Conducting job interviews is not usually considered an art form. After all, how complicated can it be? The candidate comes in. You shake hands. After a bit of small talk, you start the usual routine of questions and answers. Whoever leaves the best impression, and seems most suitable for the position, gets the call.
But what if someone you passed over held more long-term value than the candidate you hired, and what if something in your interview process prevented you from seeing it?
The truth is that interviewing is more ‘art form’ than ‘ordinary routine.’ It’s like a musical instrument. If one or more of the strings is out of tune, you won’t get the results you want.
Some of those flat strings are the result of old thinking: That the candidate’s role is to impress, while yours is to be impressed (or not). That the candidate’s job is to sell, while yours is to sit back and assess.
This attitude critically undervalues the candidate’s time and talent; especially when a screening process has already been applied. It also misses the point of interviewing in general, which is to find the a mutually beneficial match between candidate and company—a match that not only tackles immediate needs, but promises growth on both sides.
In recognition of this, the 21st century has already spawned a whole host of unusual interviewing techniques, from game show formats to utterly bizarre questions. Moreover, some techniques once considered unusual—such as conducting interviews via live video—are now becoming commonplace.
How creative (or outlandish) you want to be is up to you—but there are a few fundamentals which are always worth considering, and can give your interview process a contemporary yet solid foundation.
Sitting the candidate down with a panel on interviewers does have certain advantages. It allows managers to develop a shared impression in a small window of time. It also gives the candidate a wider perspective on whom they might be working for.
In my experience, though, the advantages of one-to-one interviews are far greater—especially in early stages. There are two main reasons for this:
- Getting to know individuals through honest and open dialogue gives the company a clearer vision of where the value lies.
- A candidate’s true colours are more visible when they are relaxed, and this is best achieved when conversation is balanced and equal.
This doesn’t mean that only one interviewer should meet with each candidate. I’ve seen great results from entire management teams meeting each candidate individually. Doing this creates a congenial atmosphere and allows the candidate to speak more freely. The resulting information, compiled and shared between managers, delivers more impact than panel-style interviews.
Put the Cart Before the Horse
If you want tailored responses to your questions, provide the candidate with plenty of details up front. Talk in-depth about the role. Talk about possibilities for growth in the future. Ask about their career history.
Do these things, and you’re almost guaranteed to avoid exposure to the candidate’s actual views, wants and opinions. The answers you receive will reflect the information you’ve already provided.
But if gathering real information is your goal, it pays to cover more abstract territory first. Before you get into specifics, get them talking about the following:
- What are you looking for in a career move?
- What are you looking for in terms of company culture, and your role within a company?
- How do you think past managers would describe you? What words/phrases come up?
- What style of management helps you do your best work?
- What do you see as your particular strengths?
- How would you see the first three months in this role?
- What do you do to relax? Family? Sport? Hobbies?
A relaxed, conversational approach works best. Remember—you want meaningful answers, but you also want the candidate to lower his or her guard. Once you’ve had some meaningful conversation around these themes, moving into the specifics will feel more natural.
Sell Yourself to the Candidate
This is, of course, another defiance of conventional wisdom. It’s always been about the candidate selling and the company buying, right?
It’s just not that simple. Beyond just being relaxed, candidates are more candid when they feel respected and valued. They’re also more likely to retain a positive impression of your company, regardless of whether or not they end up as a team member.
Here are some things to express indirectly—if not directly—to each and every candidate during the interview process.
- We believe you could add value to our company.
- We value your time as much as you value ours.
- We’re interested in what the future holds for you.
- We’d like to have open communication throughout the hiring process.
- We appreciate the fact that you would consider putting your talents toward our company’s goals.
A candidate who feels respected is sure to think more deeply about your company and how its goals align with their own. They’re sure to be more frank during the interview process, and give you a clearer impression of how they really work.
Put The Candidate in the Driver’s Seat
So the next time you prepare for a round of interviews, consider these basic techniques. Empower the candidate to show you who they really are as a professional. Think about how you can put them in the driver’s seat.
This is, after all, a question of travelling together.
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