From the Ask Tom mailbag –
In your post on Wednesday [Hypothetical Questions are a Trap], you caught my attention. As an interviewer, I use hypothetical questions all the time. It lets me know if the candidate can think on their feet. I try to use real hypothetical questions for circumstances they will run into. What’s wrong with that?
Hypothetical questions are a trap for both sides of the interview table. Intellectually, hypothetical questions seem to make sense. In reality, they force the candidate to play a guessing game and require the interviewer to suspend judgement of reality.
When the interviewer asks a hypothetical question, the candidate must now search for the answer they believe the interviewer wants to hear. This is a guessing game. The candidate, if they are like me, will have done some reading up on your industry, will understand the basics of industry jargon and be able to create some believable response.
Two problems. Just because I can talk the game, does not mean I have ANY REAL experience in the circumstance. Second, if my response is in the ball park of believe-ability, the interviewer unwittingly suspends judgement and checks the box for a good response. The reality is that I have never been a project manager for any construction project larger than a bathroom remodel. And, frankly, I wasn’t very good at that.
The interviewer cannot fact-check a hypothetical response. It’s hypothetical.
Oh, I will dazzle you with schedules of value, resource planning, milestone review, budget to complete, over and under billings. But, if you had asked about my bathroom remodel (actual experience), you would have a totally different judgement of my skills and ability.