Recruitment is complete and résumés have been reviewed—now it's time to meet your candidates. Because you needed the position filled yesterday, can you interview them today and have them start tomorrow?! With so many institutions searching for top talent, managers are feeling even more pressure to be experts at finding the perfect candidate and getting them to say “yes.” All of us agree that the best candidates are talented, motivated, and accountable. And these candidates are searching for the same things in you. To create the perfect partnership, take a look at your interviewing process and, more specifically, your role in conducting a successful interview.
The interview is an integral part of candidate selection, yet it's a skill that often evades us. Rarely is it included in our leader orientation or onboarding, so we often learn how to interview as we start hiring our own teams. It's important to realize that the interview can be the make-or-break piece of the hiring process if not done well. As we build a toolkit of resources and material to help us be more effective in our roles, interviewing is an area that deserves our attention.
Interviews have long been the backbone of the hiring process for well over a century.1 However, this process hasn't remained stagnant. With myriad advances in technology, the way candidates prepare for interviews has dramatically changed. Candidates can do an online search for interview questions and answers specific to their position of interest and practice their delivery using the camera on their smartphone. As a result, candidates can now be overly prepared with answers they didn't necessarily develop on their own. This may not help us predict their success on our team.
In addition, some organizations are utilizing artificial intelligence platforms to assist with candidate assessment and first-phase interviewing. Completing interviews conducted by a computer puts extra focus on answers being succinct and accurate the first time. This added pressure may lead candidates to overprepare and rehearse their responses.
So how do we improve this age-old process? Figure out what you're doing well and where you have an opportunity to make changes. Competition is fierce and your top candidate will move on if you aren't prepared and ready to go.
Remember that your role as the interviewer consists of two tasks: conveying and obtaining information.2 Before your interview, ensure that you have a clear idea of what you're looking for in a candidate. What type of skills, experience, and personality would be beneficial?3 Review the job description and familiarize yourself with the hiring criteria. Review the listed priorities for this position and the duties categorized as essential or primary. Keep these at the top of your mind as you move forward with the interview.
Take time to prepare. If you want the best person for the job, your interview needs to be well thought out and intentional. Review your candidate's application and résumé before he or she arrives. This will ensure that you don't waste interview time reviewing your materials.4 Hiring managers expect candidates to come prepared for the interview. Hold yourself to the same standard. Being unprepared shows a lack of interest in your candidate. He or she will notice this and move on to the next organization and interview without hesitation. In addition, prepare your interview questions ahead of time. This shows consideration for all parties involved and helps ensure that you ask the same questions of all candidates.
Group interviewing is a great way to involve your staff and it gives you the opportunity to obtain several different points of view. If you're conducting a group interview, select and prepare the members of your interview team, and include them in developing the questions to be asked. If you're interviewing candidates with other members of your organization, select who'll participate before scheduling the interview and make sure all parties will be available during the scheduled interview time. Give each member a copy of the candidate's application and résumé, and request that these be reviewed before the interview. Review expectations: Who's responsible for each part of the interview? What questions will each person ask? When will the team discuss the candidate's suitability for the position? Also, ensure that each interviewer knows what topics are unlawful to discuss. (See Table 1.)
Appropriately schedule the interview. Ensure that you have enough time for dialogue and questions and to accommodate all individuals involved in the process. Being rushed leaves the candidate feeling unimportant and doesn't allow you to fully assess his or her fit for your position. Minimize potential interruptions to remain on track and on time.
Put the candidate at ease. To have an engaged applicant, it's important to establish a rapport. Helping candidates relax and adjust to the environment can ensure that the interview takes on a conversational tone. You want them to be honest and to freely share information. By working to make the candidate comfortable, you begin to build trust. Your tone should be friendly and respectful. Remember interviewing is a two-way street: Candidates are evaluating you just as you're evaluating them.
Guide the interview. You're responsible for running the interview, so make sure you steer the conversation in a productive direction. Open the interview by introducing your group if others are present and starting with a general question. Then outline the structure of the interview to help everyone stay on track.
Be cautious of personal bias. Although we've all been taught the importance of first impressions, they aren't everything. Give candidates the opportunity to show you who they are and how they can positively contribute to your team. As humans, we all have unconscious bias, which leads us to connect with candidates who are most like ourselves. However, this unconscious search for “sameness” can reduce diversity in our hiring.1 We must look beyond immediate chemistry and first impressions to create diverse teams.
Utilize the right questions. As managers, we're always searching for the “right” questions, but what does that really mean and, more important, what are the questions? The right questions help you differentiate problem solvers from problem bringers. In addition, these questions help you evaluate if the candidate can successfully meet the essential functions of the position. For example, behavioral interview questions ask candidates to reflect on past performance and discuss how they performed in specific situations.4 By asking these types of questions that require deeper thought, you can begin to assess the candidate's hard and soft skills and often gauge his or her level of self-awareness.5 (See Table 2.)
Expect candidates to have questions for you as well. Be prepared to discuss your mission and your expectations. It's important to encourage candidates to ask questions throughout your interview. You want them to leave with their questions answered so they can make an informed decision about the position.
Remember to listen. Follow the 80/20 paradigm in which you spend 80% of your time listening and 20% talking.6 Don't dominate the interview; after all, we really want to hear what the candidate has to say. Silence cellphones and be attentive, showing the candidate that you're listening and keeping your mind on what he or she is saying.7 If you need notes taken, have someone in the group take them for you.8 Tune in to candidates and gather information not only from their answers, but also from their behavior. Be aware of the candidate's body language and nonverbal cues.3 How does the candidate handle him- or herself in varying situations? It's said that 58% of communication is delivered through body language.8
Consider shadowing experiences, scheduling the candidate to spend a couple of hours on your unit with a variety of staff members. This gives the candidate and your team an opportunity to evaluate one another. Candidates are often more comfortable asking questions of their peers. They'll also get to really see what the work environment is like and how staff members function as a team. It's important to work with your human resources representative to ensure that privacy and other background check necessities are completed before scheduling this experience.
Close the interview by outlining next steps. Let the candidate know when a decision will be made and how it will be communicated. Let him or her know if you're interviewing other candidates. Thank candidates for coming and their interest in your position. Their time is as valuable as yours, so be sure to acknowledge it while telling them you'll be in touch.
Be decisive. A major reason for top talent passing on your offer is time. These candidates will quickly receive multiple offers, and most aren't willing to wait. Timing is everything—if you like the candidate, chances are so will other organizations.
We've covered many interview dos. But what are the pitfalls to avoid?
Don't be afraid to ask hard questions. If you've discovered something on the candidate's application or résumé that warrants clarification, ask.9 This person may be your newest team member, so it's important to start the relationship honestly. However, don't ask questions about information that's already been shared if it doesn't need clarification. Asking for the same information again shows a lack of interest in the candidate and a lack of respect for his or her time.9
Don't talk too much—remember the 80/20 rule. This isn't your opportunity to impress the candidate with your credentials or life story. Stick to your plan and be respectful of the candidate. However, for the interview to be effective, it may need to be a little longer or slightly shorter than others. As long as you're making good use of everyone's time and continuing to add value to the situation, don't cut yourself short if you're over the time limit.
Don't gossip or swap stories in an effort to establish rapport by finding something in common with the candidate. Familiar ground can put you both at ease, but the discussion could lead to an uncomfortable situation if both parties don't feel the same way about what's being discussed.9
Don't allow interruptions. Unless there's an emergency, take steps to prevent interruptions before the interview begins. Put calls on hold and a sign on the door indicating that an interview is in progress.
Don't be afraid to outline expectations. Candidates need to understand what's expected of them by the organization and your team to be successful if they're offered the position. Be specific about the job requirements, the hours needing coverage, and the criteria used to determine success. A distorted view of the job will only result in unwanted turnover. You want candidates to fully understand what's required before potentially joining your team.
Don't ask yes-or-no questions. Be familiar with your interview questions and how to use them to stimulate conversation versus a question-and-answer session. Ask questions that require thought and provoke examples of real-life experiences. If the question doesn't help you determine if the candidate can meet the requirements of the position or be a good fit for your team, don't ask it. Filler questions are a waste of time and don't get you any closer to the perfect hire.
Lastly, don't leave candidates hanging. Spell out next steps and what they can expect. The candidate should leave the interview knowing when a decision will be made, on what basis it will be made, and what other steps may be required.9
Your unique team
Everyone wants to love their job and come to a place where they're respected and can contribute. As you talk with potential team members, highlight what you have to offer that makes your team unique. There are great candidates out there—by using a few of these tips and tricks, you'll begin to build a team of highly engaged, top performers.