Ten Rules for Conducting a Successful Job Interview
Many of our clients, whether they are in human resources or operational positions, rely more on instinct than technique in conducting job interviews. When one considers the cost of a failed recruitment, this approach is both risky and potentially very costly. The following rules may serve as a guideline to optimise the recruitment process.
1. Take the time to filter the applicants
Usually there will be many applicants for an open position and it is worth spending time upfront to make sure that the candidates selected for interview are serious contenders. If you have questions about their experience or more pragmatic issues such as mobility or work visa, take a few minutes to send an email or set up a quick call to validate these points rather than potentially wasting an hour in an interview (not to mention the time wasted also by the candidate if they do not correspond).
2. Prepare the interview
It is important to spend the necessary time to read the candidate’s curriculum vitae before the meeting to prepare specific and relevant questions. Without such preparation, the interview may lack structure and focus. Items to be addressed may include reasons for leaving each position if there are frequent changes, explanations for any chronological gaps or why the academic background appears to be weak. If you still have question marks about the candidate’s experience and responsibilities after the interview, it might be too late and it probably means that the meeting was not properly planned.
3. Create a favourable setting
The importance of this cannot be overstated whether it is for a video call or a face to face meeting. To interview someone in an aggressive way or in a location which is not conducive to setting the person at ease (noisy, lack of confidentiality…) will not serve to test the qualities of the candidate but rather to create a negative impression of the employer. For the same reason, avoid taking calls or being disturbed for other reasons during the interview. The best way to evaluate a person is to put them at ease so that they feel more able to confide in their interlocutor and are more likely to reveal their true strengths and weaknesses.
4. Do not prejudge the candidate
Prejudice is a problem in all walks of life and recruitment is no exception. Whilst religious, racial and gender prejudice are obviously illegal, there is a more surreptitious form that can be a huge barrier to successful recruitment. Most people establish a strong opinion of someone they meet on the basis of the first few seconds of the contact. Beware of your own personal prejudices but beware also of the candidate who might not have perfectly polished shoes or who might not have the “gift of the gab” but whose hidden qualities make him the perfect person for the position. Similarly, beware of the well-dressed charmer who may lack substance. Make a conscious effort to set aside your first impressions and compare them with your opinion after the interview. They will match often but not always.
Epictetus, a Greek philosopher, is purported to have said that “we have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak”. Whilst this may be a useful general rule, I would argue that in the context of conducting a job interview we probably need ten ears and one mouth, that is to say that the interviewer should only talk about ten per cent of the time. A good interviewer, like a good salesman, is someone who asks concise, focused, open questions and who listens actively to the replies. It is only this ability to let the candidate speak and to listen actively that will enable you to ask relevant and probing questions. Otherwise the interview may become a series of unconnected questions and answers without any structure and at the end of which it remains difficult to form a valid judgement of the interviewee.
6. Remain objective
A recruiter needs to avoid asking subjective questions that betray his or her own thoughts. The meeting should be about the interviewee and not the interviewer and “leading” questions should be avoided. For example, if a candidate has changed jobs several times recently, the question should be “Why have you changed jobs so often recently?” and not “Why has your recent experience been so unstable?”. There is a school of thought that provocative questions can be useful to test a person but I believe that it is more useful to avoid potential conflict in an interview situation and to probe with quiet efficiency.
7. Maintain control
It is the interviewer who must set the agenda for the meeting and adhere to it. Whilst each person must find their own approach, I believe it is necessary to structure the exchange in the following way: 1) brief company introduction by interviewer 2) detailed presentation by candidate 3) job description. This structure should be explained at the outset and the candidate should not be allowed to stray from the agenda. If the interviewer spends too much time introducing the company at the beginning or, even worse, goes into detail about the position before the candidate introduces himself or herself, control of the process could be lost. It is particularly important not to talk about the open position at the beginning to prevent the candidate from “manipulating” their experience to conform to the position.
8. Take notes
Whilst it is not always easy to maintain a meaningful dialogue and take notes at the same time, the latter is essential and should be done in as much detail as possible. Very often a recruitment process will involve interviewing numerous people over a period of several hours or sometimes days. Unless a candidate is exceptionally strong or outlandishly poor, you will probably not remember them in detail. Furthermore, it might be a long time before a decision is taken which makes note taking even more important. If you find it difficult to take notes during the interview, set aside ten minutes at the end and write down as much detail as possible.
9. Conclude clearly
A first interview should not last more than an hour and probably less for more junior candidates. Obviously, it is unlikely that a decision will be made at the end of the interview but it is still important to explain what the follow up will be and to respect the schedule in as timely a way as possible. If a candidate is to be rejected, politeness dictates that he or she will be informed in writing (an email rather than written letter is now acceptable). If you wish to pursue with the candidate, either to a next interview or an offer, you should make this clear at the end of the interview if possible. Good candidates are rare and they should be managed through the process quickly in order to create a favourable impression.
10. Do not ask illegal questions!
This point seems obvious but it’s surprising how many clients, especially line managers, ignore employment legislation and risk their companies being sued for discrimination. It is important to bear in mind that no questions can be asked about religion, race, sexuality or any other private matters. In most markets, questions can be asked about a candidate’s personal life but only in so far as it has a bearing on the position. For example, if the job necessitates a geographical move it is normally acceptable to ask about the spouse’s professional situation or children’s schooling to determine the feasibility of such a move. However, in certain markets such as the US such questions are proscribed whatever the context. Whilst it might be felt that certain rules have become excessive, it is none the less important to respect them!
If you are interested in learning more about how Norman Alex can help you optimise the recruitment process, please contact our CEO Ivor ALEX by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.