Brendan Reid, a business writer, author, and coach, points out that strong interviewing skills are critical to the success of any hiring manager. Obviously, bringing people on board who have the right skills, knowledge, experience, and temperament will have enormous benefit to the hiring manager and to the company. Yet few companies, except the very largest, provide any training for their managers on how to conduct an effective interview, so it’s not surprising that most are not very good at it. That’s puzzling, because when you’re trying to decide if a particular candidate is a good fit for the job you want to fill, you will have some information about him from a resume and some information about her from personal references, but the real gold is in the interview. And yet the people conducting the interview are not trained to mine that gold effectively. If you have concerns that your interviewing skills are not what they ought to be, please continue reading below for some tips on how to improve.
“Don’t do interviews. Interviews are boring. Make it a conversation.” ~ Jack Paar
This is not intended to be a complete, definitive guide to conducting effective interviews. However, there are some tips here, that if followed, will greatly improve your skill as an interviewer.
- First, prepare for the interview just as you would for any important meeting or sales presentation. Study the candidate’s resume. Think carefully about what information you want to get from the candidate and how to structure questions that will yield that information. Write your questions down so you don’t forget any of them. Over the years, I’ve seen far too many interviewers walk into an interview without any preparation and say to themselves, “I don’t know what I want, but I’ll know it when I see it.” Don’t make that mistake. It’s a recipe for a bad hire.
- We hire for skills and fire for behaviors, don’t we? So you certainly want to determine whether or not the candidate has the right skills for the job, but beyond that, you want to know if he or she has the right behaviors and the right personality to be successful in your organization. A candidate for a job may have the highest skill levels available for that job, but if nobody can stand to work with him or her, all those great skills won’t help you very much.
- At the beginning of the interview, do whatever you can to make the candidate feel comfortable, relaxed, and at ease. I know some interviewers want to do just the opposite to “see how they act under pressure.” I disagree. Just being in an interview situation puts stress on a candidate. If you put someone under even more pressure, their guard will go up, and you will probably not get the natural, unfiltered, unfettered answers to your questions that you really want.
- Avoid conducting the interview from behind your desk. It sets up a superior/subordinate atmosphere which is not helpful to the interview. Find someplace to talk where you can sit comfortably as equals. If necessary, find a quiet booth in a coffee shop and conduct the interview there.
- Pay attention to visual cues. Does the candidate seem self-assured or withdrawn? Does he or she make good eye contact? Is he or she dressed appropriately?
- Use your prepared questions, not as a rigid script, but as a sort of template for the interview. As Jack Paar (old time late night talk show host) said, “Make it a conversation.” If a candidate answers a question in a way that’s interesting or unexpected, don’t just ignore it and move on to your next question. Dig a little deeper and ask a follow-up question.
- Do not ask hypothetical questions, i.e., “What would you do if . . . ?” Instead, ask questions that force a candidate to draw on his or her own actual experience, i.e., “Tell me about a time when you had to deal with a really angry customer. How did you handle that?
- Listen intently to what the candidate is saying. Too often, inexperienced interviewers will be mentally preparing their next question and not really listening to how the candidate is answering the previous question. Remember, the objective of the interview is not to get through some sort of question checklist . . . it’s to gather information which you can’t do if you’re not listening.
- You also can’t gather information if you’re the one doing all the talking. If you’re talking more than one-third of the time, you’re talking too much. In other words, the candidate should be talking at least twice as much as you . . . more if you can manage it. Your questions should be open-ended . . . that is, questions that can’t be answered with a simple “yes” or “no.” And as noted earlier, use follow-up questions when it’s appropriate. Do whatever it takes, but keep the candidate talking. Make it a conversation.
- Don’t let the candidate hijack the interview or push you beyond your one-third time limit, but do offer to answer any questions the candidate may have about you or about the company. The types of questions a candidate asks can be very revealing. If the questions you hear are mostly about pay and benefits, you are most likely dealing with a nine-to-fiver. If the questions you hear are more operational and strategic in nature, you may be dealing with someone who is interested in more than just a paycheck.
In summary, prepare, prepare, prepare. Pay attention to personality traits and behaviors, not just to skills. Shut up and listen. And above all, make it a conversation. Make it a structured conversation that will yield the information you want, but still, a conversation.