Talk is not cheap if your interview technique fails to result in the right person filling your vacancy. The solution is first to assess your needs and then put a plan into action to make your interviews both enjoyable and effective.
Many managers demonstrate a marked interview phobia. Although often ultimately responsible for recruitment decisions, many managers do not feel comfortable interviewing prospective employees. They neither enjoy the experience nor do they feel properly equipped to elicit the right information. Despite this, the poor interviewer rarely asks for help.
In the words of one of the country’s leading authorities on the use of the interview, Professor Clive Fletcher of London University: “The interview is easy to do, easier still to do badly.” But how effective is the interview in selecting the right staff? Consider the following facts:
- Extensive research carried out over more than half a century shows that the interview is a poor tool in predicting behaviour and success in the job.
- The traditional interview is only considered 5% better than pure guess work.
- Despite its failings, 85% of companies use it as the only method of assessment when recruiting middle- management positions.
Given the shortcomings, it is perhaps surprising that both interviewers and interviewees expect and demand the interview as the standard recruitment tool. A candidate is unlikely to join a company without meeting their boss, while a manager will be insistent that they meet their prospective staff.
Getting the interview wrong and employing an unsuitable person is also extremely costly. The Chartered Institute of Personnel & Development estimates the cost can reach twice the annual salary for the job. On top of that is the time wasted and the disruption caused to the company in having to start the recruitment procedure over again once it becomes clear that the wrong person was chosen in the first place.
The interview is the most problematic stage of the recruitment process. It is often a haphazard affair and the tendency to hire on instinct rather than using a more structured approach is widespread. Many recruiters will realise that they are guilty of this and often their feelings towards interviewing can be negative and resentful.
At a recent interview workshop I asked a group of managers what their thoughts were on interviewing. Their answers demonstrated a dislike of the whole process: “it’s a gamble”, “ridiculously time consuming”, “it’s disruptive”. Many appear to be more fearful of the process than the candidates they are interviewing.
The underlying reason for such a negative attitude is largely that for many recruiters the interview is a trip into the unknown and there are several mistakes which can be made on the journey.
To assess how good your interview technique is ask yourself the following:
- Do I know what to look for in a candidate?
- Do I know what questions to ask to elicit the right information?
- Do I obtain the relevant information?
- Do I know how to deal with the overly talkative or monosyllabic candidate?
- Do I make premature decisions?
- Do I talk too much – particularly about the company?
The biggest misconception is that the interview is merely a “chat” and an opportunity to “get to know the candidate”. But the interview is not a conversation. The interview is a tool to assess whether the skills and experience of the candidate match the criteria for the job.
A properly structured interview can bring effective results.
The following 12 point plan can help you overcome the most common mistakes, interview more effectively and most importantly enable you to enjoy the experience.
1. Preparing for the interview.
While job seekers are constantly reminded to come prepared for an interview, there is very little pressure put on the interviewer to do the same. The reason probably lies in the belief that a person seeking a job has more at stake than the company offering it.
The defence I often hear from managers who shortcut the preparation process is that they don’t have time to do it. This is the wrong attitude. Managers must appreciate the importance of preparation in achieving an effective interview and should invest the necessary time and view it as a priority.
As a minimum, you should spend the ten minutes prior to the interview familiarising yourself with the candidate’s CV. A CV has been described as a “balance sheet without liabilities” and as such should be treated with care.
View the CV critically – many are glowing résumés of glittering careers. Look beyond the gloss and ask yourself if the type and level of experience is relevant to your requirements, what the accomplishments really mean and whether any “gaps” in experience could conceal hidden failures. Look out for qualifying statements such as “knowledge of”, “exposure to” and “involved in “ which may actually denote lack of real experience.
Make a note of the queries arising from the CV and prepare questions to ask. As the interviewer you have every right to question the information provided and ascertain how accurate it really is.
2. Follow a logical sequence.
You should have an interview plan:
- Greet the candidate in the waiting room not the interview room – this eliminates the awkwardness that most people feel when they walk into an unfamiliar room to find somebody waiting there behind a desk.
- Put the candidate at ease. Many managers have a tendency to “jump right in” to the interview.
- Give an overview of the aims of the interview – tell the candidate what to expect including how long the interview will last.
- Find out about the candidate before describing the job – candidates can tailor their responses according to what you reveal about the job and company.
- Describe the job.
- Answer questions.
- Close the interview.
3. Create a proper environment.
Hold the interview in a room where you won’t be subjected to frequent interruptions. Interruptions are not only rude to the candidate, they disrupt the flow of the interview and make is more difficult to elicit and evaluate the information you are after.
Make sure all phone calls are intercepted and keep visitors away. If you believe it is impossible to avoid interruptions, hold the interview outside of normal working hours or at an alternative venue.
Arrange proper seating. Avoid the confrontational seating arrangement of an imposing desk separating you from the interviewee. Try and arrange the chairs at right angles.
4. Relax the candidate.
Being interviewed for a job is likely to be a stressful experience. It is your responsibility as an Interviewer to do whatever you can to ease the tension and encourage a relaxed meeting. It is difficult to get information out of a person who is excessively nervous or uncomfortable and you are unlikely to get an accurate picture of the candidate’s ability and experience.
Even if you are pressed for time, start the interview with small talk but try and be more inventive than passing comment on the journey or the weather. And during the interview, give the candidate your undivided attention.
5. Let the candidate do the talking.
One of the biggest mistakes the interviewer can make is to talk too much. In a social context a good conversation is a 50:50 dialogue. The interview is not a conversation but an information gathering process where the interviewer should do no more than 30% of the talking. Apart from conveying information about the job, all the conversation should be directed towards getting the candidate to talk.
Beware of job seekers who do their best to keep you talking. They will use the information to get a better feel for what you are looking for and will tailor their answers accordingly.
A candidate who asks too many questions also appears to be controlling the interview. The best way to deal with the situation is to suggest questions are left until the end because you need this time to gather important information.
6. Perfect your questioning.
To obtain the information you require you not only need to ask the right questions but in the right way. Use mainly “open” questions which force the candidate to elaborate their responses. These questions begin “how”, “why” or “what”. Compare the answer elicited from “Are you a good staff manager?” to the response elicited from “Why do you feel you are a good staff manager?”.
To probe or clarify a point, use “funnelling” questions. This a process of making questions increasingly more specific until you get to the information you want.
- “Closed” questions – which require a yes/no response.
- “Leading” questions – where you indicate the response you want to hear eg: “What is it about supervising people that you like? The challenge of it?”.
- “Loaded” questions – which ask the candidate to choose the lesser of two evils.
- “Theoretical” questions – which pose “what if” scenarios. The candidate will merely suggest what he should do rather than what he actually would do.
- “Multiple” questions – a series of connected questions which doesn’t give the candidate a chance to answer because he has forgotten the first part.
Specific areas to probe include:
- Content of previous jobs – balance of work.
- Why did they take the job?
- Which aspects of the job and company did they enjoy most and which least?
- Ideas they contributed.
- Why did they leave?
- Why did they choose the next job? What were their hopes and expectations when they joined that company? How far were they realised?
- What are they looking for in the next job, next company?
- What do they think their former colleagues would say about them – their ability in the job? Their ability to fit into the team?
- Why do they want to leave?
- Which job/company have they enjoyed most and why?
Remember, the interview is not an interrogation. Give the candidate plenty of time to answer each question and give yourself time to assess the response.
7. Become a better listener.
To interview effectively, you must be able to listen effectively. Too often the interviewer merely listens for information which confirms his first impressions. Concentrate on what the candidate is saying in order to follow up a point.
Don’t prepare the next question while the candidate is talking. Listen “actively” – through nods and verbal confirmations. Show the candidate you’re listening. It also makes the interview more like a conversation and the candidate will talk more freely.
Don’t be afraid of silence – let the candidate fill it. Pauses can also give you time to reflect on an answer and decide whether you want to pursue it further.
8. Keep your reactions to yourself.
It is important to keep your judgements to yourself because astute candidates will be sensitive to non-verbal indications – body language, facial expression – and may use these cues for feedback and adjust their answers accordingly. But be on the alert to these warning signals and investigate further:
- Indecision about answers to questions.
- A tendency to criticise past employers, jobs and colleagues.
- Inconsistencies in background and attitudes.
- Extreme defensiveness.
- Negative attitude to everything.
- Unrealistic claims of accomplishment.
9. Stay in control.
It’s easier than you might imagine to lose control of an interview, particularly with a candidate who has a good deal of experience in job interviews. But it is your responsibility to direct the interview. Use firmness and tact to keep to the interview plan. Steer the candidate to the areas that you want to explore. Don’t allow yourself to become side tracked and don’t be manipulated by the candidate to give too much away. The secret of staying in control is knowing beforehand what you’re looking for and making sure you get it.
10. Take notes.
If you don’t take notes, you’re likely to forget most of the details of the interview. Or worse still, you will only remember what you want to remember, which means you’re likely to succumb to “gut” feeling in your recruitment decision. Take notes during and immediately after the interview. Underplay the note-taking during the interview because it should not become intrusive.
11. Sell but don’t oversell the position.
Remember the interview is a two-way process. You are not just assessing the candidate; the candidate is also assessing you. Although it is your job to promote the position and the company and you may be in competition for a candidate, resist the temptation to oversell the position. Therefore be as factual as you can about it.
Be honest about the negatives – “long hours”, “travel” – and be frank about salary and career potential. Avoid lengthy discussions, particularly about salary. The time to negotiate pay is when you make the offer.
12. Conclude on a proper note.
The candidate should be told what happens next and when. If you are impressed with the candidate, express interest but never offer the job at the interview stage. Premature decision making shows lack of reflection, loss of objectivity and can put a candidate off.
But don’t delay too long when you’ve found the person you want to employ. Few things are more frustrating than when the prize candidate gets away because you took too long in coming up with the offer.
To sum up, an effective interview requires careful preparation and a structured approach to gather the appropriate information on the past performance of the candidate.
And a last word of warning. The best person you interview is not necessarily the best person for the job. Measure the candidates against the job, not each other.