Written by Geoff Zodda, Managing Director of Glenmont Group
Conducting strategic, effective hiring interviews are a challenge for many professionals. At their most basic purpose, job interviews are simply a forum where candidates attempt to impress you with their diverse skills, to articulate their vast array of experience, and explain why, if selected, she or he would be an asset to your company.For the majority of us, the question-holders, the chosen few who decide the fate of so many hopeful individuals, the all-powerful interviewers, this is as great an opportunity to assess the industry’s talent pool, as much as it is an assignment of responsibility to parse out the generic candidate from the stand-out future employee.
Ultimately, whether conducting an interview brings you to your happy place, or makes you sweat like running a marathon at the Equator, our end-goal is the same: get in, get the information you need, and get out. Regardless if you are one of these two extremes, or somewhere in the middle, the reality is many individuals who are called upon to interview candidates do not have the training, expertise, or innate feel to get the most out of their interviews. Unfortunately, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to teaching interviewing techniques, nor one simple strategy to implement to yield desired results from conducting your interviews. One of the biggest obstacles interviewers often face is figuring out what they hope to achieve out of the interview before that candidate even steps foot through your door.
Most interviews are designed to capture three critical components: work experience, hard skills, and personality. Since you are not likely hiring a robot, the third component, personality, is often the hardest to gauge, likely because you have failed to establish a level of comfort which allows both you and your candidate to let down their guard a little, and build rapport. So, how do you do this?
Many interviews follow a question-and-answer pattern, which typically requires you, as the interviewer, having to ask more questions to elicit the information you are seeking. However, there are several ways to break away from this format, and instead turn the meeting into a dialogue between two professionals. Consider questions that are “out of the box” that engage your candidates and get them thinking and responding with broader information. These types of questions still allow you to get a sense of an individual’s background and experience, while developing a perception of their personality, which in turn helps you determine how current employees and team members would interact with this person if you hire them. The more thoughtful questions you can incorporate into the conversation, the greater the likelihood a candidate will relax, speak candidly, and convey the depth of their experience and skills, as well as give you at least a glimpse of their personality, with far less effort from you to uncover it. In turn, you will have more meaningful information and insight in determining a candidate’s overall fit for the position, rather than pondering whether this individual is simply telling you what you want to hear.
After years of staffing in the Legal IT industry, I realize that some hiring authorities utilize situational questions as a means to get candidates to open up. Scenario-based questions should reflect real situations someone in this particular position may encounter as a part of your company, or at least relevant to the candidate’s past experience, so you can gauge how prepared they would be from day one or if you would have to provide additional training. Common examples include asking a candidate to describe a work-related crisis situation and how they handled it, or if they have ever had a conflict with their manager and how they achieved a mutual, professional resolution. A candidate’s response can give you an indication of his/her ability to overcome adversity in the workplace, as well as to maintain a professional demeanor to accomplish a positive outcome in a challenging situation.
If part of your mission is to get a sense of potential candidates’ technical abilities, ask them to rate themselves on the specific technologies you are working with on a scale of one to ten. Seems simple enough, but it should give you a baseline of expectations for their ability to hit the ground running with particular job functions. You can follow this ratings assessment up by asking how many years the individual has worked with the technologies that are most critical to your business. Asking a candidate how they have incorporated certain technologies into their daily responsibilities enables them to demonstrate to you the depth of their knowledge, the scope of their past experiences, and how diverse their technical skills truly are, while enabling you to keep a flow and direction to your interview.
There is no doubt, even with these suggestions, establishing a good guideline for questions and a fluid dialogue takes time and repetition. As you continue to develop your interviewing routine, it is equally important to recognize questions that are not beneficial to learning about your candidates, and replacing them with ones that are more provocative. A particular line of questions I always advise hiring authorities to stay away from is asking potential candidates what their strengths and weaknesses are. Most candidates are coached on how to answer these questions, and again, they may tell you what you want to hear, instead of what their true strengths and weaknesses are. In addition, determining an individual’s strong and weak areas is a very subjective practice, and can easily be misrepresented or misunderstood in the context of an interview. You can just as easily make your own assessment based on other information the candidate has provided you throughout the interview, and of course, once they are working for you.
As a hiring authority, the way you approach an interview is important for many reasons, as the rest of your department, peers, and management are often directly impacted by your decision. People will sing your name in the streets when you hire the person who saved the day, or who makes everyone else’s jobs a little easier and less stressful. Of course, this same chorus will turn on you if the wrong hire is made because you never asked the right questions during the interview, and made a decision based on superficial or irrelevant information. By asking the right questions and getting to know your candidates, most of your hiring decisions will be the right ones.