Job interviews are an essential to making a sound hiring decision. They supply firsthand information about the candidate’s career, work experience and skill level; a general sense of the applicant's overall intelligence, aptitude, enthusiasm and attitude; and an idea of how those attributes match up to the requirements of the job. They offer insight into the candidates' basic personality traits, motivation to tackle the responsibilities of the job, desire to become a part of the company and ability to integrate into the current work team.
After you have narrowed the talent pool based on your evaluation of the resumes you've received, it's time to conduct interviews — and you want to make sure your time is well spent. What distinguishes a great interviewer from a not-so-great one? There's no secret formula. Read on for tips that can help you prepare for the interviewing process, refine your technique and avoid common mistakes.
Conducting job interviews should not be taken lightly — not if you plan to hire the right person, anyway. Even if you've interviewed scores of job candidates in your career, you should think carefully about what you want to learn and how you’re going to conduct the interview. Never, ever just wing it. Let’s review the basics:
- Set the who and where. Determine who needs to interview candidates and where the meetings should take place. It’s best if it’s a quiet location where everyone feels at ease.
- Prepare your questions. All candidates should have the opportunity to answer the same questions and be allotted the same amount of time so you can evaluate them based on standard criteria.
- Review the facts. Before you walk out to greet the candidate, review the job description and the candidate’s resume once more so you’re well prepared.
- Actively listen. Pay close attention to what the interviewee says, and ask any follow-up questions as they arise. Don’t be so focused on your next question that you miss out on an opportunity to dive into more detail.
- Take notes. During the interview, make brief notes of anything that stands out, and take time immediately after the interview to write more lengthy observations while they’re still fresh in your memory. Encourage the same of other people interviewing the candidate.
- Let them ask the questions. Bring the session to a graceful close by giving the candidate time to ask questions. This is also another opportunity for you to gauge the candidate’s interest in the job and your organization.
- Close on a positive. Let the job candidate know what comes next, including a timeline for when a decision will be made, and end the discussion on a formal but sincere note.
Make every question count
How you phrase questions, when you ask them, how you follow up — all of these things can do a lot to determine the quality and value of the answers you get in a job interview. Every question you ask should have a specific purpose: to elicit specific information, produce some insight into the candidate’s personality and past performance or simply put them at ease. Follow these 10 do’s and don’ts for conducting better interviews:
DO make a list. Write down everything you want to ask ahead of time so you don’t miss out on important information. Share the list with the people in your company who’d work with the new hire to see if they have any items to add.
DON’T be aggressive. Help the candidate feel comfortable by starting off with some easy questions, such as describing their current job or what they know about your company. Ease into the more difficult questions.
DO create a rhythm. A good interviewer will vary the style of questions he or she asks so the interviewee doesn’t feel like they’re being interrogated. Generally, questions fall into the following categories:
- Closed-ended — These are simple, straightforward questions that can often be answered with a yes or no response, or a specific fact. Example: “How many years of PowerPoint experience do you have?”
- Open-ended — This type of question requires thought and elaboration and is great for getting to know a candidate’s motivations, work ethic and personality. Example: “Why do you want to work for this company?”
- Hypothetical — In this type of interview question, the candidate is asked to respond to a situation he or she may face on the job. Example: “If you had to select new workflow software for the team, how would you make that decision?”
- Off-the-wall — Unusual questions can provide insight into a candidate's personality and communication style. Example: “If you could travel to any point in history, which time would you choose?”
DON’T go totally off-the-wall. Limit yourself to one wacky question per interview — and don’t feel like you need to include them at all if they don’t fit your workplace culture.
DO vary your question order. Too many yes-or-no questions in a row can give an interviewee whiplash, and too many big thinkers can be stressful. Alternate tough questions with easy ones to put the candidate at ease.
DON’T be vague. Open-ended questions are great as long as the candidates knows generally what you’re looking for. Provide clarification if they seem confused.
DO ask for examples. Hypothetical questions have a place, but it’s better to ask for a concrete example of a time candidates had to resolve a conflict than to ask them to imagine how they’d react to a hypothetical conflict.
DON’T ask leading questions. That’s when the answer you expect is implicit in the question, such as: “I bet you’re good at time management, aren’t you?”
DO keep a tight rein. You don’t have to adhere unwaveringly to your question list, but letting a conversation veer too far off track will waste time for you and the interviewee.
DON’T be too quick to judge. Not all job candidates are great at talking about themselves. If you get the impression the interviewee is shy, try to put him or her at ease.
A final tip: Interviewing is an art that develops with practice. If you’re a new hiring manager, you might find the interview just as stressful as it is for the job candidate. If you’re a veteran at this, then you know it’s a time-consuming and often frustrating part of the hiring process. But you don’t have to go it alone. A top staffing agency will already have access to the best available talent in your market and can preselect the top candidates for you to interview. That can help you save both time and money.