8 must haves for interviews that don’t suck

There are certain work life behaviors that are universally liked, such as getting paid, and others that are universally disliked. Some of the disliked activities are disliked because they are intrinsically unpleasant (such as firing people, getting fired, or dealing with angry customers) and others are disliked simply due to lack of training or understanding. Interviewing is something I’ve found to be pretty low on the list of preferred work activities but usually that’s because hiring managers just aren’t experienced in how to interview effectively. 

Complaints I hear about interviewing is that it takes too much time, it’s uncomfortable and that it’s not a good predictive tool (meaning, someone can be a great interview but not a good fit or vice versa). Now, there’s no magical way to make interviews take no time at all, but there are definitely ways to streamline your process and make the time investment as effective (and un-awkward) as possible. Here are eight must haves to ensure your interviews do not waste anyone’s time.

Must #1: Identify what the candidate needs to do to be successful in the job. This sounds obvious, but most job descriptions are vague pieces of corporate nothingness. Don’t worry so much about covering every last little thing, but if you have or have ever had a rock star in the role, articulate what they did that made them so successful. Is there a required educational component? Don’t make the mistake of listing a huge long ‘nice to have’ list. Get it down to the deal breakers. While you’re at it, identify what the successful person should be able to accomplish in the next 30, 60, 90 days.

Must # 2: Get real about your culture. Unless your culture is absolutely horrible and dysfunctional, which you will know by the fact that you’re losing money, customers, vendors, and employees, there will be good and bad. Your perfect person will thrive in the good and either improve the bad or be tolerant to it. For example, does your major customer frequently change their strategic direction, requiring you to flex with them? If so, people who are excessively rattled by this won’t love working for you. Are you business only, or super casual? If you are the owner, you should also ask your employees and managers what they think the culture is like and make sure everyone’s on the same page.

Must #3: Post a well written ad designed to attract people who have the skills, abilities and are a cultural fit and NOT the ones who don’t. Think sniper shooting, not net-casting. I’ve written more about this previously so won’t elaborate here.

Must #4: Pre-qualify your applicants. It’s definitely worth your time for someone to reach out to the applicant to see if certain criteria are met for both parties before scheduling a face to face interview. Many people might disagree but I like to make sure we’re on the same page regarding salary range before engaging in a long interview process. Particularly if it involves travel for the applicant. This is not to say it’s not negotiable but it’s good to know someone’s expectations. It’s also good to clarify whether they need to drive, or work certain hours, travel etc.

Must #5: Plan the interview! This is important for legal reasons as well as just being good practice. Craft out 5-10 good open-ended questions addressing someone’s ability to perform the task at hand and the working environment where they are historically most successful. Good questions ask the applicant to provide examples of times in their past when they were in certain situations or performed certain tasks. Have your questions written out ahead of time and record the person’s answer as well as your subjective 1-5 rating of their answer. Ask all the candidates all the same questions. If you’re interviewing in a group plan who will ask what.

Must #6: Know what not to ask. I’m always surprised that even in this day and age, managers think it’s a good idea to try to be sneaky and find out things they’re not allowed to ask. The reality is you only need to know if the person can do their job and fit on the team. You don’t really need to know if they’re married, or have children, or anything else people like to find out on the sly. You should never try to find out someone’s age, marital status, national origin, gender/sexual orientation, previous injuries or illnesses, religion or other protected information. And you certainly shouldn’t make notes on it!

Must #7: Control and conduct the interview. Most candidates are nervous when they interview no matter how they present.  Not everyone comes right out and admits to being nervous, or breaks out in hives (although more do than you’d believe) so to be safe assume everyone’s a little nervous and start off slow. Exchange pleasantries and try to relax the person without going into protected territory. I then like to ask the candidate what they know about the position and company. This helps me to know if they have taken the initiative to research and/or if they remember what I’ve already told them or what was on the ad. Then, I can talk a bit about the company and job. This is to inform them, but also to take them off the hook a bit so they can loosen up. Then I let them know the types of questions I’ll be asking. This way, it feels less like an interrogation.

Must #:  The REAL conversation. If you have established through this point that the candidate likely has the background you’re looking for you should really press in to see if it’s a fit for you and for them. Remember, a good candidate is interviewing you as much as you are them so this is crucial, but not necessary if you have determined through the other questions that they are not a fit for various reasons. During this step, honestly and openly discuss:

·       What it’s like to work for you / the hiring manager          

·       The profile of a successful person in your company

·       The profile of an unsuccessful person

·       The challenges they will face

Give them a real life problem you are facing in your company and see how they would solve it, or if they’ve faced something like this before.

If you do these thoroughly, you will not only reduce the number of unproductive interviews, you will also greatly increase the chances of identifying an excellent candidate for you and your company! Good luck!

By Carrie Maldonado

Carrie Maldonado, is an organizational development consultant, author, and speaker. Carrie's eclectic mix of professional interests include writing, speaking, coaching, and consulting on topics ranging from organizational behavior management to spiritual transformation in and out of the workplace. Carrie lives in the beautiful Pacific Northwest with her patient and long-suffering husband and their three children.

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