Another benefit of effective documentation is that it offers the opportunity to reflect on a previous event. By reviewing and considering this information, one can oftentimes discover errors and flaws in technique and improve his approach. Without such specific means for learning, the same mistakes tend to become routinized until the point is reached where they become, unintentionally, an integral part of the interviewer’s technique.
Strategies of Effective Interviewing
The executive engaged in the normal conduct of business devotes much of his time to interviewing. However, there is an appalling lack of effort given to systematic attempts at building improvements into this age-old process. Interviewing remains one of those activities which we think we know all about merely because we have been doing it so long; we have been lulled by habit. It seems apparent that a modest effort aimed at an analysis of our interviewing techniques would yield generous returns.
In the broad sense, interviewing is the process whereby individuals (usually two) exchange information. The individuals may be concerned with a job opening, a promotion, a special assignment, a product sale, information for intelligence purposes, a proposed merger, or other questions. The information exchanged need not be limited to facts. In business, particularly, such products of an interview as meaning and understanding are oftentimes more significant than objective factual statements.
Interviewing in the contemporary business setting invariably takes place in an atmosphere filled with a sense of urgency. The time allocated to the interview is necessarily limited. Consequently, a nondirective approach finds little application; it is necessary to use the guided interview in the vast majority of situations. This inherent time constraint sometimes brings about dysfunctional consequences: the interviewer is so preoccupied with budgeting his time that the content and the purpose of the interview are vitiated. Hence, we must define what we mean by an effective interview. For the purposes of this article, an effective interview is one that optimizes the perceived communication objectives of the individuals involved, with time as the principal constraint. We shall focus on research findings concerning:
Gather Position & Candidate-related Documents
Once you are sure that you want to interview an applicant for a job, you’ll start gathering all the information needed to conduct the interview. That may include a job description, a copy of the candidate’s employment application, and a resume. It might also include a copy of the job ad you posted and perhaps even an organizational chart to see where the job fits within your organization.
Position or Job Description
The position or job description is a one- to two-page document that describes what the job is about and the minimum requirements of the job. It’s best if you share the job description with job seekers in advance of the interview. You’ll also want to go over it with them as a point of reference so you can compare their work history, skills, education, and interests to the job you have available.
It’s crucial to read what interview prospects write on their job applications. For example, they may mention working for a competitor, or they may still be in school. It’s helpful to know their background before you start asking them questions in the interview.
When it comes to company job applications, we strongly recommend using them on an as-needed basis. That is to say, many of your best candidates may be passive job seekers (or, people who are currently employed but are seeking other employment). Many passive job seekers will not take time out of their busy lives to complete a lengthy job application. They will submit a resume and, at times, a cover letter and that’s about it. Do not disqualify these top candidates just because they are not completing your job applications.
Not all job seekers send a resume when they complete a job application form (for instance, you may not need a resume for a hotel maintenance worker). But if they’ve attached or sent a copy of their resume, that document can serve as a foundation for the types of questions to ask during the interview. Imagine if the job seeker had a long lapse between jobs—you may want to understand why.
Cover letters are more common with professional jobs or online job applications. You’ll often find tidbits about the candidate that you may not have found on their resume. Cover letters are typically more personal and informal, allowing you to get a glimpse of the person’s character, temperament, or work interests.
How to Separate the Winners from the Spinners
Ask for real solutions
Don’t waste your breath with absurd questions like: What are your weaknesses? “You might as well say, ‘Lie to me,’” says Sullivan. Instead try to discern how the candidate would handle real situations related to the job. After all, “How do you hire a chef? Have them cook you a meal,” he says. Explain a problem your team struggles with and ask the candidate to walk you through how she would solve it. Or describe a process your company uses, and ask her to identify inefficiencies. Go back to your list of desired attributes, says Fernández-Aráoz. If you’re looking for an executive who will need to influence a large number of people over whom he won’t have formal power, ask: “Have you ever been in a situation where you had to persuade other people who were not your direct reports to do something? How did you do it? And what were the consequences?”
Consider “cultural fit,” but don’t obsess
Much has been made about the importance of “cultural fit” in successful hiring. And you should look for signs that “the candidate will be comfortable” at your organization, says Fernández-Aráoz. Think about your company’s work environment and compare it to the candidate’s orientation. Is he a long-term planner or a short-term thinker? Is he collaborative or does he prefer working independently? But, says Sullivan, your perception of a candidate’s disposition isn’t necessarily indicative of whether he can acclimate to a new culture. “People adapt,” he says. “What you really want to know is: can they adjust?”
Sell the job
If the meeting is going well and you believe that the candidate is worth wooing, spend time during the second half of the interview selling the role and the organization. “If you focus too much on selling at the beginning, it’s hard to be objective,” says Fernández-Aráoz. But once you’re confident in the candidate, “tell the person why you think he or she is a good fit,” he recommends. Bear in mind that the interview is a mutual screening process. “Make the process fun,” says Sullivan. Ask them if there’s anyone on the team they’d like to meet. The best people to sell the job are those who “live it,” he explains. “Peers give an honest picture of what the organization is like.”
Case study #1: Provide relevant, real-life scenarios to reveal how candidates think
The vast majority of hires at Four Kitchens, the web design firm in Austin, TX, are through employee referrals. So in November, when Todd Ross Nienkerk, the company’s founder and CEO, had an opening for an account manager, he had a hunch about who should get the job. “It was somebody who’d been a finalist for a position here years ago,” says Todd. We’ll call her Deborah. “We kept her in mind and when this job opened, she was the first person we called.”
Even though Deborah was a favored candidate, she again went through the company’s three-step interview process. The first focused on skills. When Four Kitchens interviews designers or coders, it typically asks applicants to provide a portfolio of work. “We ask them to talk us through their process. We’re not grilling them, but we want to know how they think and we want to see their personal communication style.” But for the account manager role, Todd took a slightly different tack. Before the interview, he and the company’s head of business development put together a job description and then came up with questions based on the relevant responsibilities. They started with questions like: What are things you look for in a good client? What are red flags in a client relationship? How do you deal with stress?
Then, Todd presented Deborah with a series of redacted client emails that represented a cross-section of day-to-day communication: some were standard requests for status updates; others involved serious contract disputes and pointed questions. “We said, ‘Pretend you work here. Talk us through how you’d handle this.’ It put her on the spot, but frankly, this is what the job entails.”
After a successful first round, Deborah moved on to the second phase, the team interview. In this instance, she met with a project manager, a designer, and two developers. “These are an opportunity for applicants to find out what it’s like to work here,” says Todd. “But the biggest reason we do it is to ensure that everyone is involved in the process and feels a sense of ownership over the hire.”
The final stage was the partner interview, during which Todd asked Deborah questions about career goals and the industry. “It was also an opportunity for her to ask us tough questions about where our company is headed,” he says.
Case study #2: Make the candidate comfortable and sell the job
When Mimi Gigoux, the EVP of human resources at Criteo, the French ad-tech company, interviews a job candidate, she looks for signs of “intellect, open-mindedness, and passion” both for the company and for the role. “Technical expertise can be taught on the job, but you can’t teach passion, drive, and creativity,” says Mimi, who is based in Silicon Valley.
Table of Contents
The pre-interview process is basically the homework you should do before conducting an interview to make sure you ask the right questions to assess whether the candidate is a good fit for the open position. Below we describe several steps that can help you go into an interview as prepared as possible.
Learn about the role
Candidates will look for new jobs by using the best job search sites, by referrals, or by searching in job networks and social media. This means that they have a pretty good idea of what to expect. Whether you are the one who wrote the job description or not, make sure you go into the interview with a clear picture of what the role is. Having a copy of the job advertisement and job description next to you is a good idea.
Know what you are looking for in a candidate
Once you know what the job requires, think about what kind of candidate you believe would be best for the job. Think about the skills your team members already have and how well they meet your needs. Also, think about the characteristics you wish your team had that could make a difference in your business performance.
Some people divide skills into soft skills and hard skills. Soft skills are those that are needed and desired for all jobs. They include skills such as public speaking, critical thinking, leadership, and others. Hard skills, on the other hand, are those that are specific to a particular job. These can include knowledge of a particular software suite, fluency in a particular language, and other abilities that are needed to effectively perform a specific job.
Emotional intelligence (EI) is defined as the capacity to understand and manage personal emotions in one’s self and in others. Candidates with high emotional intelligence are likely to ask relevant questions during the interview. You can better assess a candidate’s EI by providing a hypothetical situation and seeing how they would react or by asking to speak on a personal experience.
Keep in mind that a very experienced candidate may lack key skills for the position and that a highly-skilled candidate may lack experience, but neither of these candidates is necessarily better suited than the other. Try to strike a balance between experience and skills when considering a candidate. Also, while a person’s experience might not be in the same field you are hiring for, their particular experience may provide complementary knowledge to the position.
Choose a job interview structure
It’s important to establish an effective interview structure that builds a framework that puts all interviewees within the same context. Although we will go into more detail further in the article, a typical interview structure contains the following parts:
In addition to setting the framework for the interview, you should also consider the different types of interview formats you want to use. There are many interview formats to choose from, each with its own advantage:
- One-on-one interview: The traditional kind of interview where the hiring manager interviews the candidate face-to-face, over the phone, or on a video conference. This type of interview can be more efficient and faster than others but is susceptible to the biases of the single interviewer.
- Panel interview: Where one candidate meets with multiple interviewers. Usually, the interviewers are following a script of pre-selected questions. Panel interviews can offset the biases of the one-on-one interview and give multiple perspectives, but they can be time-intensive.
- Group interview: In which multiple candidates are interviewed at once by one or more interviewers. One advantage of this approach is that interviewers can compare multiple candidates with each other, but a disadvantage is that you may not give equal time to all candidates.
- Presentation interview: The presentation interview consists of a candidate being asked to give a presentation on a subject related to the job to which they are applying. This kind of interview is usually reserved for higher-ranking positions where seeing the candidate’s expertise in action is very important.
Research the candidates
Even before the pre-interview process, your company may have used different tactics, such as using recruiting software or putting up job postings on online networks such as ZipRecruiter or LinkedIn, to find employees that would meet the job requirements.
Before starting the interview, read through the materials submitted by the applicant, most often the candidate’s resume and cover letter. This will help you have a better understanding of who the candidate is and what they can bring to the table for this position.
Conducting the Job Interview
Now that preparations have been made, it’s time to conduct the job interview. Each part of the interview process serves a specific purpose and interviewers would do well in keeping the structure intact to provide candidates the necessary space to demonstrate their skills and experience.
Before diving into asking questions, present the candidate with any relevant information about the position and what the organization is looking for. You can opt to give the candidate a chance to ask questions before beginning the interview.
Using the prepared list of questions and the order established during the pre-interview process, you can begin flexing your interviewing skills and asking questions. Focus on what the candidate is saying, their communication skills, whether they are answering the question or avoiding it, whether they are displaying the competency being asked about, and their level of knowledge and confidence in their answers.
Give the candidate an exercise
At this point, if the interview calls for an exercise, administer it while making sure the candidate has enough time to complete it. Provide the candidate with clear instructions and confirm they understand the task at hand. Exercises can be writing assignments, problem-solving exercises, or simple tests to get a sense of the skills the candidate commands.
Once the time for your questions and exercises is done, allow the candidate to ask their own questions. A good interview isn’t just about finding out if this candidate is the right fit for the job, it’s also about making a good impression. Interviewers should “sell” the company and the position so that the right candidate will accept your offer and not be turned off.