Best Practices for Interviewing Job Candidates

Hi, I’m Ed Boylan. I’d like to talk with you about not only what is legally compliant in interviews, but how to be a more effective interviewer.

Becoming The Most Effective Interviewer You Can Be

There were two major components of being an effective interviewer. Number one: understand what am I trying to accomplish in an interview?

And second, ask questions in a way that will get you the information that you need to make an intelligent decision on hiring people.

“I’m just trying to fill a job” is okay, but it’s a really superficial approach and will not get you to your goals as effectively as interviewing and making great decisions on hiring people.

What to Look For in Prospective Employees

Let me suggest this perspective: you are looking to find the person who is the best possible or the closest match to…

  1. The job’s qualifications
  2. The ability to do the job duties to the level of defined expectations
  3. The company’s cultural values
  4. The ability to work productively with other employees and the boss

Determining the closest or best possible match has two important components. First, having a written job description, and second, conducting an effective interview.

Why You Need a Written Job Description

Now, job descriptions are the butt of many jokes, and are commonly derided as boring, unnecessary, and stifling of creativity. However, there are some very practical reasons to have a written job description.

First, it helps define what the required skills, relevant education, behaviors, etc. are on the job. Secondly, it provides a roadmap for you to conduct the interview and ensure to cover all of those areas.

It also helps you to consistently ask pretty much the same questions of all candidates so that you can make a better evaluation in choosing between those candidates the person that you want to hire.

And third, it can make sure that you stay away from impermissible or illegal questions in your interview.

Finally, if you turn the perspective around to that of the new employee, it helps them to understand what your expectations are, what your values are, what’s going to be required of them in terms of accomplishment or behavior.

I would suggest to you that if you can’t write down and define all of these things: expectations, performance, behavior, and standards, then the new employee most certainly is not going to reflect them in their performance.

Guidelines for Conducting an Effective Interview

There are two very useful guidelines in interviewing. First, the candidate should talk 80% of the time and you should talk 20% of the time.

Secondly, always ask almost all of your questions as open-ended questions and be fair for follow-up questions.

Let’s look at our 80-20 rule. If the balance goes the other way, you’re talking and you’re not listening. If you’re not listening, you’re not learning about the person in front of you: what their skills are, what their behaviors are, what their desires are; and therefore you’re not able to develop a more comprehensive picture of their match to the job.

Some people are enamored of the sound of their own voice; they feel that they need to tell the candidate everything that’s on their mind, everything about the company.

And while this is a very desirable goal, you have plenty of time to do that in a second interview and I highly recommend that you always interview people at least twice before making an employment decision.

The Right and Wrong Questions to Ask in an Interview

The most common mistake that interviewers make is to ask most of their questions as closed ended questions. A closed ended question is one that can be answered with a simple yes or no.

As the term implies, it closes off the answer and therefore closes off your ability to get a more fully complete answer and understanding of the candidate.

It also telegraphs the correct answer: “Are you honest?” “Do like to work hard?” “Do you understand how to close out a month-end?”

Seriously, do you think a person’s going to say “I’m a lazy thief, and I can’t even add or subtract”?

Fortunately there is an amazingly easy and effective way to get dramatically better answers and therefore to get a better evaluation of your candidates.

Ask open-ended questions and use follow-up questions. Simply put, open-ended questions are ones that begin with: who, what, when, where, how, and why.

And as the term implies, it opens up the candidate to give much more complete and full answers and gives you a better evaluation, not only of that candidate but between candidates, to make the best possible choice and match to your job.

Advantages of Using Open-Ended Questions

Using these approaches will give you a significantly greater understanding of the candidate, particularly when you ask a core or critical question about their behaviors in each of the jobs on their resume or in their work history.

For example, in a customer service situation: “Describe for me a very difficult customer service situation. What was the nature of it? How did you handle it? What was the outcome?”

If you ask those open-ended questions about customer service situations, and each job a person’s resume for jobs that are related to customer service, you will get a far more comprehensive look at how a person probably will behave in your customer service function.

Also, give you a deeper appreciation as to whether they are the best possible match for the job.

In summary:

  • Have your road map or job descriptions
  • Talk less and listen more (80-20 rule)
  • Ask open-ended and follow-up questions

Employing these techniques will make your interviews far more effective in the critical role of getting the best possible talent to work in your company.

About Ed Boylan

Human Resources is one of those functions that many businesses – especially startups and small firms – wrestle with. HR has the capacity to make tremendous contributions or be a source of significant liability.

With 42 years of “experience, insights, and scar tissue,” Ed Boylan has seen the evolution of the Human Resources function and managed it in companies from a few hundred to 55,000 employees, from one state to 50 state operations.

As a senior manager, he’s wrestled with business problems in the retail, distribution, hospitality, and services sectors and continues today as Principal in his own consulting firm.

He believes that understanding the fundamentals of what HR is can avoid potentially costly problems and provide a foundation for integrating it into a business plan.

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