To learn how to get better at interviewing candidates, you first need to become self-aware. The first step in self-awareness is observing your own behavior or asking a trusted advisor to provide you with some honest feedback.
When it comes to interviewing candidates, it’s hard to get good feedback because most interviews are conducted in a one-on-one setting and you wouldn’t want a candidate giving you feedback…would you? Given this fact, it’s important to read about interviewing “do’s and don’ts” so you have some idea of how you should be acting or performing in an interview.
Over the years, I’ve read a TON of books on interviewing and conducted a couple thousand of them on my own, so rather than go through all of that work yourself, I thought I’d provide you with my list of the top 5 signs that your interview skills are a little off track:
Your main objective when interviewing is to assess the candidate — not sell the job. You sell the job AFTER you know the candidate is qualified. Weak interviewers like to buy time by talking about what they know — details of the job or facts about the company. All this does is wastes valuable time that you should be using to dig into the performance and accomplishments of the candidate.
Try starting your interview like this, “It’s great to meet you, we only have a short time together so if you don’t mind, I’d like to jump in right away with some questions and then we can chat if we have some time at the end, okay?”
It’s not the friendliest opener, but it will save you from making a lot of bad hiring decisions!
I’ve done a lot of panel interviews so I get to observe my colleagues in action. Over the years, the most common mistake that I see is when interviewers don’t let the candidate finish their answers. Instead, they finish the answer for them!
It usually happens when the interviewer has already made up his or her mind that they like the candidate so they start agreeing with everything they’re saying. This behavior can also include affirmative head nodding, using the word “yes” repeatedly to let the candidate know that he or she is answering the question perfectly and, my personal favorite, saying things like “When we bring you on board…” or “When you’re hired…”.
It’s best to put on your best poker face on with an applicant so you’re not making things too easy for them. You don’t have to intimidate them, but don’t give away the farm.
Related to #2 above, is the act of helping a candidate out when they get stuck. I usually see hiring managers give candidates examples of what they’re looking for whenever they get the slightest pause from a candidate who is thinking about how to answer a question. This typically happens when a weak interviewer can’t stand to see a candidate sweat or can’t deal with the silence of someone thinking.
Patience and discipline are key in making great hiring decisions. Don’t finish their sentences and don’t give them hints!
A lot of bad interviewers are bad because they have non-confrontational personalities. I see this manifested in interviews when a candidate hasn’t fully satisfied the question but the interviewer asks a weak follow-up question or let’s the candidate off the hook completely with no probing.
Many times the interviewer is just saving face because they don’t want the candidate to believe that they didn’t understand their response. Most of the time, though, it’s because they don’t have the confidence to probe and probe and probe until they are satisfied that the candidate has fully addressed the question.
Candidates expect to be grilled – so grill them! When you let them off the hook, they loose respect for you which can lead to declined offers or withdrawing from consideration.
Have you ever finished an interview with a candidate and didn’t have a clear Yes/No decision in mind?
If you have, that typically means that you didn’t probe enough or your interview questions weren’t properly aligned with the needs for the position. If you had some weird vibe from the candidate — let’s call it a “gut reaction” — you should validate the concerns by continuing to probe in the areas that made you uncomfortable.
In short, never leave an interview without having a strong opinion one way or another. Even if you have to ask the candidate something like this:
“Listen, there’s something that’s not sitting right with me and I can’t figure it out. I’ll need you to help me clarify something or I’m afraid you might walk out of here and I won’t have enough information to pass you through. So could you tell me more about….”
I hope you noticed a pattern in the examples above because they all have one thing in common:
Probing and clarifying until you are satisfied with a response!
Interviewing is extremely difficult so it’s really important for you to have the discipline to dig your heels in, stand your ground and get your questions properly answered. It’s the only way you’ll ever feel comfortable with making a hiring decision. We’ll be doing a few articles on the use of probes to uncover talent in upcoming posts. Stay tuned!