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How to Interview Candidates at the Interview and Beyond

How to Interview Candidates at the Interview and Beyond

Your preparation for the interview has equipped you with a number of questions that will help you get to know and evaluate candidates. But there's plenty more to do before, during and after the interview. Follow these tips:

Before the Interview

  • Put Candidates at Ease: Interviewing can be stressful, so do your best to help candidates relax. Make sure each candidate is greeted and escorted, if necessary, to the interview location. Start with low-key questions.  
     
  • Don't Judge on First Impressions: We've all met them -- people who don't make a great first impression but end up being great employees. To make sure you don't overlook these diamonds in the rough, withhold judgment until you've had the chance to thoroughly evaluate a candidate's capabilities and potential.

During the Interview 

  • Tell the Candidate a Little About the Job: While you don't want to dominate the interview time, you should start with a brief summary of the position, including the prime responsibilities, reporting structure, key challenges and performance criteria. This will help the candidate provide relevant examples and responses.  
     
  • Don't Be Afraid to Improvise: Plan your interview questions, but don't feel you must ask only those you've chosen in advance. Be responsive to what the candidate tells you, and build new questions off their answers, says Shelly Goldman, executive recruiter with The Goldman Group Advantage, an executive recruiting firm in Reston, Virginia.  
     
  • Listen: If you are doing most of the talking during an interview, you will not be able to obtain enough information to distinguish between candidates or to determine a candidate's true competencies. A general guideline is to spend 80 percent of your time listening and only 20 percent talking.  
     
  • Take Notes: While you won't want to transcribe everything the candidate says, do write down important points, key accomplishments, good examples and other information that will help you remember and fairly evaluate each candidate. An interview guide, prepared in advance, will make note-taking easier and give you a structure for capturing key information.  
     
  • Invite Candidates to Ask Questions: This can be the most valuable part of the interview. Why do they want to be here -- is it the challenge of the job, advances in the industry or something specific about your company? Or is the candidate fixated on salary, benefits and time off? If the candidate has no questions, this should be a red flag, especially for senior-level employees. Make a note of what the candidate asks, and be sure to follow up if you can't provide the answer immediately.  
     
  • Follow Legal Interviewing Guidelines: It is critically important that every interviewer at your company, from HR clerks to top executives, understand and follow legal hiring guidelines. The easiest way to keep your interviews fully compliant is to ask only questions that relate to the job, eliminating the potential for bias by not introducing questions or scenarios that will elicit irrelevant information.  

After the Interview

  • Let Candidates Know What They Can Expect: A pet peeve of many job seekers is that they are left hanging after an interview, or they are promised follow-up that never comes. If the candidate is a good fit, be clear about what the next steps will be. And if the candidate is not a good fit? Always end the interview on a positive note, but be genuine, says Goldman. Don't tell the candidate to call you if you don't mean it.
     
  • Compare Notes and Reach Consensus: The post-interview evaluation is the time to compare notes and advance the hiring decision. Each interviewer should be prepared to back up remarks and recommendations with specific examples and notes from the interview.
     

  • Deepen the Questions as You Narrow the Field: Subsequent interviews with finalists are valuable opportunities to learn more about them. Consider adding show-me exercises such as a strategic-planning exercise or a walk-me-through-what-you'd-do activity involving a real business challenge the individual would be facing.

Create a Positive Image for Your Organization

Joan Woodward, assistant vice president at Fifth Third Bank, remarks that the job market is always competitive when looking for good people. "We need to realize that we're selling ourselves as much as candidates are trying to sell themselves," she says. "It's important to treat people well during the interview process. I never want to lose a potential customer or cause a candidate to have a negative impression of our company."

Your interview process reflects the value your company places on each candidate and, by extension, each employee. Be a good ambassador for your company by conducting a professional interview, communicating honestly and basing hiring decisions on an honest evaluation of each candidate's capabilities. Not only will you make great hires, but you'll build goodwill in the community and enhance your future recruiting efforts.

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