As integral as the interviewing and hiring processes are to the bottom line of an organization, it can be unnerving at how little formal training or development many companies have around these processes. Many interviewers learn how to conduct themselves by being thrown into the fray, relying on the internet or those around them for a personal crash course on the process.
If you are lucky enough be surrounded by savvy interviewers or mentors who take the time to demystify the process, it can relieve a lot of pressure in making the right selection. But for those not so lucky, it can be a process of trial and error or even having to unlearn bad interview habits that develop from poor guidance.
It’s important to address a few key areas in learning to conduct an effective job interview as well as to develop your own interviewing style that works for you.
Before even stepping into a room with a candidate, you should already have defined the role in which you are seeking to fill. This sounds like a given, however you would be surprised how many hiring managers don’t have a clear understanding of what it is they’re looking for.
While a job description is a starting block for the role, it’s usually only a condensed version of what you’re seeking so as not to overwhelm the job seeker in their initial search. Break down the description and identify not only the key skill sets but the qualities you are looking for in the individual, and reaffirm that these align with the need in the organization. It’s also important to know what is required of the candidate to be successful in the role from day one and what skills can be trained or coached over time.
As roles become vacant due to turnover or promotions, positions are often simply re-posted without thought to evaluating if the role has changed or evolved over the course of the last person’s tenure in the position–take time to understand the real needs of the role as it pertains to the bigger picture. Learn to identify what additional skills or qualities might be an asset to the role and what ones could also hinder success.
Develop a consistent question set for each position you are interviewing for. Aside from basic right to work questions, the questions you ask should address one of three key areas: ability, fit, and character.
If your finding the questions you are asking are not getting clear answers that address one of those areas, it’s probably an unnecessary question that can be removed to make way for a stronger one, or you need to change the way you are delivering the question to clearly indicate the type of response you want.
Being unclear or unfocused in what you’re asking can lead both you and the candidate onto unsettling ground, so make sure your line of questions are easy to understand and that you know what you are looking for in their responses. And while new questions will come up in conversation, remember to be consistent with your main questions. This will help in evaluating applicants against each other and to protect you from discriminatory issues that can arise if questioning is not consistent.
One important area beginning interviewers forget is their own personal introduction. Sounds simple and non-consequential right? Think again. You are most likely the first ‘face’ of the company the applicant will speak directly with about the role and the organization. How you identify and present yourself has a subconscious (or even conscious) weight on how they perceive both you and the company.
Take a few minutes to rehearse how you introduce yourself. I’ve seen all too often interviewers who never say anything other than their name to the applicant. They either forget, or take for granted a recruiter or other interviewer has already prepped the applicant with their information.
Even if this is the case, they haven’t heard it from you. And they take cues from the tone you set. No matter your role in the company, large or small, you have a chance to showcase how you are valued and in turn any potential employees are valued by your brief foreword to the conversation.
And just like candidates, confidence is key. A shaky, nervous or unprepared tone can signal to the candidate you don’t know what you’re doing or that the company doesn’t take the interview process (or the applicant) seriously.
Learning to be objective in an interview and putting on a ‘poker face’ is also important as you develop your skills. It is completely acceptable to express some emotional reactions in the interview when you are pleased, excited, or dissatisfied with a response, but extremes should be managed.
Avoid getting overly enthusiastic in the interview, as this can lead the candidate to be overly confident about their chances and cause them to relax too much or stop selling themselves, or worse it can make you look desperate. On the other end of the spectrum, having an unintentional negative reaction to something said can turn off a candidate.
Also, avoid overselling a position. While there seems to be a common practice of selling a position to applicants, especially with higher level or hard to fill positions, candidates who are oversold to usually don’t stick around long after the hire, often due to disappointment or resentment on what they thought the position to be.
If they’re sitting across the table from you, they already have an interest in the role. Now’s the time to level with them on expectations, give them the upside and the downside, and you will get a better fit for the position for the long-term.
While there isn’t one right way to interview, there are a lot of wrong ways out there. After you get comfortable with the basics of understanding the role and addressing applicants for ability, fit, and character, what you’re really left with is to focus on developing an interview style that works for you.
It doesn’t happen over night. Even the best interviewers are constantly learning new methods, finding new questions to ask, or getting creative with the process. An expert never stops honing their craft. But most important, be consistent, be honest, and be genuine, and candidates will appreciate the time and consideration you give them in the interview. (And a good handshake never hurt anyone!)