Purpose behind tough interview questions

With all the spin and subterfuge surrounding “The Question” by Dolphins general manager Jeff Ireland to Dez Bryant, I thought I’d add my take for what it’s worth (two cents?).

First, as with any story having multiple versions, the truth lies somewhere in between. I do believe a question was asked of Bryant with the words “mother” and “prostitute” in the same sentence. I also believe the question was more exploratory than accusatory.

Bryant said he was furious and upset about the question. Did he express that in the interview? Did he answer in a way that was adversarial? Is that what Ireland was looking for? And did Ireland really ask a question as combustible as it sounds? Did he apologize at the time for asking it? What would be interesting is the reaction and chemistry of the meeting at the time.

Answers known

The best interviewers and negotiators – the skills are very similar – know the answer to every question before asking it; they simply want see how the other person answers. The other similar trait is that they are excellent listeners, picking up on cues, body language and reactions that serve as more valuable information than their own questions or comments.

After many years of doing this, Ireland probably knows the answers to the questions he asks of potential draftees. So his intent with the question was not to elicit new information but to listen and observe the response and reaction to the question.

The herd

As any agent or team executive knows, when you represent a player or bring one into your program, you’re not just adding that player. When you get the player, you get the “herd” -- friends, family, hangers-on, etc. Often, the herd is the tougher part of the equation than the player. The herd was definitely an issue with players in Green Bay. Many brought along company when they moved there, as the social options were not what they were used to in other parts of the country. I spent too much of my time dealing with the herd. This is the aspect that Ireland was trying – awkwardly – to investigate with Bryant.

The script

I used to watch videos of interviews with prospective players. After a while, though, I became frustrated. They were too scripted, too coached and too rehearsed to get anything of value from them. I could close my eyes, not knowing who the player was, and hear the same speech every time. They all respect their coaches, worship their mothers, work hard, were in the wrong place at the wrong time when something bad happened, had injuries that were freak things and would be honored to play for any organization that drafts them.

Part of the problem with the interview process is that the questioning becomes as scripted as the answers. One night at the combine, while I sat in on interviews, I figured I would change things up a bit. When a prospect was asked about his daily routine, the usual answer was that he wakes up, goes to class, goes to practice, studies and goes to bed. I decided to probe a bit more into what the player did and how he managed his time and motivated himself. Here was the beginning of my questioning to one prospect:

What do you do when you get up?
Go to class.
What do you do before class?
What do you mean?
Do you eat breakfast?
Oh yeah, I eat something.
What do you eat?
Uh, I eat eggs sometimes and other times cereal.
What are those times you eat cereal?
Well, when I don’t have time to make eggs.
If you’d rather have eggs, why not get up a little earlier to make eggs?
I guess I could.
OK, then you go to class?
Do you always have your homework done for class?
No, not always.
Why not?
Too tired or just didn’t get to it.
How do you feel about going to class unprepared?
Not good, I guess.
Would you go to practice unprepared?
But you would go to class unprepared?
I try not to.

Obviously, this is not asking if someone’s mother is a prostitute, but it shows how interviews can be more revealing than the questions every player knows are coming.

Only top picks get questions?

Finally, I’ve heard one line of thinking that all topics are fair game for a player who’s going to receive millions guaranteed. I get that, but is that to say that teams ask less and care less about character and baggage with players not expected to go high in the draft? I disagree. If character counts, it should count for all, not just the highest-paid players.

I don’t know what Ireland asked, and I don’t condone the use of “mother” and “prostitute” in the same sentence, but I would like to think he knew what he was doing -- probing for a reaction, listening and evaluating the response for the team’s future decision-making.

Follow me on Twitter: adbrandt

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