You can always expect to meet the “very best version” of a candidate during their initial job interview. That’s why it’s critical to have a structured and detailed interview strategy to identify the transferable skills, personality traits and working styles that will align (or conflict) with your company’s culture and overall business goals.
Whether you’re meeting online or in person, here are a few tips on getting the most out of the conversation.
Get Everyone on the Same Page
Most interview processes will involve multiple interviewers. It is important to get different perspectives on a candidate and present multiple faces of an organization to the candidate. Remember that you are selling as much as you are buying when interviewing top talent. They’ll want to meet multiple people in your organization to make sure that everyone’s singing from the same song sheet. So, it is important that you keep each interviewer focused on the important criteria for the job and give them what they need to perform an effective interview.
Maximize the Value of Your Time
There is nothing worse than starting an interview late, leaving to answer a call, or click-clacking on your phone. This not only sends the worst message to the people you’re trying to recruit, but it also wastes precious time in which you should be getting to know the candidate. Unfortunately, this happens all the time. Here are some simple dos and don’ts:
- Be present – no distractions, no cell phones.
- Read the resume or bio before the interview. Come with specific topics you like to explore further.
- If you are the hiring manager, make sure other interviewers are prepared. Send out probing questions and the candidate’s resume well in advance.
Another tip: Spend the first five minutes making your candidate comfortable so that they are at their best. Welcome them, get them a drink and make sure they know that you appreciate the fact that they are interested in your company.
Get to Know the Candidate’s Behavior
You’ve heard them all. What sort of animal are you? How many marbles can you fit into the Grand Canyon? A train is speeding west at 50mph. You might have even asked one of these questions, telling yourself that it helps you understand how the candidate thinks through a problem. The truth is you have a fixed set of responses that you’re looking to hear. Worse, these questions don’t tell you anything meaningful about the candidate and can easily be faked. On the other end of the spectrum, “so, tell me about yourself” doesn’t do much either.
Behavioral interviewing is based on the concept that the best predictor of future performance is past performance. If you want to know if a candidate can quickly make good decisions using limited data, adapt when necessary and persevere through adversity, ask them to explain specific instances in their past where they have used these behaviors. These aren’t hypothetical questions of the “what would you do” sort. The key is to ask for real, concrete examples from the candidate’s past where they have performed in a similar fashion to what you expect in this new position. There are many models out there for behavioral interviewing. Here are a few questions to start with:
For each job/role ask:
- What were you hired to do?
- What accomplishments are you most proud of?
- What were some low points during that job?
- What mistakes did you make?
- What do you regret not knowing when you started?
- Talk about the people:
- What was your boss’ name? What was it like working with him/her? What will he/she say were your biggest strengths and areas for improvement?
- Please tell me about the team you worked with or who worked for you. Did you ever have to fire anyone?
- Why did you leave that job?
- Why did you choose the next job/promotion?
Clearly, you are not looking for simple yes/no responses. You want context, outcomes, lessons learned and changes in behavior that resulted from mistakes. So it is important to probe. For each of the candidate’s responses, ask follow-up questions to fully understand the context, complexity and completeness of the response.
- Ask what actions were taken or how problems were resolved.
- Ask about the results or outcome.
- Ask the candidate to describe what they learned from the experience and if they’ve applied this to future situations.
From these responses, you should know plenty about this candidate. Take copious notes and let the candidate do most of the talking. With probing questions and context settings, you should only really be talking about 20% of the time.
Don’t Forget to Sell!
If you start to feel like the candidate is a strong fit for the position, your company and your culture, make sure that you spend a few minutes at the end selling the opportunity. I don’t mean hire them on the spot, or tell them that they are a sure thing, but you should spend some time introducing them to other talented people in your business or on your board. Let them know that your ship is taking off and that they’d do well to be on it.
End on a Positive Note
If you’ve run an efficient and effective interview process, they are likely to think highly of your company and your leadership already.
As for those that aren’t a great fit, make them feel good as well. Thank them for their time and interest and tell them that you’ll be in touch after you’ve gone through all of the candidates (and mean it). Not everyone can get the job, but everyone should leave knowing that they were treated with respect.
Scoping out the best talent for your team can be a long, meticulous process, but it’s not one that you can afford to skip or cut corners on. No matter how immediate your need to hire is, take your time to find out what you need to know to ensure a candidate is a great fit. Remember, your employees are the backbone of your company’s success.