How to: Prepare and Conduct the Perfect Job Interview

Siofra Pratt
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You’ve trawled through hundreds of potential candidates, you’ve used your sourcing skills to find a great candidate shortlist and the only thing between you and placing the perfect candidate in the open position you have, is “The Job Interview”.

And there lies the problem for many recruiters and hiring managers – the interview process. Many recruiters and hiring managers (you, yourself might be included), see interviewing as a necessary evil, and not as a critical skill. In fact, despite the long length of their tenure, their extensive industry experience or their large team size, many recruiters and hiring managers admit that they feel they still need to improve their interviewing skills and very few would classify themselves as an “expert interviewer“.

But why is there widespread trepidation and uncertainty surrounding the interview process?! Why do so many industry veterans feel they could still improve their interviewing skills? Especially when you consider that interviewing is an integral part of the recruiting process.

It might have something to do with the fact that just last year 27% of U.S. employers said that just one bad hire had cost their company more than $50,000, or that the amount of time wasted by hiring an unfit candidate was also significant. The truth is, many recruiters and hiring managers are just scared witless of getting it wrong and being blamed for a bad hire.

So what is the best way to prepare and conduct an interview in order to better your chances of making a good hire and lower the risk of getting it wrong? We did some research and asked our extensive network of recruitment industry influencers and though-leaders what works best for them when it comes to interviewing prospective employees, in a bid to discover how every recruiter should start viewing and organising the interview process and in doing so, recognise and select the best talent.

How to: Prepare and Conduct the Perfect Job Interview:

1. It all begins at the role definition stage

The first thing a good interviewer needs to realise is that preparations for the interview process start long before you sit in a room with a potential candidate. The process starts at the role definition stage. “Competencies/behaviours [must be] defined and agreed at the role definition stage” says Ken Ward, the Interim Recruitment Director at Nexmo. If you fail to nail this down what is required of the perfect candidate before the interview stage, the battle for great talent is already lost.

Look at it this way: great employees don’t just perform a job; they solve at least one critical business need. As the interviewer, it is your job to prove whether or not the candidate in front of you is able to solve the critical business need this role entails, with their current set of skills.

Jean Gamble, who runs the Chicago-based Jean Gamble & Associates, believes wrong hiring occurs because hiring managers and human resources people confuse the job description with the job criteria. The job definition and the criteria for the job are different, says Gamble. And often if you went to the people who actually perform the job, you’ll hear an entirely different description of what it takes to perform the necessary tasks than what’s posted in the job definition. That’s why it’s important to involve those who are actually doing the job in writing the description, adds Gamble. That way you avoid any miscommunication about what’s required to do a successful job.” So the first question you need ask is “What is the critical business need that needs solving, and and what skills/competencies will solve it?

The second question you need to ask is “What personalities traits/attitude/mentality does the candidate need to have in order to fit in culturally?” Remember, the candidate you deem to have the best skill set for the job, will also have to fit in culturally at the firm. Therefore, defining the firm’s company’s culture before interviewing potential candidates is essential.  For example, if a company moves quickly to respond to technology and market changes, this will need to be identified as a key element of the company a new employee will need to be comfortable with. Acceptable standards of adaptability need to be laid out prior to interviewing the candidate. “It’s critical that an open definition of the company’s culture exists in some form says Gamble. She adds that specific questions must then be part of the interview process to determine whether the candidate will fit within the firm’s culture.

Remember: Define the role by agreeing competencies, behaviours and any cultural requirements, then work out how to assess whether or not a candidate has it.

2. A structured interview is essential

Contrary to popular belief, “structured” does not mean you ask every candidate the same questions. A “structured” interview, as Andrew Gadomski the founder of Aspen Advisors, put it, refers to a “planned interviewing process where candidates feel they can present their skills and abilities and the hiring manager is formally engaged”. And the most effective way of achieving this type of structured interview amongst the industry experts we asked, is by combining both behavioural and situational interview questions (each set based on the competencies and behaviours pre-determined at the role definition stage).

Why? Well, put simply, asking behavioural and situational questions is the best way of getting a “well-rounded” view of the candidate’s experience and their decision-making approach.

  • Behavioural Interview Questions

Behavioural questions are made up of experienced-based or past-oriented queries. Proper behavioural interviewing is specific and takes each candidates’ unique experience (as well as the job requirements) into account. This is key. Your interviewing technique should allow for customisation at the role/functional level. And the easiest way to ensure you do this is by carefully reading the candidate’s CV and asking questions based on the candidate’s experience.

Consider this typical behavioural question (Question A), versus a custom designed behavioural question specific to the candidate (Question B):

– Question A – “What was the most difficult problem you solved at your last job?”

– Question B – “When you worked for Acme, you led a software migration project. At what point did the migration become challenging?”

While, Question A may elicit some useful information and provide the interviewer with a general idea of the candidate’s problem solving abilities, Question B forces the candidate to speak about specific experience.

  • Situational Interview Questions

In contrast to behavioural questions past-orientated focus, situational questions are typically hypothetical and future-oriented. Situational questions should follow behavioural questions and use the information you’ve gained about the candidate’s specific experience to infer how they would cope in hypothetical situations this company may throw at them.

Remember: Never leave the question-asking to chance. Do your homework in relation to what the the role demands, familiarise yourself with the candidate’s CV and customise your interview questions accordingly – asking behavioural past-orientated questions first and situational future-orientated questions afterwards.

3. You must have a desire to understand the person in front of you

When it comes to sitting down with the candidate on the day of the interview, it’s not all about asking questions. The key to great interviewing, as Sigma Software Sourcing Recruiter Anna Miroshnichenko puts it, lies in the “desire to understand the person in front of you: his/her wishes, fears, what he/her like and dislike to do”.

The more questions you ask, the more you learn about a job candidate, right?” teases Jeff Haden in his article “The Best Interview Technique You Never Use“. “Wrong” he answers himself. Instead, the best way to get to know the person you’re interviewing and gain a proper understanding of what they’re about is to “listen slowly” to what they have to say.

Listening slowly simply means listening attentively, a process that can turn a basic Q&A session (a bog-standard interview) into more of a conversation between two people. According to Jeff, once you give candidates a silent hole to fill, they’ll fill it, and they’ll often fill it in unexpected and surprising ways – an additional example, a more detailed explanation, a completely different perspective on the question.

A shy candidate may fill the silence by sharing positive information they wouldn’t have otherwise shared. A candidate who came prepared with “perfect” answers to typical interview questions may fill the silence with not-so-positive information they never intended to disclose. When interviewing your next candidate pick a few questions that give the candidate room for self-analysis or introspection, and after their initial answer, pause.

And all candidates will open up and speak more freely when they realise you’re not just asking questions–you’re listening.

Not only will listening slowly give you a better idea of the person in front of you as a potential employee, it will also give the candidate an opportunity to shine. As Gerry Crispin put it “if, after the interview, the candidate believes the recruiter/hiring manager provided them opportunity to ‘fairly compete’ for the job, their NPS (Net Promoter Score) scores are statistically higher“.  As a result, “those silver medalists (candidates) not selected are much more likely to refer others, re-apply and maintain their [customer] relationship with the firm.”

It’s clear that a structured and planned interviewing process where candidates feel they can present their skills and abilities and the hiring manager is formally engaged in a structured and deliberate process increases candidate experience and reduces the perception of discrimination” says Andrew Gadomski. And we couldn’t agree more!

Remember: Listen attentively to what the candidate has to say and how they say it. Pause after important questions and let the candidate elaborate on his/her experience. Doing so will give you a better understanding of the person in front of you and their potential as a future employee.

Conclusion:

how to conduct a job interviewThe interviewing process is not something to fear or shy away from. It is an integral part of the recruiting process. Start to prepare for interviewing early in the recruitment process by defining the role by agreeing competencies, behaviours and any cultural requirements the role requires and work out how to assess whether or not a candidate has these competencies.

Never leave interview question-asking to chance. Familiarise yourself with the candidate’s CV before meeting them in person and customise your interview questions accordingly. Ask behavioural past-orientated questions about the candidates previous experience first and ask situational future-orientated questions to infer how they would cope in hypothetical situations, afterwards.

Listen attentively to what your candidate has to say and how they say it. Remember to pause after important questions and let the candidate elaborate on his/her experience. Doing so will give you a better understanding of the person in front of you and their potential as a future employee.

Now go forth and interview those candidates!

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