What to look for when interviewing candidates
By Colleen Clarke
Screening candidates is tough enough but when it comes to conducting a genuine, honest, “no stars in my eyes” interview, that is another matter. Interviewers want to pick the first person, they want the process to be over, they want to like the candidates they interview. I always tell candidates “you walk into an interview with 100 points and it can be downhill, or you can keep the 100 points depending on how you do and how the interview is conducted.”
Brian Bassett, the communication guru of Bassett Communication Clinics in Toronto and interview coach extraordinaire, has always purported that practice, practice, practice should be the interviewees’ mantra. Someone who is truly ready to be interviewed doesn’t sound like they are reading a script, they speak naturally and in many cases are somewhat nervous. If they tell you so, admire that, it is hard to be so honest when your future is on the line. Be aware if answers sound too stiff and memorized. If you are getting that reaction you may want to shift to a situational style of interview rather than behavioral or Q & A style.
Interviewers say that where interviewees fall down in interviews is their failure to tell the interviewer what they are going to do for their company. ‘Why should we hire you?’ is the toughest interview question. Inevitably candidates rattle on about their skills, for the umpteenth time, rather than using benefit statements to sell themselves. You want benefit statements.
Benefit statements tell you how the candidate is going to take away your pain, eg. ‘You should hire me because I am going to increase customer loyalty’ (then tell how). ‘You should hire me because I am going to reduce employee absenteeism with a plan that…’ The how is where interviewees get to extol their professional wonderment abilities, skills and past accomplishments. The features will flow naturally, probe for the benefits.
Key interview do’s and don’ts include:
Let the candidate know who will be in the interview, their titles, how long it will be, whether there is to be any testing and the style of the interview when they are called to set up a meeting time.
Ask the receptionist to “check out the new guys” when the candidates arrive in the waiting room.
When you approach, smile and start checking them out from toe to head. Be aware of your “initial impression” from a physical and gut perspective.
Lead the way to the room and make small talk, asking an open ended question or making a positive statement about the day or the office, etc. Offer a glass of water and a comfortable chair and positioning to you.
No cell phones or Blackberrys in sight and desk telephones should be on mute. Advise others you are not to be interrupted until such and such a time.
Introduce other interviewers by name and title.
Build a feeling of trust. Disclose something personal or professional about yourself that the candidate can relate to in order to make them feel welcome. This also tells them that you are open, humane and looking for honesty. “Some days are sure more challenging than others around here, how was your day so far?”
Ensure they know the requirements of the position before you ask them to “tell me a bit about yourself.”
Listen to your gut, and if the red flags start to fly you might want to decide to cut the interview short. Red flags include discrepancies between their answers and what is on the resume, non answers, no benefit statements, generalizing (”I get along with everyone”), lying, etc.
If you see they are nervous, interject a few moments of conversation rather than question answer, question answer to calm them down or ask them something about themselves not directly related to the job at hand, “What activities do you engage in during your leisure time?” “What is the latest book you read and what did you like and dislike about it?”
Don’t bring up salary and benefits in the first interview unless there is no indication of it in the job posting.
Wrap it up with details of the next step, “I appreciate you coming in to meet with me. We are interviewing the rest of this week then we will put together a short list. We will call you one way or the other to let you know how we proceed from there. That should take us till the end of next week. Here is my card if you need to reach me.” If you have not called by the end of the next week, and they call, phone them back immediately. Be a professional and a person of your word.
Smile, shake hands and be sure the eye contact you have made throughout the interview is held until they leave the room.
Make notes on how the interview went and how you felt about the candidate.
Remember, strong candidates are appraising you and the company as much as you are judging them. Your professionalism speaks volumes to a candidate as to whether YOU are being considered in a positive light as their next career move. Candidates are often told to “be yourself.” This goes for you too!
Career Specialist and Trainer
Author of Networking: How to Build Relationships That Count and How to Get a Job and Keep It