February 12, 2014

Use These 6 Reporter Skills To Interview Job Applicants

senior journalist writing with a typewriterOn the occasions when I have had to interview prospective candidates for positions as reporters, I fell back on my training as a journalist to interview them. Turns out those skills can work for any employer.

Want to get a good sense of a candidate? Interview him or her like you are a reporter, according to an article from the LinkedIn Talent Blog. This doesn’t mean you come down hard on them like you’re from “60 Minutes,” which only works on television. There are six useful techniques that you can adapt—methods I have found highly effective over the years.

Geoffrey James, a columnist at Inc. com, supplies three tips he thinks will come in handy (presumably in this order) during a job interview. I add three of my own at the end.

Lob a Softball – James, who must have been a sportswriter because he loves baseball analogies, wrote, “When people prepare for an interview, they mentally rank what they want to say according to importance. Since they’re determined to communicate that message, the first thing you ask is a question that will get those messages out.”

The reasoning behind this is it makes the interviewee comfortable because he or she becomes self-confident. The interviewee can impart his or her message right away and not be focused on trying to sandwich it into the conversation.

Pitch a Hardball – James said, “Once the interviewee is relaxed and feels that he or she has communicated the top-line, you ask a very specific question, based on your research, which delves deeply into something that you find interesting or important.”

A key word in that advice is research. That doesn’t mean you have to be like a lawyer who never asks a question in court without knowing the answer. Instead, just make sure you have done your homework on an interviewee ahead of time.

Also, it’s good to get the hard question in early in an interview. You want the candidate comfortable but not over confident.

Throw a Curveball – Here James wrote, “A curve ball is a speculative question that projects the interviewee into a hypothetic[al] situation.”  His examples are:

  • “Suppose that you were…?”
  • “What if it happened that…?”
  • “How would you handle…?”

He added, “In a job interview, this would be the time to ask the candidate to project himself or herself into the job roles that you need filled.  As with the hardball question, the more specific you can be, the less likely it is that you’ll get a canned response.”

Allow me to add in some more tips that I have found effective over my three decades of journalism experience:

Ask the Same Question Differently – This is done to see if you get the same answer twice. It’s an effective technique for uncovering inconsistencies in a person’s background. People do have trouble keeping their stories straight. Journalists use this technique to fine tune our BS meter. It’s surprisingly effective.

Silence Is Golden – In a one-on-one conversation, people abhor the vacuum created by silence. They will keep talking and, in a lot of cases, reveal information they did not mean to. People who can remain silent in this situation are usually more self-assured and good listeners, to boot.

Play Dumb – This is probably the most effective technique but has to be practiced with some finesse. Obviously you don’t want the candidate to think you are dumb. After all, most people are going to wonder why your organization has stupid people who don’t know their industry. Instead, ask the candidate what should be an obvious question and see how they respond. It’s a good means for seeing how they communicate complex topics in a simple way. In journalism it’s smart to play dumb for clarity. In the corporate world it’s smart to play dumb to see if the candidate can demonstrate clarity.

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Keith Griffin is an award-winning business writer and editor with more than 30 years experience as a journalist. His work has been published in The Boston Globe, Medical Economist, Good Housekeeping, About.com, the Hartford Courant, CT Law Tribune and numerous other regional publications.
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