There is a vast array of articles dedicated to interview tips for the interviewees. From nailing that handshake, demonstrating competencies, and asking the right closing questions, surely job seekers have all the insight they could ask for?
However, there is a distinct lack on emphasis on those sitting on the other side of the table, interviewing the candidates. Learning how to conduct a good interview is just as essential as learning how to perform in one. After years of assisting clients in their interviews, I have seen some very lax practices, so I thought an article advising the interviewers on how to do their bit was called for.
Choose the right setting
The interview setting will be the candidates first introduction to your company, so interviewers need to think about where it will be held, how it will position the company’s image and still reflect the true culture of the company. A progressive tech company might choose to host their interview in a common room, with and informal chat over a cup of coffee, while an accounting firm may host a panel interview in the office boardroom. Both options are fine, as long as they are authentic to the company – after all, the candidate deserves a realistic preview of what it will feel like to work for the company.
Focus on the Details:
Table and chair combinations, serve water, well lit, quiet, be prepared with print outs for each interviewer (ie CV and pre- written questions) and any hand outs for the candidate.
Put yourself in their shoes
I have personally been involved in a 5 person panel interview where I was grilled by each of the interviewers for an hour and given no verbal/non-verbal feedback whatsoever (not even a head nod to signal understanding of what I had said). In addition to this, the CEO took a personal call during the interview and eventually got up and left the room, never to be seen again. This may not seem like a big deal to the those conducting the interview, but I still remember how it made me feel at the time (unimportant, uncomfortable and disrespected). So, when asked back for a second interview and I turned it down, simply because I didn’t want to work for or with people who were unfriendly and had poor manners. I should caveat the above by adding that had the CEO told me in the beginning of the interview that he was expecting an important call and may need to step out to take it, I would have wholehearteldly understood and it would have been a non issue.
War on talent, you need to put your best foot forward and be likeable, friendly and sell yourself/company just as much as the candidate needs to sell themselves.
Set the tone
Every interview needs a bit of small talk before it kicks off. This is key in relaxing the candidate and getting them speaking from the start. People can take a while to ‘warm up’, and you often find candidate answers their questions more confidently towards the end because they are finally feeling comfortable. A five minute chat about the weather, their journey, or their day, is crucial in ensuring they feel settled early on. Investing time in this part of the process will reduce interview nerves and enhance their ability to speak to you with assurance, making for a more successful exchange further on.
Every interview is different so it’s important to let candidates know what to expect from the start. Almost like setting an agenda, signpost the format so they know what’s happening when. For example ‘a chat through your CV, followed by some behavioural event questions and then we’ll give you some information on the company and the role. You’ll have an opportunity to ask us anything else you’d like to know at the end. It will last about an hour.’ This is clear and structured, meaning your candidates will be able to manage the timing of their answers, and also know they are guaranteed a slot to ask their own questions to prevent them from doing so throughout.
If you ask cliché questions, you will get cliché answers. All this demonstrates is that you have a candidate who has read a lot of the articles I referred to above. Great, you have someone in front of you who can prepare to answer things they know are going to be asked, however do you need someone who can think on their feet? Do you need personality, communication skills and charisma? If so, move your questions away from the old classics and find something new to ask. The best questions, I have found, are broad, open questions that get your candidate talking so you can assess their softer skills. Ideally, from a properly prepared CV you should already know what their previous experience is, therefore the focus of the interview can be on their personality and culture fit for the role.
Notice Natural Behaviours
The important thing to place emphasis on is how they communicate their answers, rather the listening for ‘the right buzz words’. Pay attention to how they structure their responses, how they build rapport and how they handle the unexpected. Some interesting techniques are the use of storytelling questions which will allow you to gauge how well they convey information (concise or muddled, factual or emotive?) and what they naturally prioritise. Ask them to ‘tell you about a time when…’ and see how they convey their answer. Are they a facts and figures person or do they use relationships to help outline their points? Which is more important for your job? Is all emphasis on their own merits, or do they make reference to working with other people to achieve the desired results? To assess their ability to build rapport, note any evidence of their efforts when speaking with you, your receptionist, anyone else they came into contact with. This will give you an idea if they are naturally friendly and confident or if they prefer keep themselves to themselves. Finally, I’ve heard of companies bringing in a cup of coffee instead of the cup of tea the interviewee asked for, to see how they react. Are they annoyed? Does this put them off? This would suggest they don’t handle mishaps well. Some people may not even point out the mistake, therefore are they polite or just not confident enough to speak up when something goes wrong? Work out what you need for the role and assess whether their natural behaviours fit with this.
The Naughty List
I mentioned I’d had a few horror stories about interviewers over the years. Here are the things that will (and have) put candidates off your company, before they are even offered the job.
Do not take a call during the interview – yes this has happened. And by call I mean a personal call on the mobile to a friend during the interview, with no apology or explanation to the interrupted interviewee. Calls, both business and personal, should be put on hold and phones on silent. The same level of courtesy you would expect from the candidate.
Do not eat during the interview. I shouldn’t really have to say a lot more, but unless you are taking your interviewee out for lunch, a sausage roll in between questions is not appropriate. Your interview and lunch hours should not be sandwiched together…
10 minute checklist – by this I mean asking a candidate if they have or haven’t done a list of the required duties and then swiftly sending them on their way. Interviews are a two-way street. Take the time to get to know your potential new employee, sell the company and answer their questions. We are in a candidate driven job market, therefore securing top talent for your team is a lot harder than in previous years and you will have to give prospective employees the best impression of the opportunity while you have the chance.
Always leave a good impression – Regardless of if you have decided within the first 10 minutes that the person in front of you is not suitable for your role, always leave them with a good impression of the company. Don’t rush through questions, don’t make them feel unwanted. You have scheduled out your diary for this time so be polite and give them what was promised. At the end of the day, you chose to invite this person to meet you, and even if they are not right for the job, it is still imperative that they have a pleasant experience. Employer branding is incredibly important these days, and interviewees talk. You wouldn’t want to create a damaging impression of your company in the marketplace, and be known for poor interview etiquette.
Let the candidate know how the selection process will progress and the associated timeframe for the appointment. Ie. They can expect a phone call within a week and if they are successful, there will be skill and personality testing, a second interview and reference checking.
To get the most from your applicants you have to facilitate an interview that allows them to feel comfortable and display their natural tendencies. An effective interviewer will ensure candidates are given a professional setting conducive to revealing their personalities and skills in a genuine way, so you can properly assess if they are truly the right person for the job. Standard, unstructured or one-sided interviews will only prevent you from gaining an accurate perception of the people you are meeting with, meaning you could miss out on the perfect employee. So please, host a good interview!