As an executive recruiter, I hear a lot of stories from candidates that convince me that many people simply don't know how to conduct an interview.
Stories abound about interviewers described as rude, unprepared, late or clueless.
Knowing how to interview someone is a valuable career skill. Do it well and you'll attract better candidates. Do it poorly and you could turn someone off, or even worse, be sued for discrimination.
Here's a short interview guide with hints and tips for being a better interviewer:
TAKE TIME TO PREPARE
Make sure you understand the job. If there is no formal description, make notes for yourself. If multiple people have input into hiring decision, make sure you're all on the same page.
Make a checklist of the perfect candidate. No one is going to be perfect, but you need to know what you're looking for. Include required experience, personality, skills, knowledge or technology must-haves.
Write down questions to ask. Having five or six prepared questions prepared will help you guide the meeting or avoid awkward moments. Avoid questions that can be answered yes or no, and keep it simple. Here are a few of mine to get you rolling:
- What was the situation at the company when you accepted that job?
- How did things change while you were there?
- Why did you choose (economics/marketing/whatever) for your major in college?
- What was the best job you've ever had? The worst? Why?
- What kind of manager do you perform best for?
- How would your managers describe you? Your coworkers?
- What three words would you use to describe the kind of company you're looking for? To describe yourself? Your ideal job?
Do your homework about the candidate in advance. Print, read and make notes on their resume before they arrive. Check them out on LinkedIn and on Google. A candidate has set aside time to talk with you so the least you can do is review their resume. If the interview is on short notice, take some time to read the resume first.
MANAGE THE INTERVIEW
Respect their time. Being late to the meeting or taking non-emergency phone calls is not okay. Don't try to multi-task. Interviews deserve your full attention. Tardiness or missing an appointment will give a negative impression of you and your company.
Share as much as you can. An interview is a conversation, not an inquisition. Begin with an overview of yourself, the company and the job. Offer some information before you start asking questions, but don't share proprietary information.
Listen and talk in equal amounts. If you do all the talking, you learn nothing about the candidate. If you let the candidate do all the talking, they aren't learning about the job.
Avoid illegal topics entirely. Laws protect people from employment discrimination based on age, race, national origin, sex and more. Avoid the possibility of a discrimination accusation by never asking questions about someone's home life, family background or anything that might reveal their age. If they offer information, don't write it down. Better to be safe than sorry.
Be friendly but always professional. Cursing, gossiping, complaining or other negativity will reflect on you and the company. If you feel tempted to share a personal story about the owner, share a raunchy joke or complain about how unfairly you are treated, resist. Nothing good will come of it.
Listen between the lines. As they talk, listen for clues to how they approach their job and feel about their previous employers and colleagues. If it seems like they're glossing over something, ask them to tell you more about it.
Take notes. Don't rely on your memory to remember someone. Jot down notes of key phrases, numbers or details, as well as notes about your impression of the person so it will be easier to remember the candidate later.
Tell them what the next steps will be. It's hard to be an anxious job seeker waiting to hear back, so give them an idea of what happens next, when they might expect to hear, and who they should call or email if they don't hear from you.
End on a positive note, no matter what. The person you interview today could end up working for a competitor or even being your boss someday, so be gracious, friendly and upbeat, even if you are entirely sure they won't be hired.
This how-to-conduct-an-interview guide hopefully gave you some new skills and ideas. In the long run, knowing how to interview someone leads to better hiring decisions, which leads to stronger teams, and that leads to a better company.
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