A Small Business Guide to Employer Interviewing Techniques
As an employer, to get the right candidate you need to ask the right questions. Read our guide and get interview-savvy
Through this series so far, we’ve defined our employee, attracted the right candidates to submit CVs, and learnt how to screen those CVs to ensure we’re only inviting the most promising candidates in to interview. Now, we need to have a strong interview technique in order to identify the best interviewee for the job, to sell our job to the best candidate, and to manage expectations of the role.
As a new leader, interviewing always feels “fun”. It did for me when I first led a sales team – I couldn’t wait to get a candidate into the company meeting room and see what it was like from the other side of the interview desk. However, I was completely out of my depth that first time. Unfortunately, even after 10 or 20 years’ experience, many managers and leaders still approach interviewing as a rookie with no clear idea about how to perform this vital business task.
We have 3 issues when interviewing. Firstly and most importantly, we need to satisfy ourselves that the candidate is the right person for the job. Secondly, we need to ensure that, if the candidate is right, he or she will take the job we offer rather than go to another organisation. Thirdly, we need to ensure that while we’re trying to convince the interviewee to join our company, we manage their expectations so that we don’t promise things about the role which will never come to fruition.
A question I’m often asked is how many interviews should take place for a role. The answer very much depends on the company culture and existing processes, but as a general rule I’d say no more than one face-to-face interview alone with each decision maker, and that interviewers should double up where appropriate. By economising like this, we have 3 advantages:
- we minimise the time we spend interviewing
- we reduce the risk of losing the candidate to a competitor due to a drawn-out process
- by conducting interviews with colleagues, we increase the interactivity and unpredictability for the candidate, making it easier to identify any weaknesses
For any role, I highly recommend conducting the first interview by telephone. However good you may be at screening CVs, there remains a high possibility that the candidate will not be a good fit. By conducting an initial phone interview, we can keep this first stage very short. Open the interview by explaining that the call could last between 5 and 20 minutes and keep it brief. It’s much easier to put the phone down to someone unsuitable after 5 minutes than it is to get them out of your office politely in the same time period. The telephone interview should have only 2 goals – to decide whether the candidate sounds suitable, and to clarify their understanding of the job. Keep it brief, and be ruthless in crossing people off your list.
Personally, I give very little information about the job at the phone interview stage. I expect the candidate to have done some research, and if they haven’t, a loud alarm bell rings that they’re not a very proactive interviewee. An effective telephone interview should follow this format:
- introduce yourself to the candidate
- ask the candidate to summarise their relevant experience in no more than 3 minutes (can they be concise, and do they know enough about the role to do this unprompted?)
- ask the candidate why this job is right for them
- at this point, invite any initial questions they may have (this can fill in any gaps in their knowledge and show how interested they are)
During these 4 stages, we have the opportunity to gauge a candidate’s preparedness, to hear their communication skills, to see how proactive they are in finding out more, and get a really strong indicator for performance at future stages.
Once this stage is completed, invite only those people in who impress you. If none do, then don’t be fooled into inviting the best of a bad bunch, because this will only waste your time – it’s better to invest this time in attracting new candidates instead. If appropriate, test the candidate’s commitment by giving some work to prepare for the first face-to-face interview, such as a presentation, sales role-play or other relevant task. This can give a good idea of their performance in the role, as well as showing whether they invested the time to prepare well.
When conducting a face-to-face interview, I always ensure that I have a colleague with me. Even if this colleague is not directly involved in the role for which I’m recruiting, it’s vital to get a second opinion as the interview progresses, and, as stated earlier, to make the interview a little less predictable for the candidate to see how they’ll perform in real-life situations on the job.
Before the interview, prepare your structure using the list of qualities developed at the beginning of the recruitment process as an input. You should also consider anything gleaned from the phone screening. You’re not looking to prepare a list of questions, but rather a list of attributes you’d like to see demonstrated by the candidate. How you reach these should be a mixture of open questions, closed questions and situation-based questions. This list type is the most powerful in an interview situation, and they start “tell me how you’d…” or “describe a situation where you’ve…”. But don’t end there. Every relevant point the candidate offers should be probed more deeply to verify the information given. You can use SMART questions to achieve this. Let’s look at an example…
Question: Tell me about a time when you’ve dealt successfully with a difficult customer
Question (S – Specific): Give me some more details – when did this take place, what exactly happened, what were the potential risks, how did you overcome the problem?
Question (M – Measurable): How do you know were you successful?
Question (A – Agreed upon): What was the positive outcome for you and for the customer?
Question (R – Realistic): What would you differently next time to be even more successful?
Question (T – Time-constrained): How quickly would you be able to do this if we offered you the job? What challenges would you have to overcome with a new employer? What would you need from us?
By fleshing out a situation-based question in this way, you ensure the candidate is much more descriptive, which shows up any invention in their original answer. You also get a view on how easily they’d be able to apply existing skills into a new environment.
Your interview should progress as a dialogue, rather than an interrogation – you should be ticking off attributes from your list as you see them displayed, and the candidate should be interviewing you to satisfy herself that the job is right for her. If you don’t see this counter-interviewing going on, that should ring a warning bell that the candidate isn’t properly considering her future in your business.
As stated earlier, you’re also performing a sales role, because if the candidate is good, you will want them to accept your offer, so be sure to find out their motivators and drivers, and match parts of the job to these requirements. While you’re selling the job to the candidate, it’s vital that you keep everything real rather than promising things which will never happen. It’s all about ensuring that the candidate is happy and motivated once they start, and that’s the topic for our final instalment.
Neil Shorney is the director of Naturally Sales Ltd.