November 1, 2011

How to Conduct Winning Interviews

Conducting an InterviewWhen a company places an ad for a position, its objective is clear: it needs someone to fulfill a certain role. To land the best talent, however, you have to do your job as an interviewer. Although more emphasis tends to be placed on the interviewee rather than on the hiring manager, both roles are equally important. As the interviewer, the employer is looking to you to hire the right person for the job and sometimes sell the candidate on the position. To accomplish this, you can apply the appropriate strategies.

Examine the Position Closely

Prior to the interview, take the time to examine the nature of the job. Rather than glance at the requirements, study the job title and its description at length. Get to know the specifics from the hiring manager and even what type of people perform best in that job function. Though this may sound like a daunting task, especially when you have several other jobs to interview for, knowing the details of the position by heart helps you to spot the right candidate for the job. For example, if you’re seeking a senior customer service representative and you’ve studied the requirements for the position, you’ll know instinctively that you want someone with several years of experience, a pleasant personality and phone voice, satisfactory computer skills and exemplary problem-solving abilities. Write notes rather than questions to help you remember key points.

Picture the Quintessential Candidate

Once you have a clear understanding of what the position entails, picture the person you feel would be appropriate for the job. For example, you might be trying to hire a top database engineer. What would that person be interested in? What would they interact with your team? What would they think about your existing technology? Have a very specific mental map of the perfect personal and professional outlook and attitude.

Arrive to the Interview on Time

The emphasis placed on the job candidate arriving to the interview on time is widely-known; if she’s late, she can likely “kiss the job goodbye.” This rule applies to you as well. In an economy where jobs are scarce, most applicants are grateful just being able to secure an interview. However, do not take this fact for granted. Arriving late sends a clear message to the interviewee: you do not value her time. An employee is more likely to stay loyal to the company if she feels valued and respected. First impressions are lasting. Therefore, project a positive image of the company and how it treats its employees by being punctual.

Establish a Conversational  Tone

Both you and the applicant already know why you’re there; therefore, there’s no need to drive home the point home by appearing stiff and overly professional. Strike a balance between friendliness and professionalism by being cordial yet maintaining a business-like distance between you and the interviewee. Greet her with a sincere smile, offer her something to drink (preferably water), and give her a firm handshake to set a comfortable tone.  Keep your energy positive; the interviewee will likely find it infectious, thereby increasing her desire to work for the company. However, while keeping the atmosphere conversational, stay observant so you can spot mannerisms and responses in the candidate that may indicate whether she’s right for the job.

Ask Questions that Matter

A candidate who looks the part is not always fitting. For example, she may be be cheerful and have the industry background, but lack the existing client base that she needs for a sales role. The only way to know if she’s suitable for the position is to ask the right questions and examine her responses.  Ask open-ended questions that begin with “How” and “Why” to encourage detailed responses rather than simple “Yes” and “No” answers. Keep in mind that she may be a seasoned interviewee who knows the questions that interviewers tend to ask. To avoid getting rehearsed responses, wait five seconds after she’s finished answering each question before saying anything. The pause that occurs during this time will likely have her thinking outside of her planned responses, prompting her to respond from the heart. Stay focused on the company’s needs, whether the candidate is capable of fulfilling them, and what the company can do for her as well.

The End of the Interview

Try not to let the interview go beyond 20 or 30 minutes.  Never promise the interviewee anything, except that you will be in touch; keep that promise regardless of whether you hire her. If you are enthusiastic about the candidate and hope to hire them, be sure to follow up promptly. It’s important here to do what you say you will – if other team members are involved, get them into the discussion early. Keep your promises and keep the interview process moving.

To hire top talent, whether it’s top technical developers, staff from a competitor, or ambitious MBA grads, you have to ensure that you do everything right from your side of the interview table. This means solid understanding of jobs, prompt action, honesty, openness, and presentation of a positive attitude.

Read more in Interview Techniques

Marie is a writer for covering career advice, recruitment topics, and HR issues. She has an educational background in languages and literature as well as corporate experience in Human Resources.