell us about a time when you ran into a complex problem that you couldn’t immediately solve? What did you do? What resources Did you consult? And how did it end up? Behavioral interview questions are the gold standard for interviews. I recommend that listeners use exclusively behavioral interview questions for any question on the interview process where you’re making some judgment about the candidate. Obviously, there are going to be questions like, Can you can you work the schedule or whatever. You’re not going to, you’re not going to try and shoehorn this into a behavioral format. But anything where you’re trying to assess skills, strongly encourage every one of those to be a behavioral interview question. So that’s our first type.

Kirsten Wyatt  32:16

And a quick question for our listeners who may be, at this time of the year, especially with new grads and folks, you know, looking for new positions, what are some ways to answer behavioral questions? When you say, tell me about a time, when maybe they haven’t had a specific work example. Or maybe they are still trying to figure out how to take a lived experience and put it into a interview response. Any advice for them to, so they can also be just, you know, successful in answering those behavioral questions?

Benjamin Mead-Harvey  32:54

I have two pieces of advice. The first one you asked, what if they don’t have necessarily a specific work example? It’s always Okay, in an interview to say something along the lines of, well, I don’t have something that fits quite that, but I do have this, would that work? And could I talk about that instead? Interviewers, you know, if they’re, if they’re at all reasonable, will be happy to have you substitute an example. Keep in mind, we’re not trying to judge how well you answer this question. We’re trying to judge how good you are at teamwork, or problem solving, or, you know, we’re trying to judge your skills and abilities. So as long as you can come up with something that is related to the intent of the question, most interviewers are going to be perfectly happy with that. The second piece of advice is, is really how to answer a behavioral interview question. There are a couple of different kind of acronym methods out there. I like what is called the CAR method CAR. And it stands for context, actions and results. So you give a little bit of context, you know, no more than 20% of your answer. Just give me enough context so that I know what the situation is. spend most of your answer on actions. What literally did you do? How did you do it? What was your thinking process? Give me a window into literally exactly how you work with as much specificity as possible. And then be sure to tell me a little bit about how things turned out. We’re looking for factual information about the candidates skills and abilities and to the the extent to which the candidate gives us that, we are going to be able to make a more accurate judgment about who can do the job, again, not based on our biases, but based on the skills and abilities they have, if that makes sense.

Kirsten Wyatt  34:42

Well, and I think, you know, I love the CAR too because I think, if especially if you’re asking a behavioral question, and let’s say it is about teamwork, and let’s say you’re interviewing for a stretch position or something that that is new to you, I think being able to translate, you know, your lived experiences, whether you’re communicating how you, you know, lead a group at your church, or how you, you know, managed a team in your marching band or whatever that might be, being able to break it down into that into that way, I think especially again, for our listeners who are, maybe just getting started is a reminder that, you know, you can do this and you shouldn’t, you shouldn’t shy away from opportunities, and be able to tell those stories that you would then also bring into your management or your leadership role.

Benjamin Mead-Harvey  35:33

My my first graduate assistant position, multiple examples that I ended up giving had related to my hobbies because they fit better than the few years of experience that I had working in a library. I distinctly remember talking about, you know, playing a board game that takes a lot of mental energy and focus because I was applying for a job that requires you to focus on the same thing for hours. And, you know, I got that job. So absolutely. As long as you’re answering the intent of the question, most interviewers will be perfectly satisfied. Okay, are we ready to talk about the next type of question?

Kirsten Wyatt  36:09

Yes, let’s go for it.

Benjamin Mead-Harvey  36:11

Yes. So the next type of interview question is called the situational interview question. situational interview questions ask the candidate a hypothetical scenario, if x happened, how would you handle it? I’ve noticed these questions are extremely common in customer service positions, especially although they show up pretty much everywhere. But the interviewer might give a scenario, there’s this angry customer who is angry for these reasons, they come up to the service desk, and they’re shouting, what are you going to do? These are okay as interview questions. But the thing is, the problem is, anybody no matter how skilled or unskilled they are, can imagine themselves as an effective employee doing all the right things, you know, they probably even believe that they’re a great employee who would do all the right things. There’s a second issue with the situational interview questions, that behavioral interview questions don’t have this problem. With these questions, your information is based on the candidate’s opinion of themselves instead of based on things they actually did. 

Kirsten Wyatt  37:14


Benjamin Mead-Harvey  37:16

And so when we’re asking what would you do, we are allowing the candidate to imagine an ideal scenario. And we are kind of handing the reins over that to them, in terms of, of making judgments about their performance. Can you see that?

Kirsten Wyatt  37:34

Well, the first thing that pops into my mind, are some of the studies and the information and even just the experiences that I’m sure our listeners have, have found about confidence and imposter syndrome.

Benjamin Mead-Harvey  37:47

Oh, my goodness, yes. 

Kirsten Wyatt  37:48

And some of these issues that would make right out of the gate with a situational interview question more challenging for for certain people, or certain groups of people even.

Benjamin Mead-Harvey  37:58

Yes, yes. You know, there are cultures where talking yourself up is is verboten, you know, and so with a behavioral interview question, you can get away from that a little bit. Tell me exactly what you did and why you did it. With a situational interview question. It does push the candidate to sell themselves, which, you know, for the vast majority of jobs if you don’t need a sales background to do the job effectively, right? 

Kirsten Wyatt  38:23

Right. Right. 

Benjamin Mead-Harvey  38:24

Right. So the third category of question, third of three, is everything else basically. In my, in my book, this category is also known as the garbage category of interview question. And this is, this is probably going to ruffle some feathers.

Kirsten Wyatt  38:41

But that’s what we like to do on Gov Love, so go for it, ruffle away.

Benjamin Mead-Harvey  38:46

So the fact is, most every other interview question is pseudoscience. And I mean that in the strict sense, they look like they are giving you meaningful information about the candidate, but they are virtually always giving you good sounding but irrelevant information that distracts you from making effective hiring decisions. Okay, now, go ahead.

Kirsten Wyatt  39:09

Do you fit exercises, assessment centers into this?

Benjamin Mead-Harvey  39:16

No, no, that’s separate. This is specifically interview questions. So, those are officially titled work sample tests. Work sample tests, when built effectively, are actually even more valid than interviews. So if you if you build a work sample test where the candidate has to do some aspect of the job, grading on that it typically gives you better, more informed results, then even the full interview process itself. I’m strongly in favor of work sample tests.

Kirsten Wyatt  39:47

And this is the point where I just got goosebumps because I also love work sample tests. And this has officially reached peak Gov Love podcast nerdiness. So thank you Thank you for that. And so let’s, let’s talk about those in a minute. But I want to keep talking about the garbage.

Benjamin Mead-Harvey  40:06

Yes. So there are different. There are different layers in the pile of garbage. There’s, there’s, there’s strata here. So, you know, you imagine reaching down to the bottom of the pile of the garbage, where everything’s already turned to mush, the worst questions that you can ask are the ones that ask for one word answers. Things like, if hired, would you uphold the ideals of our mission statement? I mean, the answer is yes. Of course, the answer is just Yes. So at best, what you’re going to get is candidates who can say yes enthusiastically and at great length, and candidates who simply say yes, but doesn’t differentiate anything. And our whole goal is to put candidates on a spectrum from most effective to least effective. One word answer questions are the worst of the worst. One step up from that, you’ve got what I like to call the existential questions. If you were a superhero, what would your power be? Or when you go on vacation, what do you always make sure is in your suitcase? Stuff like that. So remember, the interviewers job is to pick people based on job related skills and abilities, who’s going to do the work the best? These questions, they just they get, there’s so many points removed from that, that you can imagine you’re drawing a meaningful conclusion. But you just you’re, I hate to say it, but you’re just not just the science is in, these do not give you any meaningful information about your candidates.

Kirsten Wyatt  41:36

I’ve heard people say that they can, they can teach anyone a new skill, but they can’t teach them, you know, their attitude or their approach to work. And and I always understand that sentiment, and this idea that, you know, when it comes to kind of the the nuts and bolts of a position, you can can teach those, talk to us about designing questions that allow that statement, allow you to really measure or put that that that statement into effect.

Benjamin Mead-Harvey  42:12

Yes. So So, absolutely. So people who say that I and I, I agree with that, broadly speaking, you want to people, you want to hire people who are motivated, we can teach most skills. People who say that, I think they may be advocating in favor of questions like What is your greatest strength or, or things of that nature. The problem is, you’re still handing the reins over to the candidate with those questions. You’re saying, Tell me about yourself? What’s your opinion of your most effective behaviors? What is your opinion of how you work? We don’t want to base our decisions on the candidates opinion of themselves. So when it comes to question design, stick with behavioral questions and look at the actual stuff that they do. And use that to make a judgement about motivation. You know, if you want to judge motivation, let’s come up with a behavioral question on the fly. something along the lines of, I don’t know, tell me about a time when you had way too many things to do, and you were overwhelmed. What did you do about it? How did you handle it? And what was the result? You know, that can tell you something, you know, if the if the answer gives you information about how they offloaded a bunch of work, and you really passionately care about motivation and rising to the challenge, then maybe that candidates not for you. If the candidate answers in a way that shows you that they organized all their priorities, they touched base with their boss about the highest priorities, and they made sure the highest priorities got done before moving on to the lower priorities, then, you know, if that’s what you value, and that’s what matters to you in terms of intrinsic motivation, you’ll be able to see that in their answers. Do you agree with that?

Kirsten Wyatt  43:58

I do. And you know, even as you were talking, I was thinking to myself, I have a few key words that that I value in employees, you know, curiosity and creativity. And so I can see how if I phrased a question in a way where someone spouted that back to me, it would immediately make it, I would, I would fall into that, you know, similar to me effect. And, but a better way to get to that is for them to demonstrate curiosity and creativity in their response. And allow me to see that in what they’re saying.  Exactly, exactly. You know, the reason that I so strongly advocate for behavioral questions, is because we want to make sure we get to judge, not handing over the judgment to them. And so if you ask a question along the lines of Tell me about how you demonstrate curiosity, or something like that, people are going to queue into that and they’re going to, they’re going to give you a bunch of answers that you want to hear. Right? But if you say tell me about a time when a problem requires a unique solution, or the problem required investigation or something like that, where you’re not making it obvious what you’re looking for, and you’re just asking them to describe things they actually did, you get to be the judge. The interviewer gets to be the judge, and that’s where we want the judgment to stay. Right? And then and then it separates your response or your reaction to their response into really, you know, gauging the work that’s been done as you said as as an indicator of future success versus they’re gonna do things just like me or they have the same you know, interest that I do it or approach that I do so. So yeah, that that makes a lot of sense.

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Benjamin Mead-Harvey  47:13

So that’s what I have in mind for the interview question portion. Is there anything else you want to talk about with the question specifically, before we move on to other parts of the process?

Kirsten Wyatt  47:22

No, I’m really interested to hear more about kind of the other elements and how, you know, we you know, if a listener has designed, you know, this amazing list of interview questions, very heavy on the behavioral interview questions, what comes next? And and how do we take our responses and rate that and have discussions and pick the best candidate?

Benjamin Mead-Harvey  47:45

Yes, absolutely. So when it comes to, let’s jump right to the end, deciding on who the best candidate should be. In my experience, a fairly common way for things to go is the interview panel or the interviewer will sit down, do a series of interviews. And then at the end, they’ll sort of, they’ll either chat or if they’re alone, they’ll lean back in their chair, and they’ll sort of mull things over for a while, and they’ll end up with an answer. Does that sound like a fairly common way things things happen? These things happen? 

Kirsten Wyatt  48:20

Absolutely. Or there’s the, yeah, where everyone kind of chimes in. And then if you are maybe newer to the organization or less experience, your voice may be overshadowed by the two other people who speak up all the time. So Yeah.

Benjamin Mead-Harvey  48:35

Not to say anything, because you don’t want to you don’t have that that social capital to spend. Exactly, exactly. So the reason that this method is so flawed, is because human brains are good at some things, and they’re very bad at something. We are very good about making decisions and coming up with answers to discrete individual issues. We are terrible at taking up all of the information of a complex decision and coming up with a rational conclusion. Another good example to hang your hat on, we can train our brains to do to do multiplication very, very easily. It takes some time, but virtually anyone in the world can multiply any two two digit or three digit numbers, and very quickly come up with an answer. Almost nobody can do three multiple, multiplication questions all at the same time. We can’t take many different bits of information and do it all at once. And that’s essentially what we are attempting to do when we just sit back in our chairs and try to come up with who the best candidate is without breaking apart the decision. So what should we do instead, right? That’s the big question. The answer is what I just said, we break it apart. The most valid way to pick the best candidate is to rate each question individually. So literally, as you’re sitting there during the interview, you have a piece of paper in front of you. Maybe it has a scale of one to three or a scale of one to five. And each of the interview panelists, give that answer a score, right then and there before moving on to the next question. Do that for each person, and then add up all the final scores. And barring some very unusual circumstance, the person with the best score is more likely to be your best candidate than any other method you can come up with.

Kirsten Wyatt  50:37

And so to clarify, you’re saying after every question to do the rating, versus waiting till the end of the interview and doing an overall rating?

Benjamin Mead-Harvey  50:47

Exactly so, exactly so. You’re breaking up that overall rating into each individual question. And you’re rating something small and manageable for human brains. How well did this person answer the teamwork question? one to five. How well did the person answer the problem solving question? One to five, etc, and so on. And that way, we can focus on just the information in front of us, instead of trying to gather up all the information over eight hours of interviews, and 1,000 pieces of data, human brains just can’t do that very well. So breaking it up is the way to go. Does that makes sense?

Kirsten Wyatt  51:22

It does. And and then, you know, the other question I have is, I’ve often seen interview sheets or you know, handouts, where you can take notes on the response, you know, so that you’re listening to the response to your question, take notes. Is that effective? Or would you, would you rather that someone listen fully, not be taking notes as they do and then just do their rating right away? Or is or is the combo effective?

Benjamin Mead-Harvey  51:51

So whatever will help you listen most effectively, is what I would encourage you to do. Frankly, speaking, the interview notes are by and large, irrelevant, if you are rating each question as it comes. Because typically, what we do with interview notes is we make little notes about what the candidate says so at the end, when we are discussing them, we can prompt our memory about what happened. That’s my experience anyway, is the reason we take notes is to help our memory. You won’t really need to help your memory, if you’re just ratting right there in the moment before moving on to the next question. So it’s really Either way, it’s whatever helps you listen, best. 

Kirsten Wyatt  52:29

Got it. So let’s talk about how you train someone to be good at rating. Because again, I think if you’ve, if you’re 20 years into your career, and you’ve sat through so many interviews, your approach to rating is going to look a lot different than somebody who’s just getting started in management. 

Benjamin Mead-Harvey  52:46

Absolutely. Absolutely. And and to ruffle even more feathers, I would, I would say that someone who’s been doing ratings and interviews for 20 years, may have reinforced a whole lot of bad habits, and actually not become an effective rater, but have become a very confident ineffective rater. So, so here’s what happens when you don’t have any sort of training. Typically, people will give high ratings to answers that sound good, rather than answers that are good. Kirsten, have you ever met somebody who can just talk beautifully at length? And then once you walk away, you realize they’ve said nothing at all?

Kirsten Wyatt  53:27

Yes. And and it, yes. And they excel at cocktail parties, and I could see how they would excel in interviews as well.

Benjamin Mead-Harvey  53:34

Exactly. But But you know, it turns out that there’s no substance to those answers. However, what happens is we buy into that eloquence we buy into the form of the answer. And so without training, your interview panel is going to hire the best public speaker, not the best person for the job. So what does the training look like? Essentially, we need to train the panel to listen for the content of the answer, rather than the form of the answer. Again, we’re using behavioral questions. So we’re going to be hearing about what this candidate did. We want our panel to focus on the actions the candidate took, and the decisions that they made. And then we want our panel to judge the effectiveness of those actions and those decisions. How smart was the decision making process? How nuanced was the decision making process? When you look at the actions they described, do you want them taking those same actions in your position? That is what the panel needs to rate on. Somebody who stutters, who’s packed full of nerves, who has English as a second language may never have a chance, if you’re rating on the form, the eloquence of the answer, but you might realize they’re by far your best choice if you listen for the content of the answer.

Kirsten Wyatt  54:53

Well, and it strikes me that if if you’re listening to the content, it’s really easy to be able to discern if someone else that’s in the panel is listening and just disagrees with the approach versus they, you know, they say that the person isn’t qualified. And I’m just thinking about, if you’re asking for them to share, you know, a situation that they were in, all of a sudden, it just doesn’t become Oh, I don’t think they’re qualified. It’s like, well, I don’t like what they said, because I don’t think we should do biennial budgeting. 

Benjamin Mead-Harvey  55:28

XYZ. Yeah, exactly. 

Kirsten Wyatt  55:30

Exactly. Got it. Okay.

Benjamin Mead-Harvey  55:32

So if listeners, if you don’t have access to some sort of training on rating behavioral interview questions, it’s, you know, that’s kind of a niche thing. At the very least, tell your panel, a little bit of what Kirsten and I just discussed in the past two minutes, you know, at least that intro where you prompt them. Then if you want to do a little bit of a homebrew training, record a couple of answers to behavioral interview questions, ones that sound good, but have no substance and ones that actually have substance and show them to people who are, who are intended to be rating. It’s not that hard to homebrew a training on this once you once you know what you’re trying to do, if that makes sense. Okay. So the next thing I want to cover just in in briefly is the discussion aspect of interviews. Almost all interview panels I’ve been on, what ends up happening is the candidate, each candidate walks out, there’s 15, maybe 30 minutes between candidates, and all the panelists start chatting about what they though. This is friendly, it’s it’s you know, it’s good teamwork, you know, it’s a it’s a collaborative environment. But it, it causes problems, frankly, what ends up happening when we discuss between candidates, but when we discussed before we’ve made our final decision is we start to influence each other’s opinions. And the higher up you are in the organization, the more influence you have, regardless of how nice you are, regardless of how willing you are to hear dissenting opinions. Once you say anything, that set that shows any opinion at all, people below you are naturally going to follow it. If they’re scared of you, they’re going to follow up because they don’t want to say something different. If they respect you, they’re going to follow it because they trust your judgment. So we end up reducing diversity of opinions, the more we talk about the candidates. So my recommendation is you wait until the very end. Again, we’re rating individually all along the way. So if you wait until the end to have discussion, we already know who rated highly this candidate A versus candidate B versus candidate C. And the discussion, for the most part, is just checking to make sure there aren’t any huge issues, you know, we have this person as the highest candidate, does anybody see any serious red flags that disqualify them? Otherwise, frankly, it makes sense to go with the candidate with the highest score. What are your thoughts on that?

Kirsten Wyatt  58:05

Well, so I’m afraid you’re gonna get mad at me, because I’m going to admit something to you. So I’m a big fan. And so maybe you can convince me otherwise, of forced ranking, especially when, especially when you have a lot of candidates and you have a long day in front of you. And and and so, in my mind, it’s it’s similar to scoring, or rating. But you’re just doing it in the context of having multiple multiple candidates over a longer day. So am I wrong? And how does that play out?

Benjamin Mead-Harvey  58:40

So in a forced ranking format, what we do is, we require each panelist to say, who their top candidate is, who their second candidate who their third candidate is, after each and every interview. So after the first interview, you’re gonna have one name on this list. After the second interview, you’re gonna say, did I like candidate A or did I like candidate B best? And if you like candidate B best, candidate B’s name will be at the top. And after the third, the same thing. You’re putting each candidate in order after every single interview. Kirsten, I’m not that mad about that. 

Kirsten Wyatt  59:16

Okay, good. 

Benjamin Mead-Harvey  59:18

If, if your organization’s not rating each question individually, frankly, forced ranking is the next best thing. Because at the very least, you’re breaking up the decision, one candidate at a time, rather than trying to figure out all of the candidates all at once. I will say if you are doing the rating system, and if you are committed to believing that the scores that you add up at the end are an effective Judge of who will be best, you don’t actually need to do it because the scores are going to put them in a rank order. Anyway.

Kirsten Wyatt  59:51

That’s a great point. And I think and and I have been convinced by this conversation, that that scoring for each question makes sense. The one last thing I wanted to ask because I know I feel this happens sometimes with forced ranking as well, is dealing with kind of externalities or just kind of human, you know, behavior, because there is something you know, and we’ve all experienced it, where you’re like, well I don’t want to be the last interview right before lunch or I don’t want to be the first interview right after lunch. I mean, it all kind of comes down to lunch, and like people being hungry, or hangry, or tired. And so how do you factor all of that in to rating, scoring, ranking? Whatever approach you take?

Benjamin Mead-Harvey  1:00:34

Yeah, um, the answer I have for this is not going to be super satisfying. There’s just no way to eliminate all bias and all externality. It has been studied and shown that just before lunch, people tend to get rated lower. But it would take a lot of science to have each organization figure out what the magnitude of that impact is, and try to, you know, try to adjust the weight. And sort of, well, well, you know, we’re automatically going to add three points to anybody who has an 11am interview. It would be I mean, just, it would be really difficult to scientifically figure out how much weight you should give that, how much positivity that you should give that. And so the best answer I have is really, if you train extremely well, on how to rate interviews, you do some practice, you do some work, it should do a decent job of minimizing those externalities, because it becomes more like a math problem or more like a process that you’re solving and less like, just a global judgment. And if I’m, if I’m hangry, if I’m hangry, I can still do math. But so how much of an answer is that for you? 

Kirsten Wyatt  1:01:50

Well, it’s helpful. And I think, too, that sometimes you can also maybe play that out, when you’re having the discussion, you’re looking at your ranking, and you’re looking at your ratings. And so if you’re noticing that everyone’s you know, hangry, at 11. And so there, that candidate like drops way down, even though later on, they say wait a minute, their scores were pretty great. 

Benjamin Mead-Harvey  1:02:12

If you’re, if your organization is big enough to have a data set, and you’re big enough to have a data analyst on your team, a data analyst probably wouldn’t have a too hard of a time operationalizing all of this, all of this data, and, and seeing that there is a drop in scores at 11 o’clock, or seeing whether there’s a drop in scores at 11 o’clock. That’s something that your organization could do if it’s if it’s big enough to have, you know, analyst type positions on the team.

Kirsten Wyatt  1:02:39

Talk to us about how you train on bias. I have been part of organizations where they give you a little handout before each interview and list the types of bias and they’re like, there you go, now, you know, but but what advice do you have on making that training more effective?

Benjamin Mead-Harvey  1:02:56

Sure. So the first thing I’ll say is, that handout is an excellent start. Or actually, I should say that handout is an excellent end. Because Because what that handout will do is remind your interview panel of all of the training they already did, theoretically, so so there’s always you know, all organizations, hopefully, certainly, almost all governments already have annual training on discrimination and things like that. And that’s all fine. And well, and that’s great. But training on bias reduction, you know, there’s plenty of stuff out there in terms of, you know, HR modules, if your organization has an HR module, it may have a 30 or 60 minute session just on cognitive biases, which is really interesting. And if you take it away from the interview process, and do it, you know, once or twice a year, throughout the year, and if you if you find a variety, because there’s tons of different facets of bias. So if you just keep it as part of the conversation, once or twice a year, a couple of things will happen. First, your managers are going to be more open to the idea that their brains are deceiving. And that’s a huge part of it just by itself. So that if you are an organization that currently doesn’t do any sort of forced ranking, or doesn’t do any sort of rating, I guarantee your managers think they are effective hires, you know, every manager is convinced that they know how to do it. And so if you come in and try to change the process, you’re going to get resistance. If there’s training on bias, if you introduce this concept in a variety of ways, and just you know, show your team from time to time, oh, here’s a cool 30 minute or a 15 minute TED talk on this type of bias. Or I don’t know how many organizations do book clubs. You know, let’s, let’s read a couple of chapters from Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman, which is a huge comprehensive book about a bunch of different cognitive pitfalls. If you make this part of the conversation, then people are going to be aware of it. Then if you do find You know, some of the more standard HR trainings on, here’s this type of bias, here’s this type of bias, here’s this type of bias. There is some science out there showing that simply having awareness of these different biases does reduce the bias.

Kirsten Wyatt  1:05:13

Well, and let’s offer a recommendation that’s just gonna like bump up our download numbers for this episode, let’s remind people that you could also have your staff listen to this episode and learn about this from Ben Mead-Harvey. 

Benjamin Mead-Harvey  1:05:26

Right on right on. Great, thank you. 

Kirsten Wyatt  1:05:30

Let’s let’s talk about misconceptions about removing bias. And, you know, some of the things that people that are doing with good intentions but aren’t helping.

Benjamin Mead-Harvey  1:05:40

Yes. So we teased this a little bit earlier, what can happen is that HR or upper management, they really, you know, they buy into this idea of structured interviews, buy into the idea that we need to make things as consistent as possible between candidates, which is great. But there are a couple of different ways that we can take this too far. Let’s start by talking about small talk. You know, there’s always a few minutes with most interviews where you’re all in the room together, but the questions haven’t started yet. And you know, and it’s usually a little bit awkward. We’re all trying to, you know, we’re basically between modes. This can be a very dangerous time from a bias and discrimination standpoint. It’s, it’s very easy for problematic information to crop up and inadvertently influence your decision. For instance, you don’t want to stumble into a topic where you learn information about a candidate’s protected class, that would, you know, you’re probably all professional enough to ignore that information. But it’s just it’s best for that to not even come up during an interview, right? Because of the danger, upper management HR, sometimes they put the kibosh on any sort of pre interview chat, they’ll give you a very specific script, they’ll tell you to stick to it. And you’re you’re expected to not deviate at all. Kirsten, you mentioned a little bit, you know, this takes the soul out of it a little bit right. interviews are already a sterile, artificial, awkward process. They’re, you know, there, like you said, there’s I mean, there’s soul sucking for both sides of the table. But we don’t hire people to work in sterile artificial social environments, we we work with people who are going to be chatting with us every day, people who are going to be trading ideas, communicating all sorts of things like normal humans, right? So to the extent that you can set the candidates at ease and make them feel natural, you will get better, more accurate answers from them, they won’t be focused on their nerves, they will be focused on actually answering the question you asked. So we do need to do whatever we can to keep the candidates comfortable and natural. So, in my opinion, I, I strongly encourage interviewers to do a little bit of small talk and actually prepare to do a little bit of small talk in advance. That’s going to solve the problem that your HR department is nervous about. If you know in advance, okay, the candidate is going to come in, I’m going to introduce them to the three people in the panel. I’ve already told the panelists, I’d like you to talk for two or three minutes about what you do before we move on to the next person. And then you also have prepared two or three, you know, banal pointless, chatty questions, weather and travel are almost always safe. If you prepare that in advance, there’s very, very little opportunity for the candidate to say something related to their protected class, or something that that is related to any discrimination issue.

Kirsten Wyatt  1:08:38

Some might say that’s a lightning round, for example.

Benjamin Mead-Harvey  1:08:41

Yeah, exactly right. Exactly right. You know, you put me at ease, you got me talking about silly things that, um, that, you know, make it, we talk as humans a little bit before we enter the more formal interview side. 

Kirsten Wyatt  1:08:53

Right. Okay. 

Benjamin Mead-Harvey  1:08:54

I actually, if I could talk for one more minute on this, I like to go even further. My recommendation is that your first official interview question is not part of the rating. Usually, at least, I would, I would venture to say most organizations asked some version of the question, tell me about yourself as their first question. That’s common. Also, for 90 plus percent of candidates, they’re going to tell you mostly information that you can find on their resume. But it’s a good easy question that that they know how to answer for sure. So in addition to doing a little bit of small talk to make you guys feel like you’re human beings and get get the conversation flow. I also suggest make a non-rated question that you don’t use as part of your decision making process as your first question, just to warm up the candidate and give them that softball. It’ll help them perform well in the interview, it’ll help them focus on answering the question instead of focusing on their nerves.

Kirsten Wyatt  1:09:53

One of my favorite first questions that I’ve ever received in an interview was tell us something that will make us Remember you? 

Benjamin Mead-Harvey  1:10:01

Oh, sure. 

Kirsten Wyatt  1:10:02

I liked that because it was enough to do the tell us about yourself, but then also kind of put like a more personal twist on it. 

Benjamin Mead-Harvey  1:10:10

Sure. Absolutely. Absolutely. 

Kirsten Wyatt  1:10:13

All right. So tell us more about some more misconceptions about removing bias.

Benjamin Mead-Harvey  1:10:17

Yes. So another issue that we run into is the size of the interview panel. It’s important to have a diverse interview panel, that will help you right with the similar to me error, because if you have people who are dissimilar from one another judging the candidates, then they may all commit the similar to me error, but they’ll commit it in different ways. Right? So we want a diverse panel. But some organizations take this too far. And they end up inflating the size of the panel 5, 6, 7 people. Frankly, five or six people rarely add anything that a panel of three doesn’t already have, aside from a scheduling headache. And getting back to the sterility, the artificiality the nerves that impact a candidate, if you have a very large panel for anything besides your highest positions, high positions, you can do whatever you want, they should be comfortable with the stress. But But your lower level positions, anything below management, certainly and frankly, even your entry level management positions, if you have a large group, you’re going to end up selecting the person who is least thrown off by the sea of judgmental faces, rather than the person who may be best for the job. So I recommend three people tends to be the right for right number for most, it’s enough people that you can get diversity. And if you try if you’re intentional about it, but it’s small enough not to feel strange to the candidate. If you need more people to judge the candidate, or if for instance, you’re a fairly small organization, and you really are committed to having everyone see the candidate, do serial interviews, they’re actually really not very hard to schedule, you have panel A, panel B, maybe panel C, and the candidate does an hour with each of them. It is it is still a little bit stranger than a single interview panel. But it is less stressful to the candidate to see three faces at a time, but nine faces at all at once.

Kirsten Wyatt  1:12:12

Right, right. And then last thing I’d like to cover, talk to us about how you communicate interview processes to the candidates, what should what should you be doing in advance to prepare them for for the interview experience they’re going to have?

Benjamin Mead-Harvey  1:12:28

Absolutely. So I love organizations that send a lot of information to the candidates in advance. Because what that does is it levels the playing field between candidates who know how to interview and candidates who are good at jobs, but maybe don’t have a lot of practice interviewing. If you send the entire list of questions to the candidate in advance, there’s really no downside to that. I think there there are some people in the world who will argue that they like to, I mean, in my mind, it’s playing gotcha. They like to put the candidate on the spot a little bit and see how they perform. But again, an interview doesn’t that the stuff that happens in an interview is very, very different from the stuff that happens in the workplace. So in the workplace, we virtually always have time to prepare, we virtually always have time to practice, even if you’re talking about customer service positions, and the customer who walks up angry, you know, we typically, you know, if you’re an effective organization, you’ve trained somebody on how to handle that. And they’ve probably done it a dozen times in the past. So I really like an organization that sends the interview questions to the candidate in advance. I also advocate that organizations send a like a one page explanation of behavioral interview questions, and the typical form response, the CAR method or the STAR method, or whichever one your organization has researched. Because what that does is, again, people who know about interviews and have done a bunch of them, they know they’re supposed to talk in great detail for two minutes, and then shut up and have the next question. People who don’t know, they’re not as familiar with how much detail they need to go into and so, giving them that form, that context action result, and a one page explanation about what behavioral questions are, will help them prepare and and then you will be able to compare apples to apples, you’ll be able to see this candidates work and this candidates work rather than this candidates work in this candidates five words when we wanted 100.

Kirsten Wyatt  1:14:28

Right. Right. Well, and I think what that also does, and you know, we often talk about an interview isn’t just, you know, you interviewing for a job, but it’s also the individual interviewing the organization to say, Is this a place that I want to work? And so when you do that upfront work to, you know, walk an applicant interviewee through your process and expectations that’s right out of the gate showing to them that you’re an organization that is going to empower employees, and it’s going to-

Benjamin Mead-Harvey  1:14:59

Give them the tools they need to be as effective as possible. Right? I mean, isn’t that a boy, what a great introduction to the organization? Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely.

Kirsten Wyatt  1:15:07

Well, and I, you know, and I think too, if someone’s not comfortable handing out the questions, you know, what we’ve often done here at ELGL, is we just give a list of the topics. And so like, if someone really, you know, maybe they don’t want to do a full on gotcha, but they want there to be an element of surprise. There’s nothing bad about saying we’re going to talk about you know, this and that. And then the way you phrase it could be the the surprise, so, but I love having that. 

Benjamin Mead-Harvey  1:15:33

Excellent middle road there. Sure. 

Kirsten Wyatt  1:15:36

All right, anything else you’d like to share with us or any other questions you have for me and for Gov Love?

Benjamin Mead-Harvey  1:15:41

So I think we’ve covered a lot of ground it might be worth just recapping the main points in one quick minute.

Kirsten Wyatt  1:15:48

Okay, love it.

Benjamin Mead-Harvey  1:15:49

So the capstone, your biases are preventing you from focusing exclusively on job relevant skills and abilities when you select your candidates. To help reduce the influence of your biases, there are a series of steps you can take. First, design structured interviews with behavioral interview questions that are related to the skills you need for that job, rate each question independently, focus on the content of the answer, not on the performative elements of the answer. That is to say, don’t give points for how articulate someone is, give points for the knowledge, skills and abilities they demonstrate in their answer. Don’t influence each other’s opinions by talking about, talking about the candidate before the end of the process. Except in extenuating circumstances, I encourage you to go with the candidate that rated highest. Consider providing candidate information ahead of time to level the playing field between people who are good at interviewing and people who aren’t as practiced. Select a diverse panel, but there’s no need to get too big. And finally, don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater by making your interview process so rigid and artificial that your candidates can’t perform. Okay, does that sum it up?

Kirsten Wyatt  1:17:00

I love it. No, this is great. And I just looked at the clock. And I realized we probably could talk about this for another hour. I think this is a sign that we need to have you back on Gov Love. 

Benjamin Mead-Harvey  1:17:11

Oh, I’d love to.

Kirsten Wyatt  1:17:12

But, but that was a wonderful wrap up and great practical examples. So thank you.

Benjamin Mead-Harvey  1:17:18

Before we wrap up, I do have one question for you. I recently became an ELGL member myself. So I’ve been wondering, what are a couple of routine things, the average ELGL member should do, you know, day to day, week to week, whatever, to get the most out of being in the organization.

Kirsten Wyatt  1:17:34

That is a wonderful question. And we often talk about how sometimes ELGL content and opportunities can be like a fire hose. And and that is actually by design. Because what we have found over the years is that everybody gets information and learns new things and meets new people and new connections in different ways. And so we’ve tried to cover every base we can so you can find ELGL in the place that is most comfortable for you. And so this podcast is a great example, if you’re a podcast listener, we are producing episodes twice a week. If you prefer to read information, we’re publishing new articles every single day on ELGL.org. And if you’re more of a visual learner and want to learn in a webinar format, we are producing one to two webinars per week. And so that kind of covers the the ways that you can just absorb and take in a lot of the great information that our members are producing and writing for us or creating for us. But that’s also another way to get involved. We welcome new writers to our writing series on everything from sustainability, to diversity, equity inclusion to our daily morning buzz blogs, where our members are writing about different local government topics. And so everyone is welcome to contribute to those. If writing or podcasting isn’t your thing, we also have open invitations to all of our committees, whether it’s working on our strategic plan, planning our different events, our next event is a conference coming up in Texas in September. And so anyone can join those committees. It’s not limited based on your job title, or where you work, or how long you’ve been in the field. Everyone’s welcome to get involved. And then last-

Benjamin Mead-Harvey  1:19:21

I have to imagine, those are an excellent opportunity for folks who are maybe in a lower level position, looking to, you know, get more things on their resume and show that they’re engaged, right?

Kirsten Wyatt  1:19:31

Absolutely and and, you know, our motto is, you know, for almost everything we do is we want your professional affiliation to be fun and engaging. And so we always promise to do the boring stuff on the staff side and empower our members to plan the conference they’ve always dreamed of attending or write the article they’ve always wanted to read. And then the last thing is just to engage, you know, informally and, and sometimes you know, and this can sound really cheesy, but I’ve found our members have created great friendships around topics that have nothing to do with local government. It’s because they like the same movie, or they play the same board game or they love the same food. And when you share that and kind of open up and engage on Twitter, or Facebook, or Instagram or any of the other venues we have, it’s a great way to meet new people and stay involved. So I’m so glad that you’re joined. I’m so glad you’re on the podcast. And would love to hear maybe in a month or two, the ways that you have found that you’ve gotten the most out of being a member?

Benjamin Mead-Harvey  1:20:37

Sure. Excellent. Thank you so much. I appreciate the answer.

Kirsten Wyatt  1:20:41

Yeah, absolutely. Well, one last question. We end every episode this way. I would love to know if you could be the Gov Love DJ, what song would you pick as our exit music for this episode?

Benjamin Mead-Harvey  1:20:54

I would pick The Impression That I Get by the Mighty Mighty Bosstones. Okay, first because this episode is all about, you know, getting away from our impression and focusing on on facts about the candidate. And then also the the, the song is all about, you know, almost literally a white guy in a, in. a tie who has never had to risk anything has never had to stick his neck out. You know, the chorus is is I’ve never had a knock on wood. So I think it’s worth those of us who are in more privileged positions to reflect every once in a while on the fact that we don’t have to risk as much to get where we are that some other people do.

Kirsten Wyatt  1:21:30

What a wonderful song to end this episode. Ben, thank you so much for coming on and joining us and it’s just been a pleasure to have you on Gov Love today. 

Benjamin Mead-Harvey  1:21:37

Oh, my pleasure. Absolutely. My pleasure. 

Kirsten Wyatt  1:21:37

Gov Love is produced by a rotating cast of ELGL volunteers. ELGL is the Engaging Local Government Leaders network. You can reach us at ELGL.org/GovLove or on Twitter @GovLovePodcast. Thank you for listening, this has been Gov Love, a podcast about local government.

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