Job interviews are like first dates. First impressions count, things can get a bit awkward, and you never know how it might end (though probably not with a kiss).
And just like dating, the interview process can be a gruelling one. Both parties (aspiring employees and interviewers) need to be on their best behaviour and show an array of social skills to get through it in one piece.
Interviewing for a role is tough. But interviewers have an equally tough gig - they have to set a comfortable atmosphere, extract relevant information and ultimately select only the best candidates to give a job offer to.
A successful interviewer is the difference between making an excellent hire and getting, well, a bit of a dud. And great employees help build a great workplace culture.
So how do you become a good interviewer? Well we're glad you asked, because in this post we’ll break down how you can become a better interviewer in 10 actionable tips.
Statistically, hiring managers receive way more applications than they are actually able to interview. To visualize their inboxes, think about that scene in Harry Potter where the owls flood the Dursley’s home with letters. It’s kind of like that.
Way before choosing the right candidate for the job, you’ll have to make the decision as to who gets the actual interview. More often than not it’ll be easy to determine based on skills, experience, or work samples.
But if you have a large pool of applications (and who doesn’t these days) there’s a few ways you can weed out candidates who are likely to be a poor fit for your organization anyway:
A cover letter can tell you a lot about how important the position is to the applicant. Have they taken the time to craft a unique one? Is it original, interesting and personalized for this specific role?
If the answer to those questions is “yes”, there’s a much higher chance they are actually interested in getting the job (and motivated enough to put extra effort in). After that you can think about their initial interaction with you.
How did they submit their application? If they emailed it to you, were they friendly? Did they call to talk about the hiring process? Were they suggested by an external recruiter? All these things are good indicators of an engaged applicant.
One hack you can use for online applications is to ask applicants to include a certain phrase or word in their application. You can say something like, “Please include the ‘I actually read your job description’ in the lower right corner of your cover letter.”
This strategy is a super simple, but effective way to weed out folks who didn’t take the time to actually pay attention to the details of the job description.
To increase your reach and improve the chances of your application getting noticed by the kind of people you’re looking for, share your opening across different platforms.
A few notable ones include:
You can also send out a quick post on your social media channels to let people know you’re hiring. That way relevant people in your company’s network who may not be looking for work will see it and share it with their contacts.
You might even create a quick landing page for the role, embed a resume upload form onto your website, which makes the submission process a breeze.
Before you start your interview process it’s important to develop an objective rating system that rates every person on the same terms. It doesn’t need to be complicated - a simple scale works best.
A scale makes it easier to quickly review applicants at the end of the interview and see who is the best for your company. That way you’re not relying on memory or gut feeling (though they both have their place in the overall process).
It helps eliminate what folks in the biz refer to as the “halo effect”. In other words, people tend to be biased towards people they like personally. But if you’ve had a pleasant experience with your interviewee, it doesn’t always mean they are a great candidate for the job.
One of the best ways to implement an evaluation system is to create a simple online form that looks after the scoring for you.
Another strategy that helps get rid of unconscious biases is reviewing all your applicants at the same time rather than doing it right after an interview. And instead of looking at each individual candidate before moving on, compare all the candidates’ answers to a single question before moving on.
This way, it’ll be easier to evaluate which interviewee gave the best answers to certain things or had the most experience. This will make the final decision easier to make.
You would be forgiven for thinking that an interview is as simple as sitting in a room and asking a few questions. But there’s more to it than that. You need to ask the right questions and to do that, you need to develop a structure to follow.
Without structure it’s easy to get lost, to forget important questions or waste time talking about completely irrelevant things. And when looking at candidates it’s important to ask everyone the same basic questions to make it easier to compare them.
Remember that just because you have a structured interview doesn’t mean you can’t stray from it on occasion. The best interviewer will use the structure as a guide, while letting conversation flow naturally.
Here is an example of a simple structure you can follow.
At the initial stage of the interview, it is important to establish a good atmosphere. You want your interviewee to feel comfortable (that way they’re more likely to be honest with you).
Don’t rush the start of the interview. Try to ease your candidate into things as much as possible and keep your demeanour relaxed and open. Start with small talk about how their trip into the office was, or how their day has been so far.
Keep small talk short and then dive into the interview. Before you start with your questions, it’s a good practice to give your interviewee an idea of how the interviewing process will go.
You can also quickly run through the job description, and take candidates through what a day in their role would look like if they were successful.
There are two main types of questions you need to prepare for each interview: general and behavioral.
General questions are standard questions that give you a general idea about the candidates skills and experiences. Think of things like asking about their work history and why they think they would be a good fit for the position.
Behavioral questions, on the other hand, help you get an idea of how the individual handles certain workplace situations. Common behavioral interview questions include asking about when they were faced with a challenging situation or talking about a stressful project they’ve worked on.
Keep in mind that interviews are also about your candidate getting to know more about your company. Especially if you’re looking for a worker in a specialized field, the chances are they are considering other companies to work for, just as you’re considering multiple candidates.
Great interviewers realize that an interview needs to go both ways to be successful. This is true whether you're interviewing someone for a news article, for a job role or in an exit interview - it’s in your best interest to be open with your candidates and tell them what they want to know.
Obviously there’s limits to this (you don’t need to tell them in-depth company finances, or delve into workplace politics), but try to be as open as you can. You don’t want to shut down and miss out on amazing talent.
Don’t rush to end your interview so you can get out of there and go to Starbucks for a coffee. It’s likely you’ll have scheduled multiple interviews on the same day, and it can be super tiring. It’s a good idea to reserve some time between them to relax and reset.
Not every interview will go for the same amount of time. Some people might ask more about the company, others will just naturally give longer answers. Never cut someone off or rush them out just because “time’s up” - it’s not a good look.
Before ending the interview make sure to ask the candidate if there’s anything else they would like to know, or ask about. Then let them know when they’ll be contacted next, and don’t forget to thank them for their time.
After you’ve developed a structure the preparation doesn’t stop there. There’s a whole bunch of other things you need to do in order for your interview to run as smoothly as possible.
This should go without saying, but reading your interviewee’s resume beforehand is very helpful at the preparation stage. This way you’ll be able to ask situational questions that are relevant to specific candidates.
You’ll be able to dig a bit deeper once you have a general understanding of their experience. If you don’t take the time to go over the resume, it’s just a wasted resource. Make sure you print a copy and bring it with you for reference during the interview.
Even though the candidate knows which position they’re applying for, it’s still a good idea to run through the job description once more, and print it to keep in front of you. It’s also something to fall back on if the candidate asks a question you can’t answer off the top of your head.
Make sure to include all of the positions’ finer details to give the candidate a better idea of what their responsibilities will be, and what would be expected of them.
For certain roles an interview should include a small exercise to help get an idea of how your candidate handles tasks related to the position. It also gives them an idea of the type of work they’ll be doing on a day-to-day basis.
For example, if you were hiring a content writer you may set them a small article to write. If it was a data entry role it might be completing some simple calculations in Microsoft Excel.
It’s not about trying to stump people with ridiculously hard exams - that just ruins the candidate experience. It’s about trying to see if they can complete tasks that will be required of them.
It’s important to have a list of questions that you will ask everybody, as well as some more personalized ones tailored for each candidate specifically.
Let’s say you have 15 questions in total. At least a handful of them should be tailored to the person you’re interviewing. There’s room to move and adjust on the fly, but this gives you a guide rather than leaving you up a creek without a paddle.
The one secret ingredient to being a great interview is being a great listener. You need to put your active listening skills to good use during your interviews.
Being a good listener helps break the ice and shows you are interested. Remember that you’ve invited the potential candidate in and interviewing is difficult for even the most seasoned of job hunters, so try to respect them by giving your undivided attention.
Active listening, as simple as it sounds, isn’t a skill you learn overnight. It’s something you need to practice. It means completely concentrating on what the other person is saying rather than just letting it fly in one ear and out the other.
It will improve your interview skills (and probably also your marriage). Here’s a few tips on how you can become a better listener:
We have covered how important it is to have structured questions. But it’s equally important to expand your questions based on each individual candidate’s answers.
This allows you to get more information and get to know your interviewee even better. It’s just not possible if you only ask everyone the same set of questions.
Check out the infographic below for some examples of useful follow-up questions. Remember to use your own words and try not to speak like a robot. Work them into the conversation in your own (natural) way.
The best interviewers are as flexible as a Russian gymnast. Not in the way they contort their bodies (that would be weird), but by the way they’re able to adjust the interview dynamically.
Sometimes the interview will veer off-road; go in a direction you weren’t expecting. It could be because of an answer you didn’t expect, or a part of your candidate’s history you didn’t know about. This is okay! The chances are if this happens the interview is going well.
Just keep going and see where this new development takes you. It could fizzle out and you can just return to your structure, or it might lead you to establish more of a connection, or give you a vital piece of information you wouldn’t have acquired otherwise.
A job interview isn’t an interrogation, so it’s not the place to fulfil your detective fantasies. The conversation needs to go both ways. As we touched on earlier, it’s an opportunity for both the candidate and the interviewer to learn about each other.
Now of course, as any hiring managers will know, it’s pretty standard practice to end interviews with a simple “do you have any questions?” prompt. But there’s more effective ways to prompt questions than just tacking it onto the end (though it’s an okay strategy).
Ideally you want a candidate to ask questions. It shows how interested they are, what they may value in a workplace, and how informed they are about their role or industry. All of these are obviously important in you finding your dream employee.
We’ve put together some phrases that encourage candidates to ask questions.
(Oh, if it comes to question time and the candidate only asks about the employment perks, well, that’s a huge red flag).
Sometimes you get a feeling that a person will fit straight into your team from the get-go. But a gut feeling isn’t something you can show your boss, or explain to a team of executives. That’s why you should always be taking notes.
When it comes to taking notes, try to jot down general summaries of your candidates’ answers. Obviously you won’t be able to write paragraphs of text in the interview, but jot down keywords and anything memorable that pops up.
Remember to keep your notes as objective and free of bias or judgement as possible. You’re not critiquing or judging what they’re telling you - you’re writing down facts you’ve observed. For example, instead of writing “they are inexperienced” you might write that “they haven’t worked on a project of this scale before.”
In the past it’s been common practice to take notes about a candidate’s body language - things like posture, hand gestures, even the way they sit. But in reality there’s too little scientific basis for this - you’re an interviewer, not a psychologist.
You don’t have to leave the interview with a fully completed set of notes in cursive accompanied by beautiful hand-drawn graphics.
It should just give you a touchpoint to review the candidate, remind you of key ideas or moments and prompt you to follow up with any further research or questions that might be necessary.
A useful and popular way to take notes during an interview is a simple scorecard. Just set up a table with cells for different subjects and note down their score out of ten for each, accompanied by a few notes. It’s faster and easier to maintain throughout the interview.
Alternatively, or in addition to, you can use an online form to submit notes to HR or the wider management team.
If you have the opportunity to interview alongside a co-worker, take it. By interviewing together you will get another perspective, which will help eliminate your bias and get a fresh opinion in the room.
Interviewing is a tough gig. And is certainly possible for one person to do the job. But there’s a reason there’s been a trend towards multiple interviews and interviewers in the last few years - it’s best to get a variety of opinions to ensure someone is truly the right person for the job.
You won’t always be able to choose to bring a colleague into the interview with you. But it’s a great strategy if you’re able to, particularly if you’re hiring for a complex technical job where you can bring in someone from that department.
Managing brand partnerships at Respona, Vlad Orlov is a passionate writer and link builder. Having started writing at 13, their one-time hobby has developed into a central piece of their professional life.
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