For all the criticism aimed at the job interview process (like here, here and here), we in the hiring field lack a viable, practicable alternative. The march to find talent is closing ranks, so we soldier on in our quest to find and secure the superlative talent as part of our mission to be an exceptional company.
Some interviews go better than others, and the perfectionist in all of us feels constant pressure to improve the process and the experience for all involved. When an interview doesn’t go particularly well, part of it can perhaps be attributed to the interviewee, but recruiters and talent acquisition leaders alike should be asking themselves, “What can we do better?”
Interviews have been compared to first dates countless times. My first date with my husband was fun and romantic, but in hindsight it was also awkward and we both fumbled, just hoping something would spark. Well, it did spark, but only because we followed it up with multiple other dates and of course all the love stuff that – don’t worry – I won’t bother you with. It all came down to excellent communication, which is true in both our personal and business lives.
We have a duty to ask better questions and sometimes, like a first date, we fall flat. To avoid that, and present ourselves as the match that your ideal candidates want to make, I’ve got some tips to share:
- Start with an easy opener. For myself, this is always an open-ended question for the candidate to determine their understanding of the role. It’s a good opportunity for them to shine without having to come up with a stellar response to a complicated question right away. If I am talking to an active applicant, this is their opportunity to demonstrate the passion they have for the position. I can easily assess where I may need to fill in some gaps in their basic understanding, and can also red flag someone who has no idea what we are supposed to be talking about. For a passive candidate, this is my opportunity to assess if they know anything about the role or the company and how much information I should share. I start almost every interview with, “Please tell me what you know about the position,” but have also found success with, “Tell me how you learned about this opportunity” and “Tell me what you know about our company.”
- Ask open-ended questions. Nothing stops the flow of a conversation more than a series of “yes” or “no” answers. Make sure you’re asking questions that require the candidate to formulate a thoughtful, detailed response. Establishing a fluid and dynamic rapport will not only make the interview more enjoyable, it also will give you more of the information you want.
- One question at a time. Three-part questions rarely yield quality answers. You are likely to be asked to repeat and/or not get an answer to one or more parts of your question. So, break it up and make sure you’re asking shorter questions, and then following up with the other parts.
- Stay practical. As much as possible, focus on practical questions and avoid the theoretical. For instance, it is far more valuable to both parties to know how the interviewee handled an actual situation in the past rather than how they might handle a possible situation in the future. There is an abundant amount of research to support the use of behavioral interview questions. If you are not already using them as part of your interview strategy, try adding one or two as part of your interviewing process for several weeks and then assess your results.
- Think before getting personal. If culture fit is important to you and your organization, then asking a few personal questions is absolutely essential. However, they need to be targeted to seek out answers to alignments in values. For example, if volunteerism and community involvement is a core value of the organization, ask your candidate about their involvement or experience in these areas. If these are of lesser importance, then asking about them might be interesting but would be of little to no value. Overall, if culture fit is not essential to your organization, then personal questions, outside of basic small talk, have no place in an interview. There are far too many horror stories out there from candidates about the personal questions they have been asked. This fault lies on our doorstep, and we have the power to remedy it. Let’s make a pact to fix this one.
Making interviews better – and improving the candidate experience – is something we can always work on, and learning from our peers is one of the best ways to do that. Let’s keep the discussion going, and get that information we want!