An interview can be a nerve-wracking experience for the interviewer as well as the interviewee. Robin McWilliams notes that getting the best candidate for the job is all down to preparation
Interviewing, in order to identify the best individual for a job, is a key management skill but it is a skill rarely taught and even more rarely learnt. Even executives who have been interviewing for many years often make little attempt to treat it as more than a discussion. The chances are that little or no guidance will have been given prior to conducting a first interview. What should be focused on and how should the situation be approached?
Hiring staff creates the future of a team and company, as well as dealing with people's individual careers. Therefore, the interview should be as clinically perfect as possible.
One to one
Interviews are most effective if carried out on a one-to-one basis, as this provides the best opportunity for getting to know someone. Even when the candidate needs to meet two individuals from the organisation, arranging back-to-back meetings is preferable - it allows colleagues to compare notes afterwards without contaminating the decision-making process. The arrangements should be relaxed and informal but also conducive to collecting personal information - never interview over a meal or in a public place, and if conducting the interview in the office ensure there will be no interruptions.
Whether candidates have been generated internally or externally, recruitment is a structured process that strives to match the available raw material with the criteria set out in the person specification.
Basic information - academic background, professional qualifications and percentages of sales closed - is important. A 'first cut', usually on the basis of written applications or CVs, will result in the interview shortlist. Much harder to gauge are personality traits such as honesty, ambition, integrity and enthusiasm. Qualified shortlist candidates are often similar on paper so, when it comes to the interview stage, small but key differences should be looked for.
The interviews should be planned to ensure the best way to assess the candidate against person specification. The interviewer should, therefore, prepare for interviews better than candidates - remind themselves of the attributes being sought, study the shortlisted candidates CVs, and highlight the strengths and weaknesses of the different candidates.
About an hour to an hour and a half should be allowed for the interview.
Start by exchanging a few pleasantries to relax the candidate and, if necessary, say something brief about the job. Make it clear a full briefing will be given at the end of the meeting when, having become better acquainted, a more helpful discussion can take place.
Next, collect evidence for assessment, which may take about half an hour.
It is often best to start by asking the candidate about a phase of their career that they see as particularly successful, as this encourages them to open up. Remember to be as specific as possible. For example, ask about the candidate's most recent job content, authority, reporting structure, number of staff and past achievements. Use open questions such as "Tell me about ..." and avoid too many closed questions where candidates only have to answer yes or no.
The chances are the ideal candidate will be positive, upbeat, dependable, honest, and competitive, with a team attitude. To pinpoint whether the candidates are suitable, open questions can be used to highlight the small differences. While there are no right or wrong answers, there are better or worse ones. Does the general tone of answers fit with the overall view of what is sought?
Collecting evidence is a more technical phase used to probe key requirements.
Now that the candidate is more relaxed, probe areas of weakness by indirect questions. Again, always use open questions: Give me a specific example?
Why did you feel that way? What did you learn from that? How did you resolve it? Always look for 'knock outs' - things people say that should disqualify them. These usually arise over specific points - not being able to delegate, not being able to work well with different cultures, or not being consistent - but there are some more general warning signs. Negativity, for example, is always worrying.
Selling the job
The final phase involves discussing and selling the job. Recruitment is a two-way street - there is no point weeding out inappropriate candidates if all of the attractive ones turn down the job offer. Even the most logical person relies heavily on emotive factors in deciding whether to make a career move. Therefore, until a candidate is finally turned down, or appointed, continue to sell the job.
This is the time to give the company slant on the challenges and difficulties of the job, taking into account each candidate's particular circumstances.
Ask them if they have any questions and discuss how they would approach the job. Avoid placing too much weight on the ability of a candidate to handle this discussion, however, as a person's track record in previous jobs is a better guide to future performance.
Remember, the most common fault in interviewing is for the interviewer to talk too much. Start with no preconceptions, ask open-ended questions, listen and probe.
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