What interviewers need to know before they interview

You have become a manager / team leader / started your own business, but nobody taught you how to interview prospective employees / team members. Sound familiar? You’re in good company. A recent survey showed that more than 70% of leaders have had no formal training in interviewing candidates.

Why is that important? A whole bunch of reasons:

  • The interview process or the interview itself wasn’t a great experience, yet you hired a person. What will they think of you as a professional?
  • Equally, if you haven’t hired a person, will they look back on the experience with fond memories? What negative impact does that have on brand perception?
  • If the interview wasn’t prepared properly and wasn’t thought through, but you have hired someone, what criteria have you used for hiring the person? Sounds a bit like Russian roulette to me…
  • If you did not hire due to your poor interview skills or preparation, and therefore forgone the opportunity to get a superstar on board, what impact does that have on the business in opportunity cost?

I can go on. However, I’m sure you’re getting the picture: you wouldn’t do a half-hearted business pitch to a potential client, so why would you expose your business by conducting ill-prepared interviews?

So here is a list of points for the bare minimum interviewer preparation:

1. Read the brief that was used to find candidates, whether that is a job description, a search brief or shopping list. You need to remind yourself of the criteria by which you will judge the candidate. Make a list of these criteria. Which are non-negotiable, which are ‘nice to haves’? After the meeting, score the candidate against each point on a scale from 0-10, so that you have some way of comparing candidates objectively.

2. Know your source. How was the candidate found? Did they apply for the job, did they send in their CV speculatively, did they come through a database agency. Were they actively looking or were they head hunted? (and probably quite happy where they are, but coming to have a look-see). This is important because depending on what their circumstances are, their motivations are different. Forgive the generalisation, however an unemployed candidate or someone desperately unhappy in their current job may just want a new job – their objective is achieved on day 1, as they walk through the front door. Someone who is actively managing their career and who may have been head hunted would probably be more interested in the medium to long term opportunity that this position might offer – their objective may only be reached a year after start date. Would you ask candidates with two different motivations different questions? I’d like to think you would…

3. Read the CV. Twice, three times. Highlight the interesting things, underline the things you want to question further, circle the spelling mistakes (yes, really). Now you have a working document. Have they been in any businesses where they may have overlapped with people you know? If so, ask them about those people. Generally speaking, people will be careful not to embellish the truth if they think you have an easy way of checking. Look for achievements on the CV – so many candidates just list their responsibilities. I would want to hire based on what they have done, not what they have been responsible for. Btw, you’ve circled the spelling mistakes, because you want to know how much attention to detail they have. If this is how they represent themselves to the outside world, how do you think they will represent your business to the outside world?

4. Decide the format of the meeting. Will you meet the candidate in reception, so that you can chit chat on your way to your office? Will you have the candidate brought to you, so that they can be intimidated by making them wait in the meeting room? A side note here: if you cannot be punctual for a pre-arranged interview, what message does that give the candidate? (answers on a post card). Where is the best place to conduct the interview? Your office? A meeting room? Off site? Decide beforehand who is going to sit where, how you will get drinks organised (is there an assistant on standby or are you going to fetch them yourself, showing the candidate that you’re a really down to earth kind of person?). How are you going to open up the meeting – will you give an overview of the business first or do you expect them to start? No rights or wrongs here, but just do not leave it to chance if you want to stay in control of the process.

5. Make sure you compile a list of questions or topics that need to be addressed in the meeting. For starters, everything you have highlighted and underlined on the CV. Then of course, questions around the criteria you listed. You probably want to know more about the person’s home life, where do they live (how long is the commute), do you share out of work interests? Let’s find out more about their work achievements, how they did it, who else was involved, how were they rewarded for it?

6. Explain what’s coming. Once you have both sat down (and you have made up your mind in the first 30 seconds…), explain the format of the meeting that you have decided upon and how long it might take, so that the candidate knows what to expect. Ask them what their objective for the meeting is. If the answer is: to get the job, then that is not necessarily a good thing. If they’re there to find out more about the opportunity, then you know that you may have a bit of selling to do.

7. Ask pertinent questions. I will let you do your own research on what type of questions to ask, there are myriad opinions, styles and views. That is material for another 5 articles…

8. However one question you must ask is, how they have prepared for this interview. I would expect them to at the very least have read the company’s website from start to finish. If they have also looked at your competitive landscape, visited yours and your competitors’ sites (or stores where appropriate), read all recent press clippings and have done a SWOT analysis then that is a pretty good indicator of their level of interest / professionalism / attention to detail, and as such you will be able to have a much more informed conversation with them than those who have just turned up and have been ‘too busy’ to even look at your website.

9. Deal with reservations. At the end of the meeting, if you have any reservations with regard to their ability to do the job from a skill set perspective, then you may choose to share that with them. They will either try to overcome that reservation and that may put your mind at rest, or they will confirm your concern, in which case it will be easier to manage their expectations about the outcome of the interview process.

10. After the meeting make sure that you provide feedback within 24 hours to the person who found the candidate, be that HR or an agency, so that they can share the feedback with the candidate. If they are left waiting for days on end, it will reflect badly on you and your brand.

Hopefully the above 10 points will help you obtain better results. As always, feel free to contact me for further advice or to bounce ideas around. Good luck! Maarten

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