Effective Interview Tips for Interviewer – Everybody knows how to conduct interviews. Right? After all, what can be so difficult about asking a few job-related questions and eliciting answers from an eager and rather nervous candidate? And the company brief is already with you, so you are aware of the job duties and responsibilities for the position you are hiring for.
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But statistics prove this assertion quite wrong.
Studies show that almost 80% of new recruits are found unsuitable for the job, and have to be trained and groomed extensively before they can show some results.
Further alarming statistics inform that even skilled and qualified recruits find themselves maladjusted for the position they have been selected for, and either leave after a couple of months, or stay on showing minimal performance.
Now attrition or mismatch between company culture and individual values cannot be attributed solely to the ineffectiveness of the recruitment interview. But much of the success of the employment process depends on how far the interviewer has been successful in selecting not only the most qualified, but the best-suited candidate.
Therefore, it can be safely concluded that most interviewers need to brush up their skills and techniques in conducting effective interview.
This is not to say that the HR person is the only one qualified to conduct effective interview, though they are the ones most familiar with corporate culture and organizational values, and understand motivation and attitude better. Line managers, however, have the distinct advantage of understanding the requirements of the job in and out, so they can assess technical aptitude and functional effective interview skills in a manner no one else can.
But, whatever your functional responsibilities are, with a little preparation and training, you too can make a success of the interviews you conduct.
Let’s start at the beginning. After you are handed the shortlist of suitable candidates, and are given the brief for conducting effective interview, what preparation do you take? (Tick the option you follow)
- a) Check the job description and specifications, draw up a list of appropriate questions to ask, decide on the parameters on which to evaluate the candidates;
- b) You are running against time, so you just sit through the interview, meet the guys, and depend on your gut instinct to select the right person.
If you are a busy executive, hard pressed for time, racing against deadlines, chances are you do the latter. That is, conduct the interview without proper preparation.
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But common sense tells us that as with all other management functions, the interviewing and selection process requires proper planning and goal setting. Much of the success of execution and delivery depends on the thought process that has gone into it.
It is a given that you will assess the candidate for effective interview skills, knowledge and abilities. However, it may be worthwhile to make this checklist before you hold the interviews:
- Is the candidate willing to listen?
- Is he/she enthusiastic, flexible and willing to learn?
- Does the candidate have the right competencies for the job? (Refer to the competency manual)
- Does he/she fit into the company culture? Are his/her values compatible with company values?
- Has he/she been able to prove his/her abilities in the past?
- How does he/she refer to the previous employer/job? Positively/negatively?
You will find yourself mentally ticking the boxes while speaking to prospective candidates. Checking on these parameters will involve a lot of non-judgmental assessment on your part. You have to consciously remove bias and pre-determined notions from your judgment.
Which brings me to the most important part of taking interviews, i.e., impartial evaluation of candidates.
Let’s take Ronnie’s case. The country manager of a resorts firm, Ronnie was a go-getter in every sense of the word. He loved achieving goals, and exceeding targets. Aggressive, energetic, and exceedingly ambitious, he looked for the same qualities in the people he interviewed. So even if he was interviewing for positions of office staff or store assistants, Ronnie sought dynamism and drive in candidates. He summarily rejected qualified and suitable applicants if they could not meet his standards of assertiveness and ambition. It took a lot of cajoling by company HR to make him accept people different from him, for what they were worth.
Are you also falling in the trap of selecting people who mirror you in personality and thinking? Check yourself and keep the interview grounded to the requirements of the job. A good way to do this may be to include another person for a second opinion. Another way would be to prepare a set of questions and expected responses beforehand, taking the help of someone who has handled the job well in the past. This way, you can firmly keep your bias in check, and stick to the pre-determined format in the interview.
Steps for an effective interview
Is there a formula an effective interview? Unfortunately, no. But there are some steps you can follow, which I have listed below.
Step 1 – Setting the atmosphere: effective interview
Make the candidate comfortable and welcome, before you start shooting questions. You can do that by smiling warmly when you respond to the interviewee’s greeting, offering your hand for a handshake, and asking a few friendly questions. In short, generally create a non-threatening environment. This would be beneficial for your company too, as candidates show their real personalities when they are not nervous. Also, it gives you an opportunity to observe traits that would have remained hidden under stress.
Of course, if you are conducting a stress interview, then the case is quite the opposite – here you have to create conditions of pressure to test candidate composure under duress. But under normal circumstances, easing the candidate’s mental pressure would be beneficial for the success of the interview.
Step 2 – Asking open-ended questions: effective interview
A lot of us are too fond of asking closed ended questions like:
- “Do you agree with the government’s decision to increase service tax?”
- “Has the outsourcing industry reached its plateau?”
- “Is the urban market saturated for sale of consumer items?”
Such questions don’t allow any room for the candidate to express his/her individual opinion, as you have already hinted at the expected response.
A better way would be to ask:
- “What do you feel about the government’s move to increase service tax?”
- “Can you comment on the potential of the rural market for sale of consumer items?”
You are giving scope to the candidate to voice their opinion without your inputs. Open ended questions have the further advantage of encouraging candidate volubility and communication. Interviewees like to feel that their opinion is being asked for, and generally warm up to the subject.
Step 3 – Observing visual and verbal cues
It is easy to be critical and dismiss nervous gestures like stammering and fidgeting as signs of incompetence, but look at the other side too. Maybe the candidate could do with some encouraging signs from your side. Bright talented people have been known to suffer from stage fright and fear of the spotlight, so maybe your interviewee is struggling with a panic attack right under your nose.
On your part, offer positive cues in the form of smiles, nods of the head, and patient listening. While taking in the overall non-verbal behavior of your candidate, do make some allowances for the anxiety and stress that the candidate is undergoing. Your support and encouragement means a lot to the candidate, and no, just nodding your head and encouraging the candidate does not hint that you are favoring him/her.
Step 4 – Centre your questions on Competency assessment
A good way to keep the interview rational and free from personal judgment is to base it on competency assessment. You may be asked to conduct a competency interview by your company. Familiarize yourself with the key competencies of the role in question, and the corresponding behavioral indicators.
Some typical competency based questions would be like:
- “Tell me about a situation when you had to deal with conflict.”
- “Can you give an example of when you achieved results against all odds?”
- “Tell us about the most difficult change you have had to deal with in your professional life.”
Encourage the candidate to recall specific incidents that highlight the competency in question. Many are not familiar with the format of a competency interview, so it is up to you to get the candidate to open up. Gently prod and prompt him/her to recall relevant incidents that showcase his/her skills and abilities.
Ask questions like:
- “What happened then?”
- “What did you do?”
- “How did you react?”
- “How did the incident turn out?”
A word of caution though. Conducting competency interviews requires thorough preparation on behavioral criteria and standards on which to rate interviewees. Make sure you are familiar with the criteria of expected performance. Also, be alert to observing other competencies that may surface in the recounted incident.
For example, when a candidate is discussing about a stressful situation he/she has handled in the past, you are looking for coping behavior and adaptability. Also note whether he/she has actively sought help, or communicated his/her feelings to others. Is the candidate resorting to blaming others for the situation? In this way, you can assess the presence or absence of a number of competencies through a single incident.
Points to remember:
- If a candidate is lying, faking, or giving incomplete information, you need to rate him/her accordingly.
- Note the positive and negative indicators in the candidate’s story.
- Give points for honesty, and make allowances for non-successes that candidates own up to.
- Most importantly, try to remain objective and impartial while rating candidates.
Step 5 –Reconciling the candidate with the organizational expectations and culture
Alex was an earnest, shy and serious type of guy. He had shown promise in the interview, and had answered most questions satisfactorily. From all accounts, he was the best person to be recruited for the post of Customer Relations Executive. But Sameer, who took his interview, was not satisfied. Somehow, Alex’s personality and the demands of the job were not matching. He also felt that in their organization’s culture of openness and informality, Alex did not fit in.
Do you have such feelings while conducting interviews? Have you had an instinct that such and such candidate will be a misfit, or will stick out like a sore thumb? Give an idea of what the culture of your organization is like, to the prospective job-holder. While discussing organizational expectations, focus on the artifices of culture, i.e., success stories and examples of exemplary performance. Mentally picture the candidate replicating these stories. Are you unable to fit him/her in the picture? Then, maybe the candidate is unsuitable for the organization.
You can subtly hint that company expectations seek a different attitude or personality type. Be careful not to run the candidate down – after all he/she may be perfectly suited for a different culture.
You can suggest different positions to the candidate if you feel he/she has applied to the wrong post. This can turn out an opportunity for exercising your career counseling techniques. Advice and guide the candidate to do a bit of soul searching and aptitude testing before applying for a job.
Step 6 – Closing the deal
Yes, it is a deal after all. Not a marketing or sales deal, but one involving human capital. And one that will have long term implications in terms of future performance.
You have made up your mind on whether to hire or not. Now, you need to close the meeting successfully.
Here’s how you can make an offer of appointment:
- Discuss salary expectations and make your offer
- Encourage the candidate to ask relevant questions
- Note down the expected date the candidate can join
- Note down any other specific request the candidate has
Too many interviewers I know, leave the interview open-ended and candidates dangling on a hope. It is simply not ethical, and you owe it to the prospective job-holder to make things clear.
After you have closed the discussion, you can submit your suggestions to HR Department.
After all, this can be a learning opportunity for you too. You can learn a number of skills like listening, assessing, negotiation, and counseling. Think of the interview as personal milestone in your learning curve. Trust me, you will enjoy the process and make it better.
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