“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.


For more insights, visit The Headhunter's Secret Guide.


Views: 1975

Comment by Suzanne Levison on September 28, 2011 at 10:37am
Yes, I agree, with your points. Client interviewers need to present a positive company culture/image. I always advise the candidate prior about the specific interviewing Exec's communication expertise.
Comment by Tony Palm on September 29, 2011 at 12:06pm

Unfortunately, many interviewers seem to forget that today's hire is tomorrow's back-fill. A progressive organization uses positive recruiting practices as an integral component of their employee retention program.

Devil’s advocate questions reflect not just a failed interview; it is a barometer of the overall corporate culture of an organization. As a staffing professional, I can answer these questions effectively, but I would NEVER accept an offer from a company that employed these kinds of tactics.

I’m just sayin’!

Comment by Martin Perinne on September 29, 2011 at 3:12pm
This post made me think back to my first internship I had. They were doing interviews for candidates for a position, and what they did was play good cop/bad cop. So the reporting manager would ask the more positive questions while the other manager would play devil's advocate... least the candidate would leave with the impression of having a good relationship with his boss!
Comment by Bill Schultz on September 29, 2011 at 4:18pm

Good topic Mark.  My feeling is the interview should be positive until the candidate speaks negative, either about his boss or company.  Then all bets are off.  

Martin- I know a venture capitalist firm that incorporates similar tactics.  They ask  VP candidates to 'force-rate" their last 4 bosses from 1-4.  Then they attack the one he rated 4 (worst).  I don't know if that's devils advocate but it is devilish.  

Comment by Mark Bregman on September 29, 2011 at 5:59pm

Tony:  When it is a retained search from a great employer, and this interviewer is the one oddball on an otherwise stellar team, we have to put up with it.  Sometimes it can be a barometer of the company, like you say, and sometimes it is just the one odd guy they just have to put on the interview panel who pulls this stuff.  The latter is harder to deal with. 

Martin:  OOOH  - Good cop / bad cop = another whole pet peeve!!  Don't you just hate that?!

Bill:  I always warn candidates about clients who seek to "Dish the Dirt", and to never slide into that hole!  I tell them 2 sentences or 20 seconds, whichever is shorter, to describe the previous relationship, and I teach them "reframing":  My boss hated me and never gave me any real authority = I discovered I needed a more supportive environment where I could really utilize my management capability.


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