Be Sure to Prepare Before Interviewing Candidates

Be Sure to Prepare Before Interviewing Candidates

Interviewing has been called an art, and there's no doubt that it calls for insight and creativity. But it's also a science, requiring process, methods, and consistency to produce truly accurate and effective results. Look at it this way: Your art will flourish within the sound framework of a systematic, scientific approach.

Having a preplanned structure ensures you're asking the right questions, says Shelly Goldman of The Goldman Group Advantage, a Reston, Virginia, executive recruiting firm. Whether she's recruiting 50 entry-level workers or just one C-level executive, Goldman takes the time to lay the foundation before beginning to interview candidates. Here are some guidelines.

Define Your Objectives Before You Start

Even if you think you're an expert interviewer, a seat-of-the-pants approach can backfire. Take the time to clearly define what you are looking for before you begin recruiting.

  • Describe the Position's Duties: Identify what this person will be expected to do and the technical knowledge and skills required to do the job.
  • Identify Success Factors: How did previous top performers in this job behave?
  • Establish Performance Expectations: What do you expect this person to accomplish?

For this step, bring in the hiring manager, as well as peers or those who have performed the job in the past to make sure you are painting an accurate picture of the ideal candidate. Armed with this information, you'll be better able to evaluate each candidate.

Select Your Questions in Advance

Don't rely on a job description and a candidate's resume to structure the interview. You'll get much better information if you carefully pre-select questions that allow you to evaluate whether a candidate has those skills and behaviors you've identified as essential for the job.

You might include some or all of these types of questions:

1. Icebreakers: As their name implies, icebreakers are used to build rapport and set candidates at ease before beginning the formal interview. Examples:

  • Did you have any trouble finding our office?
  • Before we start, would you like a cup of coffee or glass of ice water?
  • Tell me about yourself.

2. Traditional Questions: With these, you can gather general information about a candidate and their skills and experience. Because these questions are asked often, many candidates will have prepared answers to them, so they can be used to help candidates feel at ease in the early stages of an interview. Examples:

  • What are your greatest strengths?
  • What is your experience with [competency, skill, function, etc.]?
  • Why do you want to work for us?

3. Situational Questions: Ask candidates what they would do in a specific situation relevant to the job at hand. These questions can help you understand a candidate's thought process. Examples:

  • How would you deal with an irate customer?
  • If we were to hire you, what is the first thing you would do?
  • How do you deal with stress on the job?

4. Behavior-Based Questions: These require candidates to share a specific example from their past experience. Each complete answer from a candidate should be in the form of a SAR response -- the complete Situation, Action and Result. If a candidate skips any of these three elements, prompt him  to fill in the blanks. Examples:

  • Tell me about a crisis you could have prevented. Did you do anything differently after the crisis had passed?
  • Tell me how you resolve crises by deploying your team members. Give me a specific example.
  • Crises usually require us to act quickly. In retrospect, how would you have handled a recent crisis differently, if you had been given more time to think before acting?

Behavior-based interviewing ensures we are making good decisions based on established criteria for success, in the position or in the organization, says Joan Woodward, assistant vice president and senior human resources business partner at Fifth Third Bank in Cincinnati.

5. Culture-Fit Questions: These will help you select candidates who are motivated and suited to perform well in the unique environment of your organization. Examples:

  • What gave you the greatest feeling of achievement in your last job? Why was this so satisfying?
  • Why did you choose this type of work?
  • What motivates you to work hard? Give me some examples.

Build an Interview Team

Whenever possible, have more than one person interview candidates; you'll gain a balanced perspective and be more likely to have a fair hiring process. In addition to the reporting manager and a human resources representative, think about including some of the people who will be working with the new hire.

At Fifth Third Bank, by the time candidates reach Joan Woodward, they have already been pre-screened for essential job skills. "One of the most important things for me is to find out if they are going to fit within the culture and the team environment at Fifth Third," she says. "My favorite kinds of questions are to determine if they are going to be a good team member, because the team environment is a critical component of our culture at Fifth Third."