The teleological interview

I suspect that a large class of hiring interviews could be improved by placing more emphasis on people’s purposes. Here is a set of proposed questions for an interview of that kind:

Question 1: What’s the most important thing?

Once properly understood, answers will look something like “my family”, “human survival”, “God”, or “Miles Davis’s music”, and nothing like “content marketing” or “a flux-style architecture”. There may be more than one answer.

Question 2: What have you done in pursuit of that value?

This is similar to competency-based questions that focus on concrete situations in the candidate’s past, and should help sniff out erroneous answers to the first question. You may need to return to Question 1 if it takes some discussion for the candidate to realise the original answer was incorrect.

Question 3: How will working here help you in pursuit of that value?

If a candidate cannot provide a plausible answer to this question, then it’s likely that their aims and the organization’s are poorly aligned.

Question 4: What are your other options for pursuing that value, and how do they compare to working here?

This is really a part of Question 3, but I mention it separately because it’s important to consider the relative value of one’s choices. It might be that a candidate can provide a coherent narrative in which working at the hiring organization promotes their chosen value, but if there is another path which promotes that value even more, then there might still be a motivational conflict to consider.

Get to the point

The point of this approach would be to ask directly for the candidate’s overarching motivation by asking about their purposes and working backwards to an explanation of how the job in question would fit into their plans. This contrasts with current methods, which generally leave the interviewer to guess at a candidate’s overarching purposes based on what they’ve said about past behavior or much vaguer statements of intent.

It’s also probably more resistant to coaching effects—these are unavoidable to a certain extent, but a coherent narrative encompassing one’s whole life is a much more complex thing than a self-contained situation, and therefore much more difficult to fake convincingly. This approach might not be better in terms of false negatives (a strong candidate may find it too weird/difficult/personal and thus perform badly), but it might improve the false positive rate.

Any hiring process has to draw on evidence from numerous sources. What I’ve proposed here is not a replacement for testing proficiency (e.g. coding ability), but it could help to avoid hiring someone who is mismatched with the hiring organization on a motivational level.

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