Vivienne FosterIn the third of her series of HR-themed blogs for us, expert Viv Foster, from business consultancy Positive Momentum, offers tips on how to get the most out of candidate interviews.

This may seem simple enough: you already have your ideal candidate clear in your mind and have a list of applicants to meet, one of whom you hope will fit the requirements to a tee. But how do you actually find out which one that is? The last thing you want to do is to hire a person whose prime skill is to give a good interview.

Knowing how to get all the information you need from candidates can be more difficult than it might seem at first blush. I would strongly advise every small business owner expecting to take on new employees to develop their own interviewing skills by taking a competency based interview training course.

Competency based interviewing (or CBI) is a very useful technique for gathering evidence about how candidates have used the particular attitudes and skills you are looking for in their previous roles.  Research has proven this technique to be far more reliable than traditional interviews.

Having the right skills, yourself, to run an interview process will help you to minimise the chances of hiring the wrong candidate, or of letting the right one slip through your fingers.

Here’s how you can make sure the interviews help you to reach an objective decision:

 

Know what you want to find out from them

Don’t think you can wing it in an interview. Before you sit down with the candidates, you need to work out how you will discover whether they match your requirements. How will you find out if they possess the essential skills and experience, as well as the right personality or attitude that you’re looking for?

Spend time creating a list of the core questions you will ask all your interviewees.  They should be directly linked to the evidence you want to elicit, good quality questions (i.e. ‘open’ rather than ‘closed’, and ideally competency-based), and of course, non-discriminatory. A good interview skills training course will help you with this.

Your role will be twofold – to act like a detective, finding out whether this person will be an asset to your business; and to honestly “sell” the role and your business to the individual.  Every interview is a PR opportunity, even if the candidate is obviously unsuitable for you.

So you have your list of interview candidates, now how are you going to find out which of them is right for your firm?

 

Ask them to be specific

As said before, the best indication of how a person will perform in a new job is how they performed in their previous jobs. You want them to provide you with evidence of how they’ve dealt with specific situations that are directly relevant to your business. Try to make sure most of your questions begin with what, how and when. Don’t let them give vague responses. Ask them about the situation in which they found themselves, what did they think when faced with that, and what was the outcome. Avoid asking hypothetical questions – you’ll only get hypothetical answers.

Some people are great at doing interviews. Competency based interviewing is a great way of bringing these fast-talkers down to earth, by getting them to provide you with concrete examples of when they have actually done what they say they would do.

 

Have an agenda

Your interview needs to have a structure. In the first interviews you probably have only an hour to gather as much information as you can on each candidate, so you don’t want to get sidetracked. Kick off the process by telling the candidate what they can expect from the interview, then get straight into the questions you’ve prepared. When the interview is concluded, ask them if they have any questions for you – what they ask may give you some further useful insight into their suitability. Tell the candidates what will happen next, when they can expect to hear from you and thank them for their time. Be polite – remember you have to make a good impression too.

 

Let them do the talking

Some interviewers talk more than the candidates they’re meant to be interviewing. Keep your questions brief and make it clear at the start of each interview that you expect the candidate to do most of the talking.

 

Bring them back in for a second interview

A question I’m often asked is how long should an interview last?  My answer is at least 30 minutes for an initial screening interview. I’m also asked how many stages you should go through before selecting someone? The answer depends on how many applicants you get, but you should use the first interviews to whittle the numbers down, rather than make a final decision. Ask your selected best-potential candidates back for a second, more in-depth interview, which can include meeting other people in your business. This can also be a good time to test them out by giving them a work simulation. Tests can be a brilliant way of assessing your candidates, to see if they have the skills or practical experience you’re looking for.

 

Make notes

You want to make clear notes of how each candidate answered the questions, as after a few interviews, the candidates’ responses can easily become jumbled up in your head. You can rate each of them against the criteria you’ve set for your ideal candidate. Your notes will help you to make a clear assessment of each person, but they may also help to cover your back. You may need your notes to disprove allegations made against you in a legal claim. You might think that sounds unlikely but it does happen: one job candidate sued one of my clients for discrimination after not being shortlisted for a job.

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About this author…

Armed with a psychology degree and a passion for helping businesses to maximise the potential of their people, Viv Foster embarked on a career in HR over 15 years ago. After working for a range of firms across sectors such as finance and marketing services, Viv is now a Partner with Positive Momentum, a business consultancy. In her blogs, Viv will use her no-nonsense business approach, deep HR experience and natural people insight to explain how to hire the right people, how to get the most out of them, and also what it takes to be a good employer.