Talent acquisition leaders around the world face a serious problem: hiring managers who cannot conduct effective job interviews. Having trained managers from the deserts of Baghdad to the jungles of Nigeria and the open-space offices of Silicon Valley, I find that how to conduct an interview is something that always comes up as a topic of interest.
It often seems as if people believe they are given the skill of interviewing once anointed with the title of “manager.” But when faced with the reality of conducting an actual interview, these same people are without a process to manage or a set of tools to use.
The 5 Steps of an Interview
As I see it, the “anatomy of an interview” consists of five steps:
1. Interview Preparation
2. Starting the Interview
3. Asking the Questions
4. Closing the Interview
5. Assessing the Candidate
Before scheduling candidates for interviews, you should make sure to have a list of interview questions to ask each candidate. The list should be made up of both rapport-building questions and behavioral interview questions.
I will discuss when to use each type of question in an interview, but first, let’s look at the five steps that make up the anatomy of an interview:
Step 1: Interview Preparation
The first step of an interview is “preparation.” This may seem obvious to say, but the fact is that preparation is the most overlooked part of the entire interview process.
It is important to spend time preparing for the interview no matter what your role is in the hiring process. A lack of preparation is immediately visible to the candidate. Lack of preparation sends a strong message that you are not truly interested and that filling this position is not important. After all you have done to get the hiring requisition approved, this is certainly not the message you want to communicate.
When preparing for an interview, the first thing to do is find a location where you can conduct the interview without interruptions. Start off on the right foot by creating a schedule for the candidate’s day that includes the names and titles of the people who will be interviewing them and the location of each interview.
Next, review the job description and any other relevant documentation. You need to understand the role and how it fits into the organization. When there is a hiring team involved, it is important that each member of the team understands their role in the interviewing process. Each team member needs a clear description of the position being filled, including responsibilities and expectations, as well as a list of any questions they are to ask.
Now, select a few competency-based interview questions that focus on the responsibilities of the job. Wherever possible, you will want these to be behavioral interview questions. These questions will form your “interview guide.”
Practice how you will begin the interview, including your opening questions designed to build rapport. These opening questions will often be more general and not as focused on the responsibilities of the job.
Finally, review the candidate’s profile or resume. As you review the candidate’s background, note areas you want to discuss in the interview. Identify any concerns or red flags that should be explored in more detail during the interview.
Step 2: Starting the Interview
Arrive three minutes early for the interview, and be sure to start on time. If you are late, that sends an unintended message that this interview is not important to you. If you find you are going to be late, send someone to communicate with the candidate in person. Do not leave a candidate waiting.
Start with introductions and a discussion of the goals of the interview. Let the candidate know you will allow time at the end of the discussion for any questions they may have.
The importance of and time devoted to starting the interview will vary from culture to culture. For example, welcoming and rapport-building is much more important in the Middle East than in the United States, and so the pacing of the interview will change as a result.
Regardless of the pacing, you should always know where you are within the three major parts of the interview: the beginning of the interview, the asking questions phase, and the closing of the interview. The goal of the beginning of the interview is to establish rapport and engage the candidate. Open-ended questions work best here.
Some examples of rapport-building questions are:
- “What accomplishments are you most proud of from the last few years?”
- “Give me a couple examples of how your background makes you a good fit for this role.”
- “In researching our company, what have you learned?”
- “What was your greatest contribution in your last job?”
Typically, you only need to use one of these rapport-building questions. Use the question as a positive platform upon which candidates can begin to speak about themselves. Encourage the candidate and let them know this is their time to brag! (Some candidates will be better at this than others!)
Step 3: Asking the Questions
Once you’ve established rapport, it’s time to start asking questions.
This is the part of the interview that most of us are concerned about. The goal of asking interview questions is to elicit information from the candidate. This information should address your concerns about moving forward with the candidate.
The primary tool for this part of the interview is the behavioral interview question. In some cases, the hiring manager or recruiter will distribute a basic list of questions for interviews to use. If this is not done for you, make sure you come up with your own list of questions before the interview.
After asking a behavioral question, allow time for the candidate to think about and compose a complete answer to your question. A complete answer to a behavioral question should address the following three questions:
- What was the problem you faced?
- What were the actions you took to solve the problem?
- What were the results you achieved?
We call this the P.A.R. model: problem, action, results.
Rarely will you get an answer to all three without digging a little deeper through follow-up questions. Ask for specific examples from the candidate. Don’t be afraid to ask for negative examples of their work, in addition to the positive examples the candidate will likely want to focus on. For example, you may want to ask the candidate to tell you about a project that did not go well and what they learned from the experience.
As the candidate answers your behavioral questions, pay close attention to any indication that the candidate may be lying to you or fabricating their experiences. Following up behavioral questions with the P.A.R. technique can usually uncover the truth about a candidate’s work history.
Take notes about the candidate’s answers: even the best of minds cannot remember all of the details of an interview when it comes to the assessment phase.
Ideally, the question phase of the interview should feel much more like an interesting conversation with the candidate than an inquisition.
Step 4: Closing the Interview
After the candidate has thoroughly answered all of your questions, open up the floor for the candidate to ask questions of their own. At this point. the “closing of the interview” stage begins. Allow enough time for the candidate to ask questions and address any concerns they may have. Keep your answers brief and to the point.
Usually, candidates will ask, “What is the next step in the process?” Make sure you are ready to answer that question.
If the candidate doesn’t have any questions for you and you still have time left in the interview, be ready with an additional question or two to ask.
Here are a couple examples of closing questions:
- “What are you proud of that we did not talk about?”
- “When you consider all of the things we talked about, what did we not discuss that you think we should have?”
Make sure you thank the candidate for their time once all the questions have been asked
The closing of the interview, when done well, allows for a smooth transition to either the next interviewer or the next step in the hiring process.
Step 5: Assessing the Candidate
Remain as objective as possible when assessing candidates. Don’t totally ignore your gut instincts, as they can be strong tools when reading other people, but don’t rely on them alone. Trust your gut instincts, but verify them with candidates’ answers to behavioral questions. Use an interview evaluation form to score candidates according to an objective rubric.
Integrating the scores of several members of a hiring team can be challenging. Often, the easiest way to do this is to meet with the entire interview team. While this is not always possible, it is the best way to decide whether or not to move forward with a candidate. You can always use technology as a backup to gather timely information and feedback.
Interviewing is an art form, one that requires careful practice. Follow this road map, and you’ll have an easier time finding and hiring the right candidates. As an added bonus, following these five steps should help you conduct that kind of interviews that create great candidate experiences, so even candidates who aren’t hired will walk out of your door smiling.