Interesting Interview Technique


February 23, 2011

It’s a typical morning as I decide what to share on the blog today.  I have a few ideas that are half baked that I think are pretty good.  So, I started putting some meat to one of those.  As I’m writing , I’m listening to Inside the Actors Studio in the background.  Of course, since I’m easily distracted, this has changed the whole direction of what I’m interested in writing about.

The show

Inside the Actors Studio is a long-running show on BRAVO.  The show is hosted by James Lipton, an award winning writer, actor, and producer.  It’s his ability to pick apart other actors during an interview  in front of acting students that transcends information you would hear in many of the run-of-the-mill interviews you’d hear on Extra, Entertainment Tonight, or the like.  Mr. Lipton questions, inquires, and challenges the actors so that you see beyond and beneath the veneer they so often use to distance themselves from the prying world.

The show has a section at the end where Mr. Lipton asks a series of questions in quick repetition such as:

  • What is your favorite word?
  • What sound or noise do you hate?
  • What is your favorite curse word?

What caught my attention is the style and manner in which Mr. Lipton asks the questions.  He does not face the actor. He faces the audience and almost appears as if he is disinterested in the actor although his voice clearly indicates his interest.

Wouldn’t that be an interesting, albeit intimidating, interview technique in the workplace.  It would also be an interesting investigative technique.  Give it a look and tell me what you think in the comments.  Have you ever interviewed and not faced the individual?  How do you think it might change the tone of the interview?


  • I once had a recruiter who worked for me who had his own version of the Pivot Questionnaire. He had 4 main questions and a few interesting sub questions:

    1) Do you have reliable transportation?
    2) Do you have TWO verifiable MANAGERIAL references?
    3) Can you pass a drug test?
    4) Can you pass a background test?

    Now this being Miami, you can absolutely bet that he actually got several interesting answers. My favorite of all time was when a candidates said “My sisters-cousins-auntie once used my name when she got arrested…” or “I just did a key bump to celebrate that I got the job”.

    Yeah, and this was when we were working at the hospital…

  • Interesting question. I have not been interviewed that way, and couldn’t imagine interviewing anyone else that way either. I’m always so focused on connecting with the other person (whether I’m interviewer or interviewee), that I wouldn’t want to make a bad impression. It would probably make for an interesting research project though!

  • It is so disconcerting as an interviewee not to have the interviewer’s full attention at the end of an interview. It requires great self-confidence to remain focused on answering and being present, instead of freaking out – “OMG, s/he hates me now! I thought it was going well!”

    Therefore, this might be an interesting technique for interviewing a sales person, future leader, or anyone whose job will require great presence, focus, and thick skin. How they handle this situation could be a great indicator of how they’d handle similarly difficult and borderline disrespectful face-to-face behavior.

  • Love that show. China Gorman and I have decided that “Inside the HR Office” would be a great addition. What is your favorite curse word?

    Good post Trish.

  • Use this technique when “interviewing” (interrogating) my teenage son. He talks much more openly when we are side by side driving along in the car, for example, rather than face to face and eye to eye. In some cultures (including a few of our own Native American ones), looking face to face and eye to eye is considered disrespectful, and looking down away is a sign of respect (very disconcerting for us, I know), so side by side interviewing might be a good technique to use with immigrants that are still in transition. Looking face to face and eye to eye is a notoriously difficult adjustment when you are from a culture that doesn’t do it, and making that adjustment doesn’t happen overnight.

  • Trish, great point there. I’ve been a long time fan of the show. For those who watch the show, they pretty much know what’s coming and anticipate the answers. Maybe that’s why he looks at the audience, knowing it’s an inside joke. Technically, if you’re interviewing someone over the phone you’re not looking at them. When folks recruit others from different geographies, they might also use web cams for interviews. Situations like these change the dynamics of the interviews. If the person’s not looking at me, it does raise an alarm but I’m in India. If the person’s looking straight at me at all times, and recalling something he/she supposedly did, it raises more alarms since you still need some eye movement to access your memory.

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James Lipton
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About Trish

A former HR executive and HCM product leader with over 20 years of experience.


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