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The Interview Process

The Management Pocketbooks Pocket Correspondence Course

This is part of an extended management course. You can dip into it, or follow the course from the start. If you do that, you may want a course notebook, for the exercises and any notes you want to make.


Interviews are an essential part of management: conducting them and also being interviewed from time-to-time, for promotions or a new job.

Interviewing others

Finding people’s faults is an easy task, and one most interviewers take to with relish. It serves little purpose, however, since we all have plenty of them.  The primary purpose of a job interview is to find their talents, skills, expertise, motivation, enthusiasm…

These are what makes it worth considering someone for employment. Only then should you be evaluating whether any shortcomings raise the risk of employing that person too high.

Pocketblog covered the topic of interviewing in some depth in our three-part series: ‘The New Manager’s Guide to Interviewing’.  It covered:

  1. Preparing the Ground
    Increase your chances of success well before the interview.
    It covers how to:

    1. Think about the job requirements
    2. Handle the advertising and admin
    3. Review applications
    4. Prepare for the interview
  2. Getting it Right
    Hints and advice for conducting and effective interviews.
    It looks at:

    1. Questioning
    2. Social skills
    3. Responding to candidates’ answers
    4. Inviting questions
  3. Polishing your Process
    Tips and tricks of the trade, such as:

    1. Fact checking
    2. The ‘horns and halo effect’
    3. Psychology
    4. Data protection

Being Interviewed

If there were only one tip that I could give to any interview candidate it would be this one:

Fundamentally, when you go for a job or promotion interview, your interviewer only wants to know one thing. All of their questions are just variants on one question – different ways to get at one answer.

And if you know what that question is and make sure that you answer it every time, by giving a different part of your answer to that one question with every answer you give, then you will have taken every opportunity the interviewer has given you.

The Question

So, what is that one question your interviewer wants answered?

‘Why should I recommend you for hiring or promotion?’

And how do you answer that? Simple. You have to tell them the benefit they, or their team or department, or their organisation will get from making that choice. And that boils down to the most fundamental question that humans ask: ‘what’s in it for me?’

Interview question and answers

That then begs the question: what do they want? To optimise your answers you have not only to show that you can deliver what they want, but you must also do your preparation and find out what they want. Six things are particularly common:

  1. Safety and Security
    Employers – and interviewers – often want to avoid mistakes. Can you show that you are a safe choice; that you meet all of their fundamental requirements and have a track record to back that up?
  2. Performance
    What evidence can you give to show that your performance will be exceptional? Some employers want stars.
  3. Quality
    If the organisation puts a strong focus on quality in its materials, then so should you in your answers. Demonstrate your attention to detail and drive for perfection. Your written materials and personal appearance must reinforce this message.
  4. Ease of Transition
    In some circumstances, an employer is looking for an easy life. They are under pressure and don’t want to work hard to get a new staff member trained and ready. Like a good convenience meal, you need to show how you can deliver to the standard required with the minimum of preparation.
  5. Cost
    Beware of employers looking to minimise cost. If you do find one offering an attractive role, prepare your negotiating options in advance. Trial periods can make sense. But emphasise the difference between remuneration and employment costs and identify how employing you can be cheaper than a less experienced and less ‘expensive’ candidate.
  6. Staying Power
    One of the biggest costs of employment is the recruitment process. If your prospective employer is looking for someone who will commit to their organisation for a long time and you have changed jobs every 18 months, you will need to prepare a very fine answer to that challenge.

More on being Interviewed

Our earlier blog, ‘Seven ways to Interview well’ has… seven more great tips.

Further Reading

The Interviewer’s Pocketbook

Succeeding at Interviews Pocketbook

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The New Manager’s Guide to Interviewing Part 3: Polishing Your Process

One of the most daunting tasks for a new manager is conducting their first job interviews. The stakes are high: get it wrong, and you may be stuck with a capable – but not that capable – colleague for years. Get it right, on the other hand, and you have not just added a huge asset to your organisation, but you will probably make your own life easier.

So what can you do to improve your chances of securing the right candidate?

This is the final of three articles that Management Pocketblog will offer you:

  1. Preparing the Ground
    Increase your chances of success well before the interview
  2. Getting it Right
    Hints and advice for conducting and effective interviews
  3. Polishing your Process
    Tips and tricks of the trade

Polishing Your Process

As in all matters, details are important.  So let’s look at a few of them.

Checking Facts

Sadly, exaggerating, reinterpreting, and outright lying about qualifications and experience are facts of the recruitment process.  So don’t get caught by them.  If qualifications matter, make it a condition that candidates bring original copies for you to inspect.  Ask questions about experience and listen carefully to be sure the answers are plausible and internally consistent.  Always take up references before finalising an appointment.  Where possible, speak to the referee as well as getting a written statement.  It’s easier to hear hesitancy and reservation in the voice than detect it in writing.  And some people are fearful that an honest reference could get them into trouble, so a written reference can miss out important concerns.

Horns and Halos

Warning: this advice may be impossible to follow, but that doesn’t mean you should not make every effort.

First impressions are powerful – whether from the application documents or the minute they walk in the room.  If your first impression is positive (a neat application document, the same set of A levels as you, an upbringing in the same town as your best employee, the right colour shirt or blouse…) you will be constantly noticing evidence of their capability and mossing all but the boldest evidence of weak points.  This is called the Halo Effect.

If your first impression is negative (a scruffy application document, a mis-placed apostrophe, an upbringing in the town you hated when you visited, the wrong colour tie or scarf…) you will be constantly spotting more and more evidence to justify that initial assessment.  You will also miss all but the strongest evidence of real talent.  This is sometimes called the ‘Horns Effect’.

Horns & Halo

These cognitive biases – so well documented in Daniel Kahnemann’s wonderful ‘Thinking, Fast and Slow’ – can lead to poor judgement.  Simply being aware of them can help but it is not enough.  You must strive to look for evidence that counters your first impression and keep focused on seeking the objective data you planned in your preparation for the interview.

Mini Me

It’s natural.  You want rapport with your staff, and you most easily build rapport with people like you.  So it is an easy trap to fall into, to hire someone just like you.  You’re good at your job, aren’t you?  So it stands to reason, surely, that someone just like you will also be good at their job.

No, it doesn’t.  And more to the point, someone not like you could be equally good – or better.  Diversity is what brings real strength to a team, so make every attempt to see the strengths of candidates who are different to your current team, to counter your inevitable bias to recruiting more of the same.

Cod-Psy

Psychology is everywhere, and we all learn bits and pieces along the way.  But if you are not an expert, leave your amateur analysis to the social settings of the pub, cafe and dinner table.  Not only will it not help with your recruitment, it may well get you into all sorts of trouble.

Data Protection

Data protection can also get you into trouble – as can Freedom of Information if you are in the public sector.  SO be very careful to record your notes of interviews accurately and without any inappropriate comments or doodles.  Ask yourself, how would I feel if this were on the front page of tomorrow’s newspaper?  If the answer is anything other than ‘I’d be happy – I could back up anything there with real evidence I gathered at the interview’ then think again.

What Else?

One of the most valuable questions for anyone whose task it is to learn from another person.  You cannot possibly ask all the important questions every time.  So a good question to end with is:

‘What else would you like to tell us, before we finish this interview?’

or

’What question would you like us to have asked you
– and how would you answer it?’

Management Pocketbooks you may enjoy

The Interviewer's Pocketbook

The Interviewer’s Pocketbook

The Managing Recruitment Pocketbook

Or, if you are expecting to be on the other side of the table…

The Succeeding at Interviews Pocketbook

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The New Manager’s Guide to Interviewing Part 2: Getting it Right

One of the most daunting tasks for a new manager is conducting their first job interviews. The stakes are high: get it wrong, and you may be stuck with a capable – but not that capable – colleague for years. Get it right, on the other hand, and you have not just added a huge asset to your organisation, but you will probably make your own life easier.

So what can you do to improve your chances of securing the right candidate?

This is the second of three articles that Management Pocketblog will offer you:

  1. Preparing the Ground
    Increase your chances of success well before the interview
  2. Getting it Right
    Hints and advice for conducting and effective interviews
  3. Polishing your Process
    Tips and tricks of the trade

Getting It Right

If you have prepared well, the interview is set to go well, but a few details are worth attending to:

  • You need a suitable place – a quiet and pleasant room, which is big enough for comfort but not so big that it overwhelms (unless that is the image you want to convey – because you work for a global merchant bank, for example)
  • You need long enough time slots to allow you to really gather the evidence, but not so long as to bore yourself and the candidate with the interview. Half an hour to an hour is about right – and it is your responsibility to keep the interview to time
  • Allow plenty of time between interviews to write up notes, refresh yourself and prepare for the next – 15 minutes at least.

Great Questions vs Great Questioning

In the preparation stage, you will have developed the questions you want to ask your candidates, but how you ask them is equally important.  This is where you can customise your approach to the details of what you learn about individuals.

Use the funnel process: start with an open question to give the candidate the opportunity to put their point of view in their own way, emphasising what they choose to, and then use probing follow-up questions to investigate details and evidence for the parts that are most relevant to you.  Only used closed, ‘yes/no’ questions to confirm specifics where you want to be absolutely certain you have a fact right.  Then, go back to another open question and repeat.

Avoid the temptation to grill your candidates, to try to catch them out, or to use trick questions .  Good questions focus on things like:

  • relevant experience, qualifications and expertise
  • problem solving skills
  • decision choices under realistic scenarios

The All-important Social Skills

Most jobs have an interpersonal component that makes social skills essential.  The early and closing stages of your interview are good for examining these, but be aware that interview nerves can mask some of the skills of even the best candidates.  Ask your receptionist or other colleagues who interact with the candidates to tell you how the candidates treat them.  Good candidates will treat receptionists with respect: poor ones will treat them as unimportant or worse.

Avoid the temptation to try and read body language cues.  You are probably not as good at it as you think, unless you are properly trained.  On the other hand, use all of your senses (except, perhaps, touch!) to get a feel for the candidate’s demeanour.

Responding to Answers

You job is to assess candidates objectively, but not to be judgemental about their answers.  Unless they step far out of line and exhibit the kind of behaviour that might elicit disciplinary action in a staff member, keep your reactions to their performance measured.  Stay interested in what you are hearing but don’t get caught up in supporting or decrying what they say.

If, however, they don’t say much, make it clear that you are not getting the answers or the detail you need to make a fair assessment. If they still remain evasive or vague, that is valuable information that the topic is a weak spot for them.  But they may simply be misjudging your question or setting the scene.  Say things like:

  • ‘Could you give us an example of that, please?’
  • ‘Here is an example… What would you do in these circumstances?’
  • ‘In that example, can you give me more detail about what happened?’

Who is Interviewing Whom?

Yes, it is a ‘buyers’ market’, with far more candidates than jobs, at the moment.  But don’t let that fool you into complacency.  There are probably still fewer first class candidates for many jobs than there are jobs, and you want the best, right?  So make sure you give your candidates a chance to learn about you and your organisation too.  Be on your best behaviour and conduct the interview to impress.  That way, when you know who it is you really want to have working with you, your job offer is likely to be accepted.

Next Time…

… we’ll be looking at a few extra tips and tricks, to sharpen up your performance.

Management Pocketbooks you may enjoy

The Interviewer's Pocketbook

The Interviewer’s Pocketbook

The Managing Recruitment Pocketbook

Or, if you are expecting to be on the other side of the table…

The Succeeding at Interviews Pocketbook

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The New Manager’s Guide to Interviewing Part 1: Preparing the Ground

One of the most daunting tasks for a new manager is conducting their first job interviews.  The stakes are high: get it wrong, and you may be stuck with a capable – but not that capable – colleague for years.  Get it right, on the other hand, and you have not just added a huge asset to your organisation, but you will probably make your own life easier.

So what can you do to improve your chances of securing the right candidate?

In a series of three articles, Management Pocketblog will offer you:

  1. Preparing the Ground
    Increase your chances of success well before the interview
  2. Getting it Right
    Hints and advice for conducting and effective interviews
  3. Polishing your Process
    Tips and tricks of the trade

Preparing the Ground

Your interview can only be successful if you get the right candidates in front of you, so your process needs to start right back at the beginning – thinking clearly about the role you need to fill.  Avoid the lazy option of re-issuing an existing job description and start afresh.

The Job Requirements

Look at your requirements in terms of the job, your organisation’s short and medium term plans, the team of people that is there, and what you believe it will take to do the work to the highest standards.  This is time consuming and will doubtless require consultation and negotiation.  But if you get it wrong, two risks emerge; either:

  1. You get someone who fits the job description (JD) perfectly, but it is the wrong JD, so you have the wrong person.
  2. You get the right person despite the poor JD, and then other candidates can legitimately claim that the interview process was unfair, in not selecting against the published JD.

Handling the Advertising and Admin

How you advertise the vacancy and handle enquiries will tell candidates a lot about your organisation.  The impression that they form may be fair or false, but it will influence everything from how candidates present themselves to you at interview to whether they accept a job you offer.  So, if you get that wrong, a good candidate may mis-judge you and perform poorly or may succeed at interview, only to turn you down.

How many times have you phoned a business up and had to wait for a grumpy person to take your call and then lose you in the system?  Would you want to work for that company?  No?  Neither will the best candidates.

Do your Reading

When applications and CVs come in, take the sifting process seriously.  Evidence-based sorting and shortlisting is not just fairer than impression-based selection: it gives better results.  So before any responses come back, devise a set of criteria to rate or rank all applications.  Do so on the basis of the factors that matter most to this role, and choose a small number of factors.  Keep the process simple and then evaluate each application scrupulously against these criteria.

Ideally, have two people do it independently and average the scores.  Before doing that, examine any applications where the two give substantially different scores.  Work together to examine the evidence in the application and decide which of you mis-read the application.

Prepare for the Interview 1

Create an interview process that focuses on the most relevant skills, experience and characteristics for the job.  Avoid clever tricks (more in the next blog) and questions designed to catch the candidate out.  Instead, presume that each candidate is ideal for the job and design a process that allows each to show how she or he fits perfectly and what extra qualities they bring.  Some will fail to give you the evidence that convinces you, and you will exclude them.  This approach is better than risking catching out a perfect candidate with a clever trick, while the so-so candidate sails through by playing it safe.

Prepare for the Interview 2

In the perfect world, all applications would be rendered into uniform, relevant data only briefs before interviewers read them ahead of the interview.  This means that, in preparing,you only see the relevant information and are not distracted by irrelevancies (for example, gender, age, and sometimes layout and handwriting).

Whether you have the resources to do this or not, read the information that you have carefully and highlight the most salient details, which you wish to explore in the interview.  Highlight those sections and note your questions.  Avoid putting smart remarks like ‘obviously a lie’ on them, as these papers may be disclosable under the Data Protection Act and so open you up to tribunal or worse.

If you do suspect a problem, use phrases like ‘explore in detail’  instead.  You need to know each application and CV thoroughly before the candidate walks through the door.

Next Time…

… we’ll be looking at the interview itself.

Management Pocketbooks you may enjoy

The Interviewer's Pocketbook

The Interviewer’s Pocketbook

The Managing Recruitment Pocketbook

Or, if you are expecting to be on the other side of the table…

The Succeeding at Interviews Pocketbook

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