With its increased mobility, constant competition for top players and instant dissemination of openings throughout the world, the current job market breeds an increasingly savvy crop of applicants. What’s more, motivated job seekers can draw from innumerable seminars, courses arid books to hone their interviewing skills. The interviewer, on the other hand, probably holds as few interviews as possible to keep his or her staff up to strength.
When a candidates interviewing skills collide with the Interviewers urgent need to hire, he or she may be talked into making a regrettable decision. In the name of caution, the interviewer holds endless rounds of one-to-three hour interviews, and his or her work suffers.
Both pitfalls are avoidable. By taking a few common-sense measures, you’ll spend less time interviewing than you do today. At the same time, you’ll maintain control of your interviews, learn more and increase your ability to make the best hiring decisions.The interview-for-hire process involves eight basic steps. Master them and you’ll improve your decisions and free up your calendar.
a. Define the job before filling it
Obviously, clarify the job to be filled before filling it. Too often that process is done in reverse. Don’t make this mistake or you might hire a perfect candidate for a job that doesn’t exist.
When creating a job description. Solicit the input of current employees in similar positions. They know what the real job entails. Using these employees as guides set realistic standards and qualifications. An exceptional candidate won’t be attracted unless exceptional compensation and opportunity is offered.
Be sure your hiring standards relate to job performance. Legally, you must be prepared to demonstrate that all standards relate to reasonable performance of the job and that they don’t discriminate against any group based on age, race, gender, religion, national origin, marital status or physical handicap. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission enforces this stipulation and provides guidelines.
Include all pertinent details in the description, such as benefits (and short -comings) of the job, career potential, working environment and special responsibility and demands. Before seeing candidates, those involved in the hiring process should sign off on the filial job description. Refine arid revise the description until their clearance is given.
The resulting document keeps everyone on the same wavelength. It’s also a helpful tool to use during the interview.
b. Qualify (and cull) your candidates
When first starting in this career, you probably were advised to interview for new jobs occasionally, regardless of your interest or qualifications in the job. Keep in mind that some of your candidates may be following the same advice.
To save time, screen all candidates before meeting them. Study their resumes. Ask them to fill out an application form. Check their references. Then disqualify anyone who’s unfit for the job. If the facts check out, telephone the candidate before the actual in-person interview. Before meeting the candidate, make sure he or she is serious about job change.
c. Organize and prepare
Like any meeting, a clear agenda for the interview increases your efficiency and effectiveness. Because only twenty minutes are being allocated to the process, every minute counts.
The heart of each interview is your question period. Write out specific questions based on the research acquired in Step 2. Type them for easy reference.
Assume the candidate will be prepared for the interview. The interviewer should have a job description, questions and a notepad within easy reach. In addition have a company information kit available for the candidate.
If the candidate must relocate, the information kit should profile the company’s area and region. Include information of interest to every member of the family. Typically, applicants want to know about schools, hospitals, medical care, places of worship and social, cultural and recreational opportunities. The local chamber of commerce usually can provide such literature and information.
d. Set a friendly tone – two minutes
Despite a need to be brief, don’t be curt or the interviewee will he uncomfortable and uncommunicative. Set the subject at case. Choose a comfortable, quiet setting for the interview and make sure he or she won’t be facing bright lights or the direct sun. Keep the applicant out of an air conditioning draft. And make sure the chair isn’t too low or too high. To minimize distractions, ask your secretary to hold all calls and interruptions.
When the applicant first arrives, greet bin or her with a smile, warmth and enthusiasm. Small talk helps break the ice. Offer a sincere compliment about a strong point on the resumes or a favorable remark made by a reference. Because only the strongest candidates are being met, this should be accomplished easily. (This is one benefit of performing Step 2.)
e. Establish control of the meeting – two minutes
Because you initiated the meeting, you’re expected to chair it. The first step is to lead smoothly from Small talk into the interview. Give a summary of what’s to he accomplished today.
Briefly describe your role in the company as well as the position (by title only) for which the candidate is being interviewed. One possible conversation is:
“We have a unique and attractive opportunity for the right individual. I’d like to spend the first part of our meeting discussing your background and I’ll share some information about the position with you and then give you a chance to ask questions. This is just an initial meeting for us to get acquainted, and it should take about twenty minutes or so.
“You’ve kept your options open. Now, either the interview can be extended as necessary or your schedule can be adhered to without making the candidate feel cut short.
The reason the candidate is questioned before being offered a description of the position is elementary. Most candidates win slant their responses to make themselves appear ideally suited. You need unbiased information, however, and you want the applicant to understand that you’re in control.
f. Ask questions – ten minutes
Before the appointment for the interview was made, the candidate’s qualifications were determined. Now, explore whether he or she is right for the job. Evaluate style, chemistry and attitude. Express any concerns that arose when reading the candidate’s resume and talking with references.
Although this is the longest segment of the interview, ten minutes will he adequate only if the questions are concise and you encourage equally concise answers.
The interviewer’s questions should cover two areas in particular: the candidate’s experience and his or her personal qualities. Seek whatever additional information that’s necessary about the candidate’s background, skills, education, credentials and accomplishments as well as job performance strengths and weaknesses. Ask about the candidate’s interests, ambitions, attitudes and personal style.
The following sample questions will prepare you for the interview process:
- Please describe your present job responsibilities. Which are most difficult and why? Which are the most enjoyable?
- What accomplishment in your present job are you most proud of? What was your best idea (regardless of implementation)?
- What would you like to have accomplished, hut haven’t, in your present job? What prevented you from doing so?
- What particular strengths and weaknesses would you bring to this position?
- What do you know about our company and this position?
- What would it take to succeed in this position?
- What elements are important to your job satisfaction and that of your subordinates?
- Describe what qualities would make an ideal boss for this position?
- What are your short and long term career objectives?
- What are the biggest frustrations in your career?
- What might your present company and department do to become more successful?
- What are your hobbies and interests? Are they useful to your career or in balancing the rest of your life?
- How would you describe your personality? How would your associates describe you?
- How do your spouse and children feel about this possible change’?
- Why should we hire you?
Avoid questions that may be discriminatory. For example, acquaint yourself with the candidate as a person, but don’t ask about religious beliefs or sexual preferences.
g. Sell the opportunity- three minutes
In this step, entice the superior candidate to want the job. Begin by telling the candidate how you feel about the job. “We feel we have an outstanding opportunity and I’m excited about it. Whoever assumes this responsibility will be important to our overall success. That’s why we’re determined to hire the right candidate. “
Describe the job opportunity in general terms. Again, avoid biasing the candidate’s answers in subsequent interviews. Therefore share general information regarding responsibilities, reporting relationships, job benefits and shortcomings. Don’t, however, tell the candidate what you like or dislike about his or her background relative to the job in question. Don’t reveal that his or her boss-to-be is looking for a golf partner or distrusts people who wear bow ties.
It’s wise to ‘work from the written job description during this phase of the interview. Although you’ll choose what to reveal in each case, you’ll also want all the facts at your disposal.
This is a good time to summarize the history and growth of the company. State the firm’s reputation, market position and organizational structure as it relates to the candidate’s prospective job.
Don’t oversell or exaggerate the opportunity. False expectations are a major cause of employee turnover. As any salesperson will tell you, overselling often kills a deal that otherwise would have worked. It’s better to underplay the opportunity during this first meeting.
That statement doesn’t contradict the advice about showing enthusiasm about the position. Be enthusiastic, but reserve some details of the job to elicit the candidate’s further interest and excitement in subsequent Interviews.
h. Answers questions and close – three minutes
In this final step, the candidate has the opportunity to ask questions about the prospective job. An aggressive candidate will try to assume control throughout the interview, so don’t allow that to happen. Reduce the candidate’s questions to a minimum by saving them for the end. Furthermore, many questions will have been answered during the flow of the interview.
Once the question period begins, however, let the candidate know that this is his or her opportunity. By now, you have a good sense as to whether the candidate should he invited back for subsequent interviews. Accordingly, you can expand the interview or keep it brief at this time. If the candidate asks sensitive questions or makes inquiries about matters you don’t want to discuss yet, such as compensation or hiring dates, explain that these subjects will be covered during subsequent interviews.
Expect candidates to ask some of the following questions before accepting a position with your firm:
- What are the responsibilities of this position, and which are the most important?
- What results are expected of this position?
- What are the limits of my responsibility and authority?
- What problems and opportunities are associated with this position?
- In your opinion, what specific aspects of my background make me right or wrong for this position?
- What support is available to help me fulfill my charge here?
- Will I have subordinates? What are their strengths and weaknesses?
- Who will be my superior and what are his or her strengths and weaknesses?
- Are there any projects in motion for which I will inherit responsibility? What is their history and status?
- What are the goals of this company and my department?
- What criteria will he used to evaluate my performance? When are evaluations scheduled?
- What can you tell me about my peers in this company?
- Why did my predecessor leave this position?
- Why did you come to work here, and why do you stay?
- What advancement can a person expect – in this company and in the industry at large – after doing this job well?
Indicate the conclusion of the interview with body language (e.g., glance at your watch or calendar) and by summarizing your remarks.
Close all interviews on a positive note. Thank the candidate for his or her time and interest, and let him or her know what to expect next. Say, for example, will be interviewing in this first round for the next two weeks. “We’ll let you know by the end of next week as to whether and when we might meet again.” If he or she is a prime candidate for hire, say a few words of encouragement. Let him or her know you feel good about the meeting and you look forward to the next meeting.
The benefits of a well-prepared twenty-minute interview are clear. Following this approach, you’ll accomplish your purpose quickly. In less than half an hour you’ll gain insight into each pre qualified candidate while selling the opportunity so it encourages the prime candidates.
There are also other benefits of the short interview. The candidates who are invited back will be flattered that it took only twenty minutes for the interviewers to see this possible value to the organization. At the same time, applicants who aren’t asked back find the bad news easier to swallow. After all, they weren’t required to sit through marathon interviews just to be rejected.
Of course, the short initial interview necessitates one or wore additional interviews before hiring. This, too, is an advantage. Most candidates prefer to be courted and given consideration by several parties before a decision is made. In addition, interviewers also need some time to reflect on the candidate and his or her suitability for the job.
Summarize your notes immediate after the meeting while the details and nuances are fresh in your mind. Then file them in a safe place. In the future, these observations may be critical reminders of the candidate’s visit.
In analyzing and grading the candidate be aware of your personal biases. Don’t allow a candidate’s isolated response or question to outweigh an otherwise attractive set of qualifications and qualities.
Always send interviewees a letter of thanks, even if it’s to announce that they are no longer under consideration for the position.
Finally, involve others in the hiring decision. Make sure they meet the outstanding candidates. Because their futures will be affected along with your own, ask for their opinions. Seek consensus, but don’t let one cynic, bigot or misanthrope hold the job hostage.
A final word of caution: Check references thoroughly before the final offer is made. You want to hire the candidate who is as he or she truly is, not how he or she appears.
“The article above was written by construction recruiter Frederick Hornberger, CPC, president of Hornberger Management Company in Wilmington, Delaware (www.hmc.com), a construction recruiter specializing in senior level, executive search.“