HR Interviews are like the Gumbo of a Cop Interview

Like a good gumbo, it is best to allow an opportunity for the ingredients to become familiar with each other and to blend. You add one ingredient at a time while cooking at a low to medium setting. Then turn up to the heat to boil. Add a little spice. The result is a delectable success. The process takes time, but the outcome is worth the time. When I conducted a police interview or an HR interview, I used the same tactic as I use in the kitchen.

Are you a cop or an HR interviewer? Does it really matter? Yes for the criminal suspect there is more at stake, but the process is the same. You have a new applicant sitting in front of you. You have gazed at her application or resume. In all probability, you have some preconceived notions concerning their viability. How do you plan to flush out how good he or she will be? Are you going to ask the same formula questions that everyone asks? Why do you want to leave your current position? Why do you want to come to work for our magnificent company? What are your attributes and weakness? Please! Anyone with a lick of sense has already read and rehearsed expected answers to the formulaic questions. Stop the insanity!

Most applicants are muted in their nonverbal behavior or body language displays. Feet planted on the ground and arms grabbing the chair like a rollercoaster. They smile and nod. Are you sitting across the table in an adversarial role? Get rid of the table or at least sit on the corner so you can monitor their full body language display.

My goal was to relax the person and develop rapport. It did not matter if they were a suspect in a crime or a job applicant my approach was the same. I am not talking about mixing mojitos or cranking up some dance tunes. I start asking about their background and exploring what excites them. What do you do for fun and what are your hobbies? Then start drilling down and prying the doors open to their soul. When they share with you that they are a scrapbooker or enjoy cooking, ask some open ended questions. What cuisines excite you the most? What is your favorite dish? How long does it take to complete a photo album? Which is your favorite album and why? Watch as they begin to relax and their eyes begin to dance with excitement.

Bang! Hit them with, if I were to call your supervisor what would she say about your job performance? Listen and watch. If the smile drops like a brick in a pond, and their feet hike up under their chair, there is cause for concern. Listen for what they don’t say. Return to cooking and ask about the most difficult dish they prepared successfully. Watch the restoration of the positive body language. Bang! Hit them again. Why do you want to leave your current position? Watch and listen.

Return to the cooking channel and then ask a situational reasoning question. If you heard your best friend in the next cubicle tell someone on the telephone that he was going to call in sick the next day, despite the group deadline to complete a project that will ensure continued profitability for the company, what would you do? If your BFF went ahead and called in sick, and the boss asked you if your friend was really sick? Turn up the heat. Crank it up! Depending on her answer, twist them. So you would betray your friend?  Who also happens to be your brother-in-law and godfather to your children? The holiday gatherings could be a little frosty, right?  Oh, so you would lie to the boss? Watch the inner conflict boil to the surface. Bring your Junior Mints because this is pure entertainment.

It never hurts to keep them off their game by asking an out of leftfield question. What five acts of kindness would you use if you won the lottery? Have you ever thought about moving to a disserted place on earth and where? What age would you like to live until? Why are clowns scary? The purpose of these questions are to break the rhythm and make the applicant think outside the box in the human resource interview process.

Now share with them that you have some highly qualified applicants with strong education and an experienced background. Why should I hire you? Stare right in their face when you ask, yes, watch and listen. Now is the time to address questions concerning their resume.

Take the time to share the expectations of the job. Be honest. I want people to understand and be very clear of the expectations. In this employment environment, there is no need to sell swampland and package it as waterfront property. I know one employer who assured the applicant in the financial industry that the workweek was 40 to 45 hours a week. Oops. More like 60-65. Now you are stuck with an employee who feels deceived and wants out. I never wanted anyone to come up to me later and complain that he or she did not realize the demands of the job. I stressed the travel hardships, and working nights, weekends and holidays. Did I scare a few off? Perhaps. In all the years, I had very few applicants withdraw. Most applicants would have agreed to clean out the elephant’s pen at the zoo. Travel? No problem. Until the trip falls on an anniversary and to Siberia in the winter. At least they were warned.

Return to small talk and wind down the interview with smiles and handshakes. You should do a lot more listening than talking. You have two ears and one mouth for a reason. The rapport questions establish a baseline of nonverbal behavior that you can monitor for changes as you ask questions that are more challenging.  Now, on to the next applicant and repeat the process.

For more information on interviewing and rapport building, take a look at: FACE 2 FACE : Observation, Interviewing and Rapport Building Skills: an Ex-Secret Service Agent’s Guide




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4 Responses to HR Interviews are like the Gumbo of a Cop Interview


    Mike I loved your article. It´s really important for HR interviewers to be capable of creating rapport, to then invite the interviewees to “meet them halfway” and start the core of the interview. You focus an instrumental point which is patience. Jointly with rapport building interviewees start to feel at ease to answer more in-depth questions, more honestlty/accurately and more extensively.

    • mike says:

      Pedro, Thank you stopping by and for your comments. I appreciate your input and you have captured the essence of my post. Rapport is the essence and foundation of every interview. Cheers, Mike

  2. Andrea says:

    Mike, that might be intimidating for the interviewee, but it might also be an interesting experience. My experience with HR interviews is that they are like anyone else, and would rather their job be easy than thorough. Maybe folks with a law enforcement background are a lot more comfortable with a confrontational style, or putting people on the spot. Companies should hire them to do interviews! 🙂

    The questions in that other article on oddball questions were just foolish. How many planes flew over Kansas at noon yesterday? Who cares? A question like that won’t test *anything* but the person’s willingness to say “I don’t know”. The questions you mention here will at least teach you something about the person.

    • mike says:

      Andrea, I stress building rapport to begin with. Find out what they are about and their passions. It is the best way to determine their baseline of body language. I am a patient interviewer. I don’t really look at this technique as confrontational. The interviewer should always ask the questions in a respectful manner. Most people rehearse for their interview from the standard questions. This approach uses many of the same questions, but with a different seasoning. This technique changes the rules on the interviewee and allows for a more in-depth analysis and how they may fit in your corporate culture. Cheers, Mike

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