President Obama’s directive to improve federal hiring processes instructs managers to increase their input into the selection of new hires. One way for managers to do so is by improving their ability to interview job applicants. Some tips:
Prepare. In order to design relevant questions that will reveal a job applicant’s strengths, you must understand your job opening, the applicant’s credentials and your selection criteria.
So don’t recycle old, outdated job descriptions for your opening. Instead, take a fresh look at the opening by analyzing the tasks it will require, the credentials needed to fulfill those tasks, how you want the job to be done differently than in the past, and the types of personalities that would jibe with the rest of your team.
Review the interviewee’s application shortly beforehand. I know from personal experience how important this is: During my career, I have been interviewed by many managers who hadn’t read my resume, didn’t remember anything about it or couldn’t find it before our interview. Not helpful.
Also, before the interview, ask the applicant to bring any documents that might help you evaluate him, such as writing samples, relevant Web pages, or relevant maps — as just a few potential examples.
Make interviewees feel comfortable. It is usually more important to evaluate how well an interviewee operates in teams rather than how well he responds to bullying ambushes. You will probably generate more revealing answers from your interviewee by fostering an easygoing atmosphere, rather than by unnerving and intimidating him with “gotcha” questions.
You can increase your interviewee’s comfort level by being friendly and warm, maintaining eye contact, smiling and using humor when appropriate. Also, conduct the interview at a round table rather than across a desk.
Ignore your email, phone and BlackBerry to give the interview your full attention. Don’t fire off questions like a cannon, but instead shape your interview as a give-and-take conversation. Compliment your interviewee on his credentials, tell him why he made it to the interview stage, or give positive feedback to his answers.
Don’t talk too much — a common mistake; many interviewers blather on about their own backgrounds instead of focusing on the potential match between the opening and the interviewee.
Sell the opening. Just as the interviewee will try to sell himself, you should try to sell the opening. Describe the opening’s demands, and identify the advantages of the opening and your organization.
But be honest. Explain if the job will require travel, dealing with difficult personalities, or enduring some type of office transition.
Prepare your interviewee for follow-up interviews. If your interviewee will be invited back for follow-up interviews, tell him who will interview him and what topics will be covered. You will thereby generate grist for evaluating how well your interviewee researches those topics, synthesizes information from other professionals and resources into compelling arguments, prepares a presentation and delivers it.
This is important because — unless you will be hiring a trial attorney or surgeon — those skills will probably be more useful to your new hire than the ability to drum up, un-researched, poorly considered responses under pressure without opportunities to consult other people or resources, as tested by most interview questions.
End the interview informatively. Tell the interviewee about next steps and when he will hear from you again — and then follow through.