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:
- Preparing the Ground
Increase your chances of success well before the interview
- Getting it Right
Hints and advice for conducting and effective interviews
- 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.
… we’ll be looking at a few extra tips and tricks, to sharpen up your performance.
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Or, if you are expecting to be on the other side of the table…