Do not ask this question during interviews. The answers are always inane, the question is inane, it is a waste of precious interview time.
We cannot plan for the future. If we could I would be living on a space station, painting giraffes as my 4-year-old self anticipated. For those wondering, I have no space station or giraffe in my life.
There are just too many factors beyond your control that will shape job options–global economic trends, political elections, and technological changes, just to name a few. Please do yourself the favor and avoid committing the hubris of thinking that anyone can determine their professional glide path.
What we can control are the options we choose now to give ourselves more options in the future. A better question is “What do you want to learn in this job and how can we help make that happen?”
For interviews to be truly effective, we have to understand how the function and apply a process. Cognitive Interviewing, originally created for law enforcement and later adopted during accident investigations by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), provides an effective framework. I was first introduced to this at my previous company, where it has become a real linchpin, so I share it here.
The two principles here are:
Witnesses need time and encouragement to recall information
Retrieval cues enhance memory recall
Based on these two principles there are four components:
What It Consists of
Encourage the interviewee to mentally recreate the environment and people involved.
Encourage the reporting of all the details, even if it is minor or not directly related to the purpose of the interview. This is intended to improve the detail and accuracy of memory.
For example, if investigation a computer error, you would encourage the interviewee to discuss everything they were doing around the event. You would hold the interview at the station the error happened, ideally using the computeras much as possible.
Ask the interviewee to recall the event from others’ points of view. For example, the person upstream or downstream, or a partner or observer.
Ask the interviewee to recount the timeline in different ways. Beginning to end, end to beginning.
Four Components of Cognitive Interviewing
A key part of this is that retrieval cues access memory. This is why doing the interview on the scene (or Gemba) is so effective.
The basic behaviors you want to bring to bear are:
Recreate the original context; have them outline and walk you through process to explain how they work.
Tell the the witness to actively generate information and not wait passively for the interviewer to ask questions.
Adopt the witness’s perspective; ask eyewitness-compatible questions.
Perform the interview at the Gemba, the place where the work happens.
Listen actively, do not interrupt, and pause after the witness’s response.
Ask open-ended questions, utilize short phrases when possible.
Encourage the witness to use imagery. Explicitly request detailed descriptions.
Follow the sequence of the cognitive interview major components.
Bring support materials such as attachments, procedures, and copies of relevant documents.
Establish a connection with the witness; demeanor has a big impact.
Remember, active listening.
Do not tell the interviewee how they made the mistake, blame, or assume.
Active listening is key here.
At the mouth of the funnel we begin with an ‘open’ question. This question is intended to give the interviewee the widest possible scope for responding. Sometimes it may be necessary to repeat or rephrase this question to give the interviewee more thinking time and further opportunities to raise information. Working down the narrowing body of the funnel we use a series of probing questions to draw out further specific information and help complete the picture. Closed questions then have their place to draw out, check or confirm specific pieces of information, or to get the interviewee to commit on a point more precisely. This then brings us to the bottom of the funnel where we clarify, using a short summary, what we have got out of the discussion, aiming to check our understanding of the main points. The question sequence might go something like this:
‘Tell me how you went about…?’ (open)
‘How did you prepare?’ (open – secondary)
‘What was your starting point?’ (probe)
‘So, what happened next?’ (probe)
‘Who else was involved?’ (probe)
‘And how did they respond?’ (probe)
‘What were your thoughts at that stage?’ (probe)
‘What were the main outcomes?’ (probe)
‘So, that took a total of 30 minutes?’ (closed – clarifying)
‘And the task was completed?’ (closed – clarifying)
‘So, let me see if I’ve followed you…’ (checking – summary)
A good interview requires preparation. Have opening questions ready, ensure you have all the right props and the right people involved. That extra hour or two will pay dividends.