Interviewing job candidates is a fine art. Within the span of a couple of hours, you need to make up your mind as to whether the interviewee is the right person for the job. Making that decision requires not only asking the right questions but also enabling the candidate to answer them. If you want the candidate to eventually take your companies offer, you need to sell the candidate not only on the position but on the company In some sense, the candidate is also interviewing the company to ensure that it’s the right place for them.
Essential to being a great interviewer is being prepared for the interview. This means knowing what the candidate is interviewing for and doing your research. Most companies will give you a interviewer packet that will contain the job description, resume and evaluation forms. What companies normally don’t give you is the insight into what the hiring manger is really looking for. To understand that, you need to talk to the hiring manager and get a feel for her ideal candidate. To better understand her requirements, inquire about these topics:
What’s the job really about? I know this seems a little odd but chances are, the job title or even the description does not really convey what the hiring manager really wants.Digging a little deeper into the exact requirements of the job will make it easier to evaluate the candidate.
The dynamics of the group: If you don’t interact with the hiring mangers group much, make sure to get a sense of the group dynamic.
How do they want you to interview the candidate? Sometimes, you may be brought in to seal the deal on a hot candidate or maybe your the subject matter expert that ensures the candidate knows that they are talking about. In either case, ask the hiring manager how they want you to interview the candidate. That way, you can ask the right questions.
What skills are really important for the position? Again, this may be obvious but in some cases, the job description may not be a good as talking directly to the hiring manager.
Preparing also encompasses looking beyond the resume and doing some reasearch of your own. In the Internet age, there are wonderful, public tools that you can use to learn a lot about a candidate. This is especially important for management positions since a manager sets the groups tone and the wrong tone can crater a group.
Start Out Right
Most candidates will be nervous when they first meet you. Your first task is to make them feel comfortable. Doing this will ensure that you see the true person and not the nerves. Now, it’s telling to see how a candidate handles stress but don’t use that as the only barometer. Candidates for technical positions are especially susceptible to being nervous since most lack the social skills to really sell themselves in an interview. Other candidates may be completely at ease right away but don’t let the confidence fool you. It’s still a good idea to make them as comfortable as possible by using these techniques:
Ask if they need anything: Being a good interviewer requires that you take care of your guests needs. Asking if they need anything is the simplest and most direct way to do that.
Introduce yourself: Before you begin an interview, it’s imperative that you introduce yourself and what you do. That way, the candidate can at least understand who they are talking to and what your role is.
Start out with idle chit, chat: Resist the temptation to jump right in to your detailed questions. Warm the candidate up a bit by giving them some easy questions to answer.
Tell them what’s going to happen: Explain to the candidate the interview process and what steps they will be going through. Doing this allows the candidate to mentally plan out their interview experience.
Ask if they need anything again: Once you time is up, make sure to offer them the use of the restroom or any kind of refreshment that’s appropriate. This is not only the courteous thing to do but also allows you to see how the candidate reacts to normal social interactions.
Some of you may be asking yourself, “Hey, I want to understand how they deal with stress. That’s the culture of my company.” That’s a perfectly valid trait to want to interview for but not what you should start out with. You will have plenty of opportunities to gage your candidates tolerance for stressful situations during the interview process. Starting out stressful is not being a good host and shows the candidate that your company does not value making a good first impression.
Be Tough but Fair
Interviews are just a glimpse into the psyche of a candidate. They are only as useful as the interviewer makes them. That’s why it’s critical to get as much information out of the interview as you can. Doing this requires that you to ask the tough questions in a fair way. What this means is to ask questions that truly gets to the candidates character and skill. Now, when it comes to evaluating technical skill, that can get tricky. Technical skills really come in two flavors — mechanics and problem solving.
Mechanics: This refers to being able to design, code or do a protocol. It’s the doing part, kind of like knowing how to drive a car — you may be really good at it but you may not know how the car actually works.
Problem Solving: Challenging problems take an in-depth knowledge of a subject and the ability to dissect complex problems into manageable chunks. A candidate may be great at thinking up the experiment but horrible at actual execution.
Obviously, other skills are important as well but these two are usually the hardest to ascertain from a short interview. Consider the following techniques to get a better idea of a candidates mechanical and problem solving skills:
Have them describe a problem they solved: Most people will jump at the chance to explain how they solved something tricky, especially engineers and scientists.
Ask them to design or outline a simple device or procedure: For creative people, this is a good one to show you how they think. There is nothing like charging the whiteboard and hashing out a design for some new idea.
Have them present something to the interviewing group: Presentations are a good way to explore how a candidate prepares and presents information. Doing a presentation also allows the candidate to show you what they are interested in.
Walk them through the lab or office space: Giving someone a tour is a great way to put them at ease and see how they interact with staff. It’s critical to understand this people dynamic. If they are nervous, condescending or uninterested, then that’s a big read flag.
Ask them to solve a problem you have: Solving a problem you currently face is a great way to determine how well a candidate approaches problems and can also give you some insights into something you need to fix.
Put the Candidate At Ease
One thing to always remember is that interviewing is a stressful endeavor. When stress is involved, people behave differently. If your company culture is one constant stressful situation, then seeing the candidate deal with stress is important but not the entire story. Usually, even at stressful companies, people can adapt to an environment once they are comfortable with it. So, the real trick to evaluating how some deals with stress is not to stress them out right away but rather probe them when they feel comfortable. Making someone feel comfortable is easy if you follow these steps:
Add in idle chit-chat when appropriate: Don’t be tempted to dive right into some tough complex problem solving without first getting a feel for the candidates demeanor and personality. If you share a same company history, ask them who they know and what they did.
Ease into the tough questions: Start the interview questioning off with questions that are easy and not too open ended. Building up to the tough questions allows the candidate to warm-up their mind so that they can put their best foot forward.
Ask questions that are open ended: Open ended questions are a great way to see how a candidate thinks through a problem. It will also show what solutions they tend to gravitate too.
Don’t do all the talking and don’t Interrupt: Some interviewers love to talk during an interview. Don’t be tempted to do this. Rather, let the candidate do most of the talking and try not to interrupt them unless you want to see how they deal with curve balls (e.g. Asking a challenging question when you sense they are unsure).
Break it up: It’s best to have peaks and valleys within the interview where the candidate can catch their breath and not be “on the spot.” This shows that you care about what they might have to say. It’s best to break up the interview by having others ask questions or giving the candidate more details about the position.
Sell the Company
Part of your job as an interviewer is to put your company in the most favorable light you can. This does not mean you lie about reality but you do have to amplify the positive while being honest about the negative. Selling the company really starts out with the first impression you give the candidate, the after interview follow up and their first day. All of these interactions leave an imprint on the candidate that will sway them one way or another. Another important aspect of selling the company is to understand the needs of the candidate. Why are they leaving their job? What excites them? Why do they want to work for your company? What’s their number one issue with their last company?
Of course, going over the benefits, compensation and other perks is important but if your company is competitive, then those things are just the minimum threshold to get past. What you really need to figure out is what itch the candidate needs to scratch. For some, it might be as simple as doing something different. While others, they may just want a shorter commute.
Close the Deal
If you really want the candidate to take the job, then you need to figure out how to close the deal. Closing the deal takes many forms from the direct approach to the more subtle. However you go about it, remember that once you figured out you want the candidate, then you really need to always be trying to convince them to join your company. In fact, the hardest thing to figure out is the subtle clues the candidate has given you as to what they really want out of the job. Again, these reasons are not as obvious as you may think. All candidates have a mental checklist they go through before accepting an offer — your job is to ensure all the boxes get checked and that they are the right fit for your company. Consider this list of clues that will help you assess your candidates needs:
Directly Says What They Want: Once you hear what they want, then make sure you can provide that. It’s vital to align expectations and ensure that you can keep your promises.
Wants to work on interesting stuff: This usually means they get bored with repetitive tasks and might not be good at finishing projects.
Looking for Growth: Growth can be many things but usually it means growing to more responsibility (e.g. Management). Make sure that there is career growth opportunities that align with the candidates needs before offering them the job.
Wants Security: If a candidate wants job security, this usually means that they will do whatever is asked of them and will usually play it safe. This means that they will not want to go out on a limb or take chances that might fail.
Loves the Technology: The hook of interesting stuff is reinforced if the technology is new and exciting. For an engineer or scientist, the technology hook can seal the deal if everything else (salary, benefits, etc.) is sub-par.
Wants to work with a former colleague: Getting the chance to work with past colleagues is a powerful hook, especially a former boss that was well respected and takes care of people.
Each candidate is motivated by different things so adjusting your closing style is essential to get the candidates you want.
In the End, It’s Still a Crap Shoot
No matter how long you interview someone or how extensive a background check is or how many references you call, it’s still a crap shoot as to whether or not they will fit into your company. Don’t be discouraged if you choose a candidate and they don’t work out. It happens and it’s not the end of the world. Just remember to learn from it because that will make you a much better interviewer.