Conducting Yourself in the Interview

In previous articles, we’ve covered the basics when it comes to being successful in an interview, but only from one side of the table. Being a hiring manager means that it falls upon you to line your business with people of the best talent and character that you can find. People as good, if not better, than the ones they’ll be replacing. Hiring the wrong people can cost you money, time, and your reputation as a business. How can we prevent this?

Before you even put the word out about a job opening, you must decide exactly what it is that you’re looking for in a candidate. What made the last person to hold the position successful or a failure? How much experience are you looking for in a new employee – how much time will it take to train them? As you brainstorm qualifications, be sure to do so with all those involved in conducting interviews so that everyone is on the same page and will be working off the same criteria on which individuals will be evaluated. Not only will you ensure that interviews are consistent, but that they are also reliable as well as viable. Viability being a measure of how accurately your criteria encapsulates the desired employee, and reliability being a measure of how often the criteria in your interview (as well as the requirements posted online) produce the desired results. Any good test needs both.

When all is said and done and you have a crop of desirable candidates to choose from, the interviewing process can get underway. But before anyone walks in, you need to familiarize yourself with each applicant prior to your first meeting. Their resumes and cover letters will give you valuable insight into their past experiences and talents, as well as to help indicate what types of informational questions to include in the interview, which will be discussed in part two of this article. The provided resumes can also serve as note paper, as it is very important to take specific notes on each interviewee so as not confuse your experiences. In other words, unless you record your impressions, you may not remember any of the candidates well enough after the fact when it comes time to make any final decisions.

At last, it is time to conduct your interviews. Throughout this process, you have two goals; follow the established criteria to focus on your desired qualities, and foster rapport with the candidates (a trusting and professional relationship). If applicants feel apprehensive or otherwise uncomfortable with you, it will be more difficult to coax honest responses to your questions and will actively diminish their desire to work with you and, by extension, your business. Speak in a leveled, but firm tone and not too quickly. Small talk to break the ice is always a good way to start. But as the interviewer, your speech should pertain primarily to the questions, interjecting or follow-up questions, the occasional comment where appropriate.

In part two, we will take a look at what types of questions will be involved in the interview, as well as the strengths and weaknesses of each.

Now that we have a better understanding of the procedural framework involved in screening and engaging your applicants as part of the interviewing process, next comes the more substantive component – what to ask them? Granted, what exactly you’ll be asking as it to pertains to the opening in question will vary from business to business, each having individual standards and expectations, and from position to position, requiring different skills and degrees of experience to be filled effectively. What we’ll be discussing next is the kinds of questions you should be asking and what you can expect to get as a result of each.

First are the fact-based informational questions. Where did you work for your first job? Why did you choose that school? How many years did you attend? All information that could be gleaned from a resume, but may need more clarification finds its way into questions such as these. Asking informational questions will help to get a better sense of why an applicant was drawn to the position being offered, as well as their intended, future career path. Knowing this, should things work with them, you’ll have a much better idea of where they may want to be transferred as they move up in your organization. Informational questions are appropriate at any point during the interview, but are perhaps best used early on. The only real drawback being that you may come off as being ill-prepared should you ask for something that blatantly obvious and printed in bold on the resume; such as “What did you get your degree in?” The objective here is elaboration.

Next comes what might be the most useless type of question if used incorrectly – the hypothetical. Questions like these best used to test the knowledge or problem solving skills of an applicant, rather than to gauge their character. Some hiring managers make the mistake of asking something along the lines of, “Say you see a co-worker stealing something in the office, what would you do in that situation?” “I’d report them to their supervisor” is exactly what any applicant with any scene is going to say. Would you expect a different answer? Naturally, they’re just going to respond with what you want to hear and you get no value from the question. Instead, try something along the lines of, “Say you overhear two members of your team in a heated argument and confront them, how would you go about diffusing the situation?” By asking for a solution rather than inquiring on morality, you get some insight into how your applicants tend to approach different and, sometimes, high-stakes or abrasive scenarios. Again, questions such as this are best used when someone stresses a skill of theirs.

Speaking of stress, stress questions are the third and, as the name implies, perhaps the most unpopular type of questions among applicant (especially ones lacking experience to fall back on). That does not, however, make them unnecessary. A stress question is imposed in order to lightly grill the applicant into a state of mild anxiety. Questions such as, “It doesn’t look like you have a whole lot experience with the Microsoft Office applications. You are aware this is a writing job, yes? Do you see this being a problem for you?” By taking a jab at what you perceive to be a potential (but not disqualifying) shortcoming in the applicant’s qualifications you put them into a more stressed state of mind and are then allowed to see how they are under pressure. The intent here is not to insult the applicant, though some may perceive it that way (which is telling as well). Applicant that maintain their composure and calmly acknowledge your supposed concerns and offer a reasonable explanation have passed this phase of the interview. It goes without saying that questions like this should be used very sparingly, perhaps only once or twice, as they can be damaging to rapport. Stress questions are particularly useful when interviewing people seeking customer service positions.

The last and most important category of questions you’ll be asking are behavioral questions. Most of the interview should consist of these, with the others spaced around them where appropriate. Behavioral questions are basic but demand the most robust responses from the applicant. For example, “Tell me about a time when you needed to step up and be a leader.” If the applicant has done their homework, then their (possibly rehearsed) response ought to adhere to the S.T.A.R. method, which we discussed in an earlier piece. The applicant will first state what the particular situation was as well as any relevant details, followed by the specific task that needed to be completed, the actions taken to accomplish that task, and the final result of their efforts. Covering both knowledge and character, behavioral questions are the best questions to ask by a mile; aiming to help you predict a candidate’s future successes by evaluating their past successes. So ask away!

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