Tips for Effective Interviewing

Hiring the right people is essential to the continued success and growth of your business. So it pays to use job interviews wisely to gain insight into candidates’ skills, strengths, and such critical issues as their interest in working for you and potential fit with your company. It is also important to realize that a job interview is a mutual learning experience. It requires both sides to share information, so that both parties have the opportunity to evaluate the suitability of the match.

The following article outlines further suggestions for conducting effective hiring interviews.

1. First clarify what you need

Advance preparation can dramatically improve your interview results--and ultimately your hiring decision. But preparation doesn’t mean marshalling “The 50 Most-Asked Job-Interview Questions” or other generalizations. As basic as it sounds, the key factor in preparing for the hiring interview is clearly deciding what you need.

Start by creating or reviewing a job description. Then compile a personal profile of the employee required, including both technical and soft skill sets, ranked in order of importance.

Consider whether you are filling a new position or replacing someone. If it is an existing position, you have the advantage of history: really knowing what skills and experience candidates must have to do the job properly. Were you happy with the way the job was performed before? If so, you probably want to find someone with attributes similar to the previous incumbent’s. But if not, you may have an equally clear idea of what approaches or personalities don’t work in the job. Or you may need to change the job responsibilities--and revise the job description to incorporate these changes.

It is also important to realize that a job interview is a mutual learning experience. It requires both sides to share information, so that both parties have the opportunity to evaluate the suitability of the match.

Also define your corporate culture and reporting structure and what it takes to fit into both. Identify people with whom the new person will be working most closely. Consider reviewing your notes with key individuals—customers as well as staff—to ensure they agree with your requirements.

Again, the main goal is to clarify your needs. Clarity not only provides criteria for selecting candidates to interview from the application pile, but also for formulating interview questions. It also improves your focus and ability to communicate in interviews; for example, in explaining your requirements to candidates.

2. Formulate questions that reflect your needs

Many progressive companies favor behavioral interviewing. It works on the premise that the most accurate predictor of future performance is past performance in similar situations. Accordingly, it structures questions to determine whether the candidate has actually demonstrated the behaviors, knowledge, and skills required for the job, often beginning questions with phrases such as “Tell about a time…” or “Describe a situation…”

So for example, if you’re looking for a strong people motivator, you might say: “Tell me about an occasion when you took the time to share a co-worker’s achievement with others.” Or if you’re seeking problem-solving or time-management skills, you might ask respectively: “In your last job, what problems did you identify and solve that had been overlooked previously?”; or “How do you set priorities when scheduling your time? Give examples.” “How” questions like the last one, requiring candidates to explain in detail how they did something, can be especially revealing, because appropriate answers demonstrating depth and knowledge are nearly impossible to fake.

It is also helpful to inquire about a candidate’s immediate and future career objectives, since you need to know how they align with what you have to offer. These are areas in which PrintLink’s clients sometimes ask us to pose some very pointed questions delicately on their behalf during prescreening to determine whether candidates truly meet their hiring prerequisites. Questions about why candidates want to leave their present job or what they dislike about their present company require special discretion to avoid spurring candidates into sharing war stories that breach confidentiality or professional courtesy. In other words, try not to put people in a position where they feel that to qualify for the new opportunity they need to criticize past employers or colleagues.

3. Ask each candidate the same core questions

Although good interviewers show flexibility by adjusting their responses to individual reactions, it’s still necessary to maintain enough structure and consistency that you ask each candidate the same set of core questions. It will be much easier to compare candidates later if you can measure everyone against matching criteria.

4. Know the law

In both the U.S. and Canada it is illegal to question job candidates on their race, national or ethnic origin, color, religion, age, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, family status, disability, or pardoned convictions. National variations also exist; for instance, American law also prohibits questions on some aspects of military service and discharge. Interviewers therefore need to know their own country’s legal restrictions and how they apply in practice.

90% of interviewers...decide impulsively whether or not to hire within the first 5 to 9 minutes of an interview.

For example, while it is illegal in both countries to ask "Do you plan on having more children?" and other questions related to pregnancy, it is permissible to inquire about anticipated length of stay on a job or ask “Do you foresee any long-term absences in the future?” To be legal, however, these inquiries must be strictly job-related, and be universally asked of all candidates, males and females of all ages. Similarly, although you can’t ask “Do you have any physical disabilities?”, you can legally ask each candidate “Are you able to lift a 100-pound weight and carry it 50 yards, as that is part of the job?”

5. Test for hands-on skills

For operator positions, you can easily evaluate whether candidates’ skill levels meet your requirements by testing them on your equipment and examples of your typical projects, either during the interview or at a separate time. Such practical tests confirm subjective verbal definitions of skill levels.

6. Observe non-verbal clues, display of interest & professionalism

Be aware of candidates’ personal appearance, body language, firmness of handshake, eye contact, and emotional tenor. In most cases, these non-verbal factors demonstrate fairly quickly whether or not a candidate meets your requisite level of professionalism and enthusiasm. Evidence of prior research about your company, the liveliness of candidates’ questions, and their tone all reveal their level of interest in the job. Additionally, while it is natural for candidates to be slightly nervous during an interview, they should nevertheless focus appropriately on a meaningful dialogue.

7. Adjust depth as you go

Because your first task in interviewing is to get a feel for a candidate’s overall suitability, we recommend sticking to basics at the beginning and reserving more penetrating questions for later. One reason is that both you and the candidate will feel more open and comfortable as the interview progresses. Additionally, if you determine early that a candidate is unsuitable, you can conclude the interview as soon as courtesy permits. Conversely, you’ll want to invest extra time to get better acquainted with desirable prospects and, assuming their skills are in high demand, acquaint them with the advantages of working for your company.

Letting candidates tour your workplace, when possible, provides a chance for them to evaluate both the environment and the workforce they will be expected to join. Their reactions are a good measure of their potential to fit in.

Other helpful measures in the later stages of interviewing include arrangements for promising candidates to talk with more than one company representative. Multiple interviewers provide broader feedback on candidates and help ensure consistency in their answers to vital questions. Letting candidates chat with the person who may become their manager also helps to uncover philosophical and personality conflicts that could spell disaster down the road.

Letting candidates tour your workplace, when possible, provides a chance for them to evaluate both the environment and the workforce they will be expected to join. Their reactions are a good measure of their potential to fit in.

Additionally, you may choose to hire one of many reputable firms to perform psychological profile testing on promising candidates. Reliable tests can furnish details on multiple personal attributes of candidates as they relate to the requirements of the position.

8. Balance instinct with reason

Take sufficient time to make an analytical hiring decision—unlike the statistical 90% of interviewers who decide impulsively whether or not to hire within the first 5 to 9 minutes of an interview—and then use the time remaining to gather information to justify their choice. Interviewers may also naturally gravitate toward hiring people most like themselves—perhaps a good idea if the similarities that attract you have proven effective in your marketplace--but not if company goals require broadening your base. In any hiring scenario, the stakes for your business—the direct and indirect costs of a bad hire—are simply too high to leave the decision up to gut instinct or affinity with candidates alone. So supplement your instincts by taking lots of notes during each interview, then evaluate and compare each set of notes later in order to reach a rational verdict.

The foregoing article helps to explain how preparation and care in screening and interviewing candidates can hugely improve your chances of making the right hiring decision. PrintLink’s professional placement service can shorten and streamline the substantial investment of time and effort that these processes require. Our industry-savvy managers introduce you only to pre-qualified candidates who will fit into your workplace appropriately. Thus we escalate your chances of making a good hire that can ultimately yield long-term returns for your business--including growth, productivity, profitability, and even restrengthening of your entire corporate culture.