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Devil’s Advocate Questions

“You’re just a title hunter, aren’t you?!”  This is an actual question/declaration made by an executive to one of our candidates recently.  The exec was challenging why this recruited, employed, productive candidate would make a move to his company.  The executive also was questioning whether the VP opportunities were more scarce than the candidate might have thought.  This is a “Devil’s Advocate” or negative style of questioning.  Other questions I’ve heard along these lines include “Why would you want this job?”, “Why should I hire you over any of the other people I’m considering?”, “Why would you want to leave your job?”

The tactic of playing devil’s advocate and asking contrarian questions is one that many interviewers like.  Some interviewers do it out of fear and ignorance.  They don’t like interviewing, or they are concerned about making the wrong decision, or they just don’t have better questions to ask.

In the best of circumstances, Devil’s Advocate questions are employed because the interviewer wants to put the candidate on the spot, see how they react under pressure, and seek more depth in the responses.  Most candidates react appropriately, don’t show any negativity and answer adequately.

BUT, what is the candidate’s take away from this style of questioning?  I’ve never had a candidate compliment a Devil’s Advocate approach.  They are usually put-off.   Most candidates don’t enjoy being treated this way.

I’ve written many times about the importance of incorporating “recruitment” into the interview process – making the evaluation a two-way street.  Not only are you evaluating the candidate, the candidate is evaluating you and your company, and you must meet them halfway, and ensure a positive perception.  Otherwise, some of the best candidates will just go elsewhere.

What can you do instead of this Devil’s Advocate approach?  Be sincere and transparent instead of negative.  Instead of the initial question about the title hunting, this exec could have said: “I want to be sure you really want the job that we are offering today.  Can you tell me more about your motivations to join our company?”  By revealing what you really want to know, you increase candidate intimacy, draw them in, let them know you are willing to be transparent…. And thereby, score some “recruitment” points… all while getting the real answer you’re after.