Here are some sure-fire techniques for conducting great interviews. Along with our other tips for strategic staffing, following these guidelines will help you beat the low success rates of most hiring managers:
Don’t hire on the basis of personality. This is the oldest and most unsuccessful trick in the book. Even for those positions that require charm and affability, don’t count on these traits to be a reliable measure of how well-prepared someone is to perform the job you’re hiring for.
When possible, screen in direct ways–not just through questions and answers–for the specific skills you’re hiring for. For example, while many business operations have gone digital, in many companies there’s still a danger in hiring people whose handwriting is completely illegible or whose spelling is atrocious. If this is your company, it behooves you to screen for this. Once upon a time, I was hiring for a position that required written communication and handwriting skills. (For starters, I had to be able to read handwritten time sheets in order for employees to get paid accurately.) I brought my applicants together, started them off with a written application, then continued with icebreakers, group activities, and a group interview. In addition to getting all of the usual interview questions answered, I got to see how they performed on paper without spell check or a computer and I was able to witness how they interacted with others.
Be systematic. Don’t assume anything based on a resume or let a flashing smile or vague answer get in the way of hearing first-hand the nuts and bolts of what you need to know about candidates’ skills. Take the time to interview thoroughly and assure you don’t get derailed. Hires that fail are costly ($50,000 based on some estimates), so think of your time interviewing as an investment in identifying the best candidate.
Ask questions that give you a window into the candidate’s thought process. Interview questions should be tailored to the person you’re interviewing and the skills you’re interviewing for. They should be designed to address any gaps in experience and to peer beneath the surface claims of the candidate’s resume. For example:
- “I see from your resume that you ran the xyz program. What did xyz accomplish?” (This will clue you in to whether the person is numbers-driven or people driven or whether they’re focused on outcomes at all.)
- ”To what extent did you involve users in the decision to abc?” (Does your candidate care about end users? Did s/he consult stakeholders appropriately?)
- “To what extent did your solution help solve clients’ or customers’ problems?” (This will help you discern the extent to which the candidate is solution-oriented.)
- “Where did you get the idea for xyz?” (Notice those who take all of the credit versus those who speak in collaborative terms. This question can also offer a clue as to whether the candidate was the change agent or the implementer.)
- “How did you accomplish xyz?” (Again, you can find out if the candidate sees herself or himself as accomplishing things single-handedly or whether a team or support staff are referenced. Notice whether and how the candidate talks about obstacles along the way. Does the candidate get bogged down by the same issues that got in the way of success the first time or does s/he seem poised in the recollection of the difficulty and focus on how adversities were overcome?)
Gauge the character of the candidate. Arrogance and dishonesty can be the kiss of death for a new hire who is otherwise highly qualified for a position. Don’t take a risk on people who you have reason to believe are not giving clear, straightforward, honest answers. There may be cases in which hiring a self-absorbed prodigy is ideal, but in most cases you’re better off hiring someone who plays well with others and shares credit for a job well done. Sometimes it’s worth it to hire a candidate that is up front about lacking skills in a certain area–with the right character, that candidate can be a better long-term addition to your team than a loose cannon or untrustworthy candidate with all of the right hard skills.