Interviewing Myth #7: Don’t Ask Candidates Much About Their Education Years… Unless They Are Recent Grads

10 myths of interviewing

Do you want to hire better? If you’re a CEO, a manager at any level, or a Human Resources professional, of course you do. This blog is part of a series dispelling 10 myths about interviewing candidates for hire – “myths” because they are common recommendations for the “best” ways to interview… but from our experience, they are wrong.

Interviewing Myth #7: Don’t Ask Candidates Much About Their Education Years… Unless They Are Recent Grads

I’ve interviewed 6,500 candidates for executive jobs and in 6,500 reports there is a Conclusions section, then lists of Strengths and Weaker Points, and then a long Interpretive Career History section. The very first paragraph explains how candidates were “hard-wired” up through their teens in ways that are causing their behavior (good and bad) today. Hey, that’s why they’re called the “formative years.”

But starting a long job interview asking about high school years could harm rapport with candidates, unless of course you are hiring recent grads (high school or college, depending on the job). Here’s the intro, which justifies starting with high school, even for candidates for high level jobs: “Pat, as you know the Topgrading Interview is chronological, covering your work history, but we like to begin with education years, briefly learning the high points.” In the Topgrading Career History Form, candidates give names of schools, degrees awarded and activities so the interviewer recites them and then asks, “We’re also interested in influences; how did your parents, teachers, coaches and others influence who you are today as it relates to jobs – your personality, values, and goals?” In the rest of the interview, through their full job history, those early influences ALWAYS pop up, for better or worse.

Candidates “get it,” meaning they know that early influences have in some ways molded their behavior even today. What my reports summarize is the positive and negative behavior sure to be observed on the job applied for. This is usually a long paragraph, but simplified:


Sample Recommended Candidate:

Positives: Father stressed hard work, high achievement; Mother stressed good ethics and high achievement. In recent years has achieved excellent results and high ratings by managers.

Negatives: In recent years has worked 70+ hours per week with heavy travel; worries about losing touch with family; worries that he is not taking care of himself physically. The position in question should not include 3+ nights per week out of town or he will not accept the job offer.


Sample Recommended Candidate:

Positives: Parents constantly stressed, “You must push some people harder than others to be sure to achieve results. It’s okay to ignore people who are slower.”

Negatives: Too pushy. Despite high achievement in every job, admits that every manager has said, “Slow down 10% and bring people along – make people love your direction rather than pushing them so hard they fight you.”

Positive: In the Topgrading Interview promised to “bring people along,” and said he would be willing to meet with the CEO and head of HR to develop a 3-month “listening” plan with opinion leaders and then begin making proposals. And he agreed (at my suggestion) to request quarterly feedback on “winning people over.” He was hired over a year ago, implemented the plan, won everyone over, and has achieved even better results than in the past.


Sample Not-Recommended Candidate:

Positives: Very charming, excellent leader, independent, self-motivated

Negatives: Father was brutal; so independent has frustrated every manager; describes every manager in crude, vulgar language (“idiot, “A-hole,” etc.) Is not manageable.


By learning how candidates were “hard wired” early in life you will better understand their deep motivations and behavior patterns which will impact the job they do for you.

I hope these tips help you avoid costly mis-hires.

Interviewing Myth #1: Don’t Interview Behind Your Desk

Interviewing Myth #2: Take Few Notes

Interviewing Myth #3: Be “Neutral” In Interviews

Interviewing Myth #4: In Interviews Never “Lead the Witness”

Interviewing Myth #5: Maintain Constant Eye Contact

Interviewing Myth #6: Talk 50% of the Time

Improve your hiring success with Topgrading. Our proven hiring process will transform your selection methodology so that you get better hiring results.  Our leadership and candidate assessment tools will help you assess, hire, retain, and grow outstanding team members. Contact us to learn more!

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