by John Ryan
May 14 2018
An ideal interview is like a tennis match: Interviewer serves. He speaks. Candidate returns. She speaks. Both exhibit poise, talent and knowledge of the game. Both sides learn. Both earn benefits that are independent of the outcome.
A successful interview fosters meaningful, productive conversation for both parties. It may yield a job offer, ideal for everyone involved, but it’s unlikely to reach that point unless the meeting flows well.
If you’re an interviewer who’s meeting candidate after candidate, but you can’t seem to cultivate good conversations, invite some self-evaluation: Are candidates long-winded? Are they disorganized in their responses? Are they limiting their responses to yes/no answers? Do interviewees seem inauthentic, never veering off rehearsed scripts? When it comes time for you to share your feedback, are you having trouble capturing your critique or populating the rubric or score card that your team prepared?
If you’re answering “yes,” it may be a good strategy to review your approach. Let’s face it: interviewing can be hard. Emotions and stakes run high on both sides of the table. It takes some honest self-reflection to recognize if you’re hitting the mark when it comes to your interview strategy and technique.
Consider these indicators as you refine your approach:
The myriad articles written for job seekers advise them to research companies where they’re interviewing and positions they’re seeking. As a facilitator, similar preparation is required. We have an important role in ensuring that the meeting follows an agenda and is a good use of each participant’s time.
The candidate should leave the interview having a deeper understanding of the company, culture and open position. Interviewees should also feel satisfied that they’ve had the chance to discuss their credentials, experience and potential fit for the role.
Interviewers should follow an agenda that pursues these aims. It’s a misuse of this appointment, for example, to complain about the staff person who assumed the role previously. It’s a useless tangent that will make likely your candidate uncomfortable. Just as you would be unimpressed with a candidate who complains about his previous job during an interview, candidates are inclined to be unimpressed if an interviewer details why previous employees were not a fit.
Instead, that conversation should inform the interview. Discuss beforehand, with your fellow interviewers, what qualities caused the lack of fit. Then outline what you’re looking for in this hire.
Also, prepare and follow an agenda.
I use some version of this:
- Build rapport
- Cover specific skills and experiences that relate to the job
- Ask non-leading questions
- Invite candidates’ questions
- Manage the clock
Part of your role is to prepare for this meeting, to keep it on point and to monitor time.
If you’re routinely getting answers that lack development-simple yes/no’s, this could reflect how you’re structuring questions. I’ve interviewed alongside colleagues who punctuate rambling descriptions about job responsibilities with questions like: “does this sound like something you’re good at?”
This loads the question and leads the candidate to a yes/no answer. This doesn’t serve either party. A good interview question invites a case study of workplace thinking, which is what you need to see to make a good hiring decision.
Ask questions that give candidates the chance to demonstrate their professional capability, experience and problem-solving skills. These work for me:
- How would you save us money?
- How would you salvage a problematic relationship?
- How would you rescue a project that is delayed and will miss a looming deadline?
You want candidates to have a positive experience and to feel comfortable and well-positioned for success. But it doesn’t serve them well to ask them “phony” questions that foreshadow the answer you’re seeking:
- Tell me about a time you did outstanding work.
- Tell me about your incredible people skills.
You can’t learn much from the answers these questions generate. Instead, prepare smartly worded questions that genuinely give candidates the chance to demonstrate their ability:
- “How would you go about reducing cost in an organization?”
- “When you join a company, how do you evaluate your direct reports? If someone does not seem to be qualified for their role, how do you handle that?”
It’s challenging to prepare questions that push the candidate to think, but that is the purpose of your meeting.
Coddling your candidate:
Job candidates arrive prepared to impress. Think, again, about our tennis comparison. They come prepared to play. While you don’t want to hurl balls at their legs, you also don’t need to dumb down your game. Play an honest match that allows candidates to exhibit the depth of their skill.
Move them passed their comfort zones. Get them to talk like real people at work, beyond what they’ve rehearsed. When the conversation starts to feel too scripted, then you know they’re ready for some real challenge.
Help candidates to feel comfortable, like they are in their work zone, where they can roll up their sleeves and tell you in their real voices what it’s like to do the work they love to do.
Meandering from score card:
In preparation for this interview, you and your team should prepare a rubric or score card. This is a touchstone indicating what the team is seeking in your new hire. If you finished your interview only to find that you haven’t gleaned data with which to populate this scorecard, you’ve wasted everyone’s time.
Use it as the basis for your questions and conversation. The score card matters.
Having a voice in how your team grows is an honor and a responsibility. Be reflective about it, and be purposeful as you continually refine your approach.
The Ultimate Executive Career Guide: Master Your Next Executive Interview
As a senior-level executive, you can use this guide to: