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Q&A job interviews are a dying breed?

The standard Q&A-style job interview is going the way of the typewriter, according to latest research by member-based advisory firm CEB.

Instead, employers are increasingly turning to case study interviews, which reveal a candidate’s ability to approach and solve a business problem by testing their response to a given situation. HR directors have a major role to play in reshaping the interview process for departments such as finance, where executives are currently facing a major talent shortage. In a survey of over 2000 finance firms worldwide, 87 per cent of chief financial officers (CFOs) said they didn’t have the right talent mix on their teams to achieve their company goals. The problem, according to CEB, often stems from that first job interview, and the tendency of employers to rely on finance qualifications and ‘gut feeling’ from a traditional Q&A interview.

In contrast, the best companies use case study interviews, especially those that simulate real-life data analysis and presentation requests. This aims to seek out ‘uncoachable’ skills, such as critical thinking, the ability to simplify complex ideas and communicate effectively with stakeholders. CEB identified that only through better collaboration between HR and finance teams can companies better uncover these critical competencies and drive overall success within the department. Less than a third (32 percent) of finance departments currently use these techniques in the hiring process – often due to an all-too-comfortable reliance on functional expertise and the ability to shift through data.

So what does constitute a strong case study interview? CEB have identified a basic checklist in uncovering the best candidates: Ask questions that can have more than one correct answer. The lack of an obvious solution will test the candidate’s thinking skills, not their speed to answer. Include real market dynamics, such as customer segments, competitor analysis and pricing pressures, as well as evaluation of qualitative evidence. Encourage the candidate to make a recommendation based on instinct, rather than just data and financial analysis.

Don’t be afraid to pick cases that are unrelated to your industry. Abstract and unique case studies ensure you are evaluating wider commercial awareness, rather than just researched knowledge. Kruti Bharucha, senior director at CEB, said: “As CFOs and HR directors look to hire new candidates, our research shows that case-based interviews are infinitely more valuable in testing non-technical competencies. “These interviews will not only help companies to look beyond the traditional gene pool of accountants, but also identify those softer skills that are critical to success at large, global organisations – and which are near-impossible to observe through the standard Q&A process.”

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