Note To NFL Teams: Asking Candidates About Their Moms Or Their Sexuality Is A Terrible Way To Hire – Forbes


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INDIANAPOLIS, IN – MARCH 01: Louisiana State running back Derrius Guice answers questions from the media during the NFL Scouting Combine on March 1, 2018 at the Indiana Convention Center in Indianapolis, IN. (Photo by Zach Bolinger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

The NFL combine just wrapped up; that week-long audition where college players perform physical and mental tests, including interviews, for NFL scouts. The physical tests are fine (40-yard dash, bench press, etc.) but it’s the interviews where things can sometimes go haywire.

Over the years, many absurd (and completely inappropriate) questions have been asked of college football players hoping to make it to the NFL. For example, in 2016, retired NFL player Austen Lane tweeted some of the questions he got asked by NFL scouts at the combine when he went through it. They include:

  • “I see you have dreads, you smoke weed don’t you?”
  • “If you had to murder someone: Would you use a gun or a knife?”
  • “Boxers or briefs?”
  • “Do you think your mother is attractive?”
  • “If you could kill someone and not get caught, would you?”

Why do interviewers ask such obscene questions? Much of it’s because they’re (very poorly) trying to hire for attitude and they want to see how people candidates (or football players) react when faced with such shocking questions. At this year’s combine, LSU running back Derrius Guice said that one team asked about his sexuality and another asked if his mother was a prostitute.

In an interview on the SiriusXM NFL show Late Hits, he said “It was pretty crazy. Some people are really trying to get in your head and test your reaction. … I go in one room, and a team will ask me do I like men, just to see my reaction. I go in another room, they’ll try to bring up one of my family members or something and tell me, ‘Hey, I heard your mom sells herself. How do you feel about that?'”

As absurd as these questions are, they have their apologists. For example, ESPN Contributor Will Cain tweeted “What I’m telling you, that no one else is telling you, is that there is a reason that these questions are asked and there is value in the answers or the reactions that they get.”

But do these questions accurately test a candidate’s reactions, and their attitude? We know that attitude is important in hiring. For example, my study on Hiring For Attitude tracked 5,247 hiring managers from 312 public, private, business and healthcare organizations. We found that 46% of newly-hired employees will fail within 18 months, while only 19% will achieve unequivocal success. But contrary to popular belief, technical skills are not the primary reason why new hires fail. The study found that 26% of new hires fail because they can’t accept or anticipate feedback (aka Coachability), 23% because they’re unable to understand and manage emotions, 17% because they lack the necessary motivation to excel, 15% because they have the wrong temperament for the job, and only 11% because they lack the necessary technical skills.

But can you assess if someone is coachable or has the proper motivation by asking them about their sexual preference or if their mother is a prostitute? Absolutely not! The question is ridiculous on its face.

A good job interview question asks about real-life work behaviors. For example, take the question “Could you tell me about a time you faced competing priorities?” Because the question asks about something they’ll likely face in this new job, you’ll see whether they have experience addressing it, and if so, whether their experiences were effective.

And because this question is directly related to succeeding on the job, it’s actually a lot tougher (and more revealing) than whether I would use a gun or knife to kill someone. Try taking this quiz “Could You Pass This Job Interview?” to see how you rate when answering good interview questions. They’re a lot harder than you think.

In addition to the obvious badness of some of the NFL combine questions, there’s another flaw: these questions would only work if you had conducted extensive research showing the differences in reactions between great and poor players. For example, if I asked every NFL prospect the same question and assessed their reactions, and then measured their on-field performance over a period of years, perhaps I could make the argument that these questions correlate to some measure of success. But are we really to believe that the scout asking these questions has undertaken a study of that rigor? It strains credibility.

The NFL, to their credit, is firmly against these questions. NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy told ProFootballTalk “A question such as [the one about sexual preference] is completely inappropriate and wholly contrary to league workplace policies. The NFL and its clubs are committed to providing equal employment opportunities to all employees in a manner that is consistent with our commitment to diversity and inclusion, state and federal laws and the CBA. We are looking into the matter.”

That’s great, but while there’s the issue of appropriateness and legality, there’s also the simple reality that these questions are terribly ineffective ways to assess someone’s attitude. And that issue still very much needs addressing.

Mark Murphy is the CEO of Leadership IQ and the author of Hiring For Attitude.

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INDIANAPOLIS, IN – MARCH 01: Louisiana State running back Derrius Guice answers questions from the media during the NFL Scouting Combine on March 1, 2018 at the Indiana Convention Center in Indianapolis, IN. (Photo by Zach Bolinger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

The NFL combine just wrapped up; that week-long audition where college players perform physical and mental tests, including interviews, for NFL scouts. The physical tests are fine (40-yard dash, bench press, etc.) but it’s the interviews where things can sometimes go haywire.

Over the years, many absurd (and completely inappropriate) questions have been asked of college football players hoping to make it to the NFL. For example, in 2016, retired NFL player Austen Lane tweeted some of the questions he got asked by NFL scouts at the combine when he went through it. They include:

  • “I see you have dreads, you smoke weed don’t you?”
  • “If you had to murder someone: Would you use a gun or a knife?”
  • “Boxers or briefs?”
  • “Do you think your mother is attractive?”
  • “If you could kill someone and not get caught, would you?”

Why do interviewers ask such obscene questions? Much of it’s because they’re (very poorly) trying to hire for attitude and they want to see how people candidates (or football players) react when faced with such shocking questions. At this year’s combine, LSU running back Derrius Guice said that one team asked about his sexuality and another asked if his mother was a prostitute.

In an interview on the SiriusXM NFL show Late Hits, he said “It was pretty crazy. Some people are really trying to get in your head and test your reaction. … I go in one room, and a team will ask me do I like men, just to see my reaction. I go in another room, they’ll try to bring up one of my family members or something and tell me, ‘Hey, I heard your mom sells herself. How do you feel about that?'”

As absurd as these questions are, they have their apologists. For example, ESPN Contributor Will Cain tweeted “What I’m telling you, that no one else is telling you, is that there is a reason that these questions are asked and there is value in the answers or the reactions that they get.”

But do these questions accurately test a candidate’s reactions, and their attitude? We know that attitude is important in hiring. For example, my study on Hiring For Attitude tracked 5,247 hiring managers from 312 public, private, business and healthcare organizations. We found that 46% of newly-hired employees will fail within 18 months, while only 19% will achieve unequivocal success. But contrary to popular belief, technical skills are not the primary reason why new hires fail. The study found that 26% of new hires fail because they can’t accept or anticipate feedback (aka Coachability), 23% because they’re unable to understand and manage emotions, 17% because they lack the necessary motivation to excel, 15% because they have the wrong temperament for the job, and only 11% because they lack the necessary technical skills.

But can you assess if someone is coachable or has the proper motivation by asking them about their sexual preference or if their mother is a prostitute? Absolutely not! The question is ridiculous on its face.

A good job interview question asks about real-life work behaviors. For example, take the question “Could you tell me about a time you faced competing priorities?” Because the question asks about something they’ll likely face in this new job, you’ll see whether they have experience addressing it, and if so, whether their experiences were effective.

And because this question is directly related to succeeding on the job, it’s actually a lot tougher (and more revealing) than whether I would use a gun or knife to kill someone. Try taking this quiz “Could You Pass This Job Interview?” to see how you rate when answering good interview questions. They’re a lot harder than you think.

In addition to the obvious badness of some of the NFL combine questions, there’s another flaw: these questions would only work if you had conducted extensive research showing the differences in reactions between great and poor players. For example, if I asked every NFL prospect the same question and assessed their reactions, and then measured their on-field performance over a period of years, perhaps I could make the argument that these questions correlate to some measure of success. But are we really to believe that the scout asking these questions has undertaken a study of that rigor? It strains credibility.

The NFL, to their credit, is firmly against these questions. NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy told ProFootballTalk “A question such as [the one about sexual preference] is completely inappropriate and wholly contrary to league workplace policies. The NFL and its clubs are committed to providing equal employment opportunities to all employees in a manner that is consistent with our commitment to diversity and inclusion, state and federal laws and the CBA. We are looking into the matter.”

That’s great, but while there’s the issue of appropriateness and legality, there’s also the simple reality that these questions are terribly ineffective ways to assess someone’s attitude. And that issue still very much needs addressing.

Mark Murphy is the CEO of Leadership IQ and the author of Hiring For Attitude.

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