10 Tips for Interview Success

Good interviewing is the bread and butter of being a recruitment consultant.  But could you do it better?  In their book Recruiting Excellence, Jeff Grout and Sarah Perrin have come up with a 10 point plan for interview success which they share with us

1 Do Your Preparation

Ask anyone what they should do before conducting an interview, and the answer will be: review the CV and identify areas for questioning.  What really happens?  It is 9.50am and your receptionist has just rung to say the 10 o’clock candidate has arrived.  You’re in the midst of something else, so you tell the receptionist to offer the interviewee a tea or coffee and say you will be down to collect them shortly.  You flick your eyes over the CV again for 10 seconds; double-check the candidate’s name and race off to reception.  You decide to get him or her talking to give yourself time to think up some specific questions.  This means the responsibility for the success of the interview and control over its direction has been shifted right over to the candidate.  This is not the way to maximise the effectiveness of the interview. 

So what should you preparation involve?  Make interview planning your first activity of the day.  Jot down your agenda and plan your questions.  Planning in t his way means that your interview will have some structure.  If you have done no planning, have no structure and do not know what aspects of the candidates’ experience need to be investigated, how can you choose who is most suitable for the job?

2 Stick to your interview agenda

An interview should follow a logical progression.  Too often, as result of inadequate planning, interviewers allow them to take a meandering, unstructured course where information is gathered in a haphazard manner.  Our recommended interview structure would be as follows:• Greet the candidate• Outline the interview agenda• Move on to the main questioning stage• Describe the organisation and the vacancy in a way that sells the opportunity• Answer the candidate’s questions• Close the interviewEstablishing such a structure enables the interviewer to remain in control of the interview and maximises the potential for obtaining the desired information about the candidate.

As the interview progresses, keep your objectives in mind.  Keep an eye on the clock so that you avoid running out of time.  You do not want to find that you have only covered half of your key issues.  If you want a candidate to speed up their answers or give more detail, ask them politely to do so.  You are the one who should be in control.

3 Choose an appropriate environment

The interview environment is extremely important.  Ushering a candidate into a poky meeting room littered with old coffee cups and ashtrays will make a poor impression.  Experienced recruiter Dr Gareth Jones, former director of HR and internal communications at the BBC, advocates using a setting where the power relationship between the interviewer disappears.  “Meeting rooms are usually pretty awful, so I try and put people in a slightly if I can, to try and get them slightly off guard.” He says. “A lot of people expect to be stressed in interviews, but they do not expect to be stressed in the pub, or over a coffee.”

The room’s layout is also important.  If an interviewer sits behind a desk, that can create an immediate barrier between him or her and the candidate.  Instead, try arranging the seating so that chairs are positioned at approximate right angles each other, as a head-on seating plan can appear confrontational. 

4 Relax the interviewee

An interview is an inherently stressful situation.  Even if the position on offer is a stressful one, how a candidate handles interview stress does not necessarily indicate how he or she would cope in the job.  There is nothing to be gained by deliberately upping the tension by aggressive questioning or interview gimmicks.

In contrast, it’s worth you putting in some effort to try to relax the candidate before firing the first questions.  A friendly greeting is a good start.  Small talk can also be used effectively to start building some rapport straight away.  Most CV’s will include a reference to the candidate’s out of hours activities and this can provide an easy opener for discussion.

5 Ask effective questions

To get the information you need from candidates, you have to ask the right questions.  Obvious .  But not easy.  Too many interviewers see the interview as a form of conversation, when it should be a structured mechanism for obtaining relevant information about past job performance. 

Our recommended approach is to use competency based interviewing (CBI).  The CBI theory is based on the premise that past, recent performance is a good predictor of likely future performance.  In other words, leopards do not change their spots.

Within the CBI framework, try to use open questions starting with how, why or what.  ‘What skills do you have as a staff manager?’  should provide more useful information than simply asking ‘Are you good at managing staff?’  You can also use phrases such as ‘Tell me about…’ or ‘Give me an example…’

In general you should try to avoid closed questions that require a ‘yes’ or ‘ no’ answer; these will make it harder for the candidate to talk freely and harder for you to elicit the information you need.

6 Encourage the candidate to talk

Interviewers should never forget that it is the candidate who should be doing most of the talking.  Unfortunately, untrained interviewers sometimes interpret a good interview in the same way that they would a good participation, whereas in an interview, there is no way that interviewer and interviewee should be sharing the talking time equally.  As a rough estimate, the candidate should be allowed to dominate by speaking for about 70-75% of the time.

Some people are natural talkers, others are not.  Some candidates may be probe to prattle on, while others can become unusually tongue tied.  In general, though, the interviewer should encourage the candidate to talk.  Interviewers should also try to display positive body language, for example, avoiding crossed arms, frowning or looking bored.

Finally, do not be afraid of silence.  Many people feel uncomfortable with silence and, in their desire to fill it in, will start revealing more than they intended.

7 Be a conscious listener

Effective listening is a complex business.  During an interview, the interviewer has to listen to responses so they can find evidence of suitability for the vacant position.  This means you must also make a conscious effort not to make snap decisions about whether this is a good candidate or not.  A survey conducted by Dedicated Research for finance recruiter Robert Hall International found that 40% of interviewers made up their minds about a candidate in less than 20 minutes, while nearly 20% has made up their minds in less than 10 minutes.

So while you shouldn’t always work strictly to a pre selected list of questions, don’t be so focused on thinking up the next question that you fail to hear what the candidate is actually saying.

8 Note down key information

You may be interviewing 12 people at a first round stage, or just six people who have made it to a second round shortlist.  Either way, that still amounts to a lot of information to remember about each one.  Jot down key points that will remind you of the evidence of suitability produced by the candidate.  Your notes could simply say: ‘Staff management ability – handling under performance’ rather than a detailed account of the example that the candidate has given. 

Once the interview is over you should write these notes up swiftly so that you do not forget what your scribbles mean.  Last but not least, do not forget to tell the interviewee at the start that you will be taking notes.

9 Play the attraction game

You will not be the only person making an assessment during the interview.  Remember that the candidate will also be assessing you as a representative of your client.  Do not forget the war for talent regain in the employment marketplace – if you think this person could add value to your client’s business, some other recruiter probably does too.

Therefore, you must at all times treat candidates with professionalism and respect.  Try not to keep them waiting in reception, make sure they have all the information they need, and ensure the candidate goes away feeling that the interview was rigorous and through and that they were given every opportunity to present themselves favourable.

However, while selling the opportunity, make sure you do not over sell.  First of all, if you appear to be pushing the positives too hard the candidate may feel naturally suspicious.  Secondly, your aim should be to set realistic expectations about the position and what this individual’s working life might be like if they join the company.

10 Close the meeting professionally

Once the candidate has been given the opportunity to ask a couple of questions, the interviewer should bring the meeting to a close.  Thank the candidate for giving their time and explain what happens next.  If you have been impressed by the candidate, give them positive feedback.  However, if you feel that a certain candidate does not have all the requisite experience of competencies, then it’s fair to give some indication of your reservations.

Finally, remember that recruitment should never be seen as a static or one-off operation.  You should be constantly developing a talent pool.  This person may or may not be right for your client now, but in two years time?  Make sure they leave the interview with a strong impression that even if they don’t get the job this time they would be eager to apply again in future.

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