The skill of interviewing

Multistage interview processes often involve managers for whom interviewing is not a core skill. They know what they are looking for, they will consider themselves good talent spotters and good judges of character, but training can help them be even more effective. We are very often asked to revise simple structure and technique tips; here are some basic guidelines that can be included in training for the inexperienced interviewer.

The critical preview

No busy interviewer has time for much preparation, but it is very important to review in advance:
  • The most recent body of experience, the most recent years, matching against the competencies for the job, and equally, noting what necessary experience/competencies are missing
  • Special interest items like projects, secondments etc

The chronology

Are there gaps in the dates between different jobs, and different education sections, or do they stitch together neatly? Gaps need to be compared against the interviewee’s story about their motivations and directions.

Have a scrip

Excellent interviewers apply a standardised list of questions to each candidate. It is the best way to benchmark, quantify, and create objectivity (particularly when meeting a number of people for the same job).
Devise questions into three groups as follows:
  • Questions that look at skills – prioritising the three or four key competencies required for the role
  • Questions that look at motivations – reflecting what you want from someone coming to work for you
  • Questions that consider attitudes/personalities – reflecting any strong or unique aspects of your organisation or department
Strengths in one of these areas may, or may not, compensate for weaknesses in another. Interviewers must test all three – and by having set questions, you’re less likely to be distracted by the positives of one to identify the negative.
Questions should be versions of 'tell me about the time when you did X, or showed Y competency'. It is a universal truth that the best predictor of future performance, is past performance.

Watch the clock

You should be keeping a very close eye on the time, and completing all questions within 40 minutes to allow time for the candidate’s questions, which will often be just as important in helping the interviewer to assess them. If certain answers or sections seem to be dragging, it is fine to politely interrupt, or change the subject.

Halos and horns

Personal characteristics of the candidate can be a threat to the assessment, creating bias too early. This can work in respect to both a negative and positive trait, for example:
  • Strong, sharp presentation and an outgoing personality can create a halo effect, which interferes with the interviewer’s ability to critically assess the candidate’s technical skills
  • Poor presentation, interpersonal skills, and articulation may create a negative effect, which hinders sufficiently objective assessment of technical skills

Cutting it short

Even if the candidate is wrong for your role, avoid insulting them by cutting the interview too short. They have invested time in preparation for and attendance of the interview, and showed interest in the company. An interviewer can limit the number of questions the candidate can ask without being rude, simply by saying something like 'we have time for you to ask two questions' or 'is there one question that you would like to ask before we finish?'

Handling rejection

Candidates shouldn't be rejected in the interview itself, unless that rejection is leading to some alternate action. Face-to-face rejection at the end of an interview usually ends up being short, and confrontational. It can lead to strong negative feelings by the interviewee, and if they feel humiliated it can lead to a long-term grudge against your organisation. It’s important to encourage referrals and recommendations, not discourage them. Wherever possible, an organisation/interviewer should invest some time in sending a rejection letter/e-mail. The use of a general template is fine, although some personalisation is important. We can provide templates if needs be.
If the interview was set up through a recruitment company, the interviewer should try as a minimum to give their corresponding consultant some feedback about their decision. Try to give some balance, for example two positives and two points for improvement for the candidate, rather than just the reasons for rejection.

Pre-close the deal

If the candidate is strong and the recommendation is going to be positive, the interviewer should almost certainly tell them. It’s a powerful influence on their emotion and sense of buy-in if they leave the meeting knowing what the interviewer thinks. Even if the interviewer has not yet decided whether to invite them back, the candidate should leave with a positive impression.
If you require any further information regarding conducting interviews, then please do get in touch with Michael Page.