Many people new to the interview process make the assumption that interviewing a candidate is an easy process: you ask a set list of questions and evaluate the responses. Simple, right? But, the revolving door of employee turnover and data on bad hiring decisions suggests otherwise.
Trouble is many interviewers struggle to get the information they’re searching for in a job interview in order to make solid hiring decisions. And they often settle for receiving less than need because they expect it to be the interviewee’s job to know what they’re looking for during the interview.
Guess what? If you really want the goods and to hear what you need to, you’ve got to own your part in the process, and much of that has to do with how you ask questions during an interview.
First things first: unless you’re testing interviewing candidates for a role with the CIA and want to evaluate them under stress (okay, okay, there may be some other well meaning situations that call for it), there’s a difference between interviewing and interrogation.
To be a good interviewer, you have to practice empathy in your interviewing technique. People open up more when they feel at ease and that they can trust the person they are speaking with. How you achieve this is largely determined on your own personality, how you connect with those around you, and the interview process itself. It could mean adjusting your tone of voice, smiling and making more eye contact, or simply setting clear expectations at the start of the interview.
Empathy is a key element in developing a high Emotional Intelligence (which studies have proven are important to success in the workplace.) If you really want to improve in this area, further research and practice on improving your E.I. can help (as well as learning how to identify it in your candidates.)
Another way to add some comfort to the interview is to let candidates know it’s okay to pause for a moment before they respond and that a few seconds of silence is completely acceptable. Allowing a person time to collect their thoughts in a safe environment will help them to provide a more prepared and thoughtful answer.
Now that you’re able to connect with your candidate, don’t try to dive into the deep end of the pool first to get the heavy things out of the way. The interview is a conversation and should progressively build. Start simple and light with your initial questions to help ease a candidate into your dialogue. (Remember no matter how confident, they’re probably nervous and asking easy questions of them can help their brains click out of panic mode and into a relaxed exchange with you.)
Know what outcomes you’re looking for in a response and accept that sometimes you’re going to have to help a candidate get there. No matter how straight forward a question you might ask in the interviewer, it might be interpreted seven different ways by the interviewee.
Never assume just because you know what you’re talking about that the candidate has as clear an understanding as you do. They’re approaching the process from a completely different perspective. They could be asking themselves: is this a trick question, do they want examples, and should I clarify what I’ve already said, among other things? The clearer you are in knowing what you want to hear, the better you’ll be able to adjust your questioning to solicit the appropriate response.
Different types of questions can guide your candidate to provide you with all the details you’re looking for. Broad, open-ended questions can maximize the range of information revealed, giving you many options for probing further in the session. However, they can also leave you picking up bread crumbs to get back on track if a candidate goes down a rabbit hole.
Choose wisely when you want to use open-ended questions, but asking a direct follow-up question can be a great way to save yourself if you get stuck with a candidate going in circles. They can also help you get quick necessary bits of data, but often need to be followed up quickly, otherwise an interviewee might grow nervous that they didn’t provide a full response if there’s too much silence in the air.
Interrupting a candidate for clarification is also okay (and in many cases, necessary.) This can often signal that you are listening and help them solidify their thinking to answer more in line with what you’re looking for. But, if you’re learning a lot from their train of thought, also learn to wait to ask clarifying questions to when you’re done hearing what they have to share because sometimes when you stop someone, they’ll never go back to finish their original thoughts.
If you’re looking for thoughtful responses, try questions that start with “who,” “what,” “where,” “when,” “how,” or “why” versus questions that begin with “would,” “should,” “is,” “are,” and “do you think” which can limit responses to a yes or no response.
No two interviews will ever be alike. As you practice more and begin to understand the interview process and learn to interpret cues in the conversation, you’ll be able to adapt and become more flexible with your questions and timing. And as you get comfortable with this, your eyes and ears will be your guide in controlling the flow of information you receive. And in time, interviewing will no longer be a source of strain but an art form you continually work to perfect.