Success Strategies Interviewing Potential Employees

Learn how to conduct a successful interview

Structured Interviewing

Interviewing is the time where most companies rely on ‘gut instinct’ assuming that the candidate is qualified for the position when what they should be doing is evaluating their qualifications during the interview.  In addition to direct questions the interview will want to prepare specific behavioral questions, knowledge questions, and questions to assess a candidate’s interpersonal skills.

The best way to conduct an interview is to have a structure established before the candidate arrives.  This enables you to maintain control of the interview and to extract all the necessary information that you need to make an appropriate and effective hiring decision. 

An Interview Structure Might Look Like This:

• Greeting and nonverbal assessment

• Brief conversation to set candidate at ease

• 5-10 warm up questions.

• 10-20 Behavioral Questions

• Confirmation questions.  Clarify concerns.

• Candidate question period

• Closing questions/discussion.  Ask for references.

• Address the next steps in the process.

• Handshake/Goodbye

• Move on to next interviewer or process is complete
Decide in advance how long you have for the interview and make sure that the candidate is aware of that time frame when you make the appointment.  Also decide how you want to document the interview for later reference and in the event that any legal concerns arise.  The best way to conduct any interview is to prepare ahead of time. 

Let’s begin with questions to ask yourself to establish a structure.

1. Who is conducting the interview?

2. How many people are going to be interviewed?

3. What will the interview format be?
a. Series (will there be a series of interviews)
b. Face to face with one person
c. Sequential, (the interviewee will meet with several people one after the other)
d. Panel (the interviewee will meet with several people at once)
e. Group interview (Several candidates meet with interviewers in a group setting)

4. How much time will you allow for the interview?

5. Lastly, what questions will you ask the candidate?

Once you’ve established a general format for the interview and all parties involved know what to expect the next step is to identify key questions that you want the candidate to answer.  There may be additional questions that you’ll need to ask based on the candidate’s answers and there may be fewer questions that need to be asked based on the candidate’s answers and performance during the interview.  (If the candidate blows the interview in the first five minutes then there isn’t a need to prolong the agony, simply cut the interview short, gracefully, and move on.)

Assessing Non-Verbal Cues

Assuming that your candidate’s have arrived in a timely manner and are groomed and dressed professionally.  I’m also assuming that they have introduced themselves properly and have thanked your for meeting with them and have shaken your hand.  Additionally, pay attention to how your candidate sits during the interview.  If they’re attentive to what you’re saying with their posture or if they’re sitting back with their legs crossed and behaving in too casual a manner. 

Are they taking notes on the interview or doodling?  Yes doodling.  I’ve witnessed senior management drawing on their notepads one time too many!  Not a good first impression unless they’re applying for an artist position. 

Does the candidate make eye contact and have they been respectful of all members of your staff before, during, and after the interview.  If they have failed to meet any of the above professional behaviors, then depending on the job position and requirements you may need to call the interview short.

Interview Questions.

A great place to begin any interview, after the initial handshake and visual assessment, is with a job description and some general rapport building questions to set the applicant at ease.  General questions might include the weather, the drive in, the sports game last night. 

Next, you’ll want to move in to the introductory questions.  These questions serve to warm up the applicant and get them into ‘interview’ mode.  Questions might resemble the following:

 “Please describe your current job responsibilities.” 
“What do you like most about your current job?”  Least?
“Why do you want to leave your current position?”

Based on the candidate’s answers to your questions, you’ll likely have a few more questions to dig deeper or clarify their answers.  Then it is time to move into the competency based questions.  Competency based questions are designed to keep the interview in control of the interview and they cover measurable skills, knowledge, behavior, and interpersonal skills.  They are the core of the interview and where you will derive the majority of your decision making information.

Competency based questions can address many behaviors, skills, and experience.  For example:

• “Tell me about an unpopular decision that you’ve had to make and how you handled it.” —This question assesses the candidate’s decision making skills.

• “Describe a situation where you were overwhelmed by a problem at work and how you handled it.” — This would address the candidate’s problem solving skills.

• “Tell me how you prioritize tasks and budget your time?” – Time management.

• “Tell me about a time when your team or department did not meet expected goals.  How did you handle that?”  — Management or Team Building.

• “Tell me about a time that you had to deal with a difficult employee/co-worker.”

• “What do you do at work to relieve stress?”

• “Describe what motivates you at your current job?”

A competency is a trait or quality that contributes to a candidate’s ability to meet the job requirements as established by you and your company prior to posting the position.  The questions therefore focus on having the candidate explain past experiences to predict future behaviors.  Questions will be designed to assess all behaviors, skills, and experiences necessary to perform the job’s responsibilities.

The next stage of a structured interview will  be a clarification or confirmation stage where you briefly address questions about the candidate’s education, and work history making sure to inquire about any inconsistencies.  If the competency portion of the interview has been comprehensive then this portion of the interview will be brief.

The last phase of the interview is the closing.  This is where you turn the interview over to the candidate to ask any questions that they may have about the position and to establish a method of communication for the future.  What is the next step?  When will you have a decision made?  How and when will the candidate contact you?  This is also the time where salary requirements will  be clarified.

Once you’ve completed the interview, if you haven’t documented or assessed the candidate’s answers to your questions then take a few moments to record your assessment.  I recommend a formal interview format where assessing an answer to a question can be as simple as circling a number on a scale of 1-10 so that you don’t have to write down complete answers.  This also enables reassessment of the interview to be an easier and more efficient process.  Leave room at the bottom of the form for comments.  Sign and date the form and make sure that the candidate’s name is on the top.  This will keep them together.

Questions not to ask.

There are of course questions that you need to avoid asking for legal and moral reasons,   including questions about the origin of a name, questions about a person’s residence, age, physical appearance, marital status, children, religion, and finances.  Tread lightly when inquiring about education, military experience, organizations, disabilities, criminal offenses, citizenship, and a person’s name sticking only with the facts.

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