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How Hiring Works

Interviewing techniques

You've finally plowed through the pile of applications and/or resumes you received as a result of your advertisement. What do you do now? The interview process can be based on several different strategies. There are several interviewing techniques that can help you get the most useful information from the applicant. Some techniques will, of course, be more useful for certain types of jobs.

Regardless of the technique you use, preparation is key to a successful interview (for both you and the candidate!) Winging it with a simple conversational interview where you and the candidate chat and exchange war stories won't give you the real information you need. Preparation means having a set of questions you follow with each candidate, a rating method of some sort to compare candidates (very important if you conduct more than one interview per day), and the learned ability to form unbiased opinions. This last one is especially difficult for some interviewers. You may really hit it off with a candidate and like them personally. This makes it difficult to truly evaluate their skills for the position.

Telephone interviews
The first step you may want to take is a telephone interview. This can save quite a bit of time by helping you weed out some less qualified candidates. They are typically shorter because you don't have the formalities involved that you would have to go through in a face-to-face interview. You don't have to spend as much time scheduling or reserving space, they're less formal (i.e., less stressful), and you don't form any initial impressions based on appearance or other physical attributes.

Make sure you have a good connection, schedule the phone interview at a time that is convenient for the candidate. For example, they may not want to be interviewed from their current workplace, so an evening interview may be necessary. Try to accommodate their schedules if you can. Distractions at home (i.e., kids, pets, other noise) are also factors.

It is just as important to have a prepared list of questions for phone interviews as any other type of interview. This keeps you on track and keeps the interview moving along at a good pace. You should keep the questions more general, however, in order to keep the interview short. Save the details for the face-to-face interview. Just make sure you get the facts you'll need to make the decision about who to screen out. This may also be the best time to bring up the salary offered for the position and screen out applicants that require higher levels of pay.

Let's go over some of more recent trends in interviewing techniques, then we'll talk more about preparing your questions and what you can and cannot ask!

Behavior-based interviewing
This type of interviewing is explained in depth in Dr. Del J. Still's book "High Impact Hiring." It involves asking questions that require the candidate to replay specific actions they took to solve a problem, complete a project, or otherwise do their jobs. It goes to a deeper level than most interview techniques by forcing the candidate to give details. Rather than saying that they were part of a group project that developed a software program to solve a company's inventory problems, they would specifically detail what their role was. Using the word "I" rather than "we" is important in this type of interview.

As the interviewer, it is your job to teach the candidate how to answer your questions appropriately. It will be an automatic response for them to give a less detailed answer. You have to tell them the depth of information you need. For example, Dr. Still spells it out like this. First have the candidate describe a work situation, then have them describe what specific actions they took, then explain the final result of their actions.

As the interviewer, you have to take this information and apply it to the position for which they are interviewing. Use their actions from previous situations to predict how they might perform in the job at hand, or react to the situations that arise as a part of that job.

Situational interviewing
Situational interviewing is similar to behavioral interviewing in that it seeks specific information about actions taken to solve a problem or complete a project. It is based, however, on a hypothetical situation you create rather than a specific past experience of the candidate. You create situations based on the job's functions. The candidate will still pull from past experience in most cases so you are getting virtually the same information, but the candidate does more of the work making the connection between the two. They may even illustrate their answer to your hypothetical situation with an example of how they handled a similar situation in their past work experience.

Both behavior-based and situational interviewing take some skill and practice for the interviewer, but can definitely unearth good information about the behavior, work ethic, and work style of the candidate.

Other techniques
There are several more techniques that use behavioral type information. Competency-based interviews are one. These focus on the essential competencies of the job and ask that the candidate apply their skills to those areas.

Other more traditional (although probably less effective) types of interview techniques draw more from personality traits and the candidates' own claims to their work ethics and skill levels. For example, a candidate can claim to thrive on challenge, be creative, assertive, etc. and probably truly believe these things about themselves. Unless you have specific examples of how they demonstrated these traits in their past work environments then you don't have much more than their word for it.

There are also much more complicated and expensive techniques for interviewing candidates. These often involve testing, assessment centers, and even psychological interviews. For more information on these techniques go to the Links section of this article. Also, visit How Hiring and Training Your Sales Team Works for more ideas.

A final note about interviewing
If you are not the interviewer, make sure the first interviewer is someone who knows the job. If it's a tight labor market, your company is being interviewed as well as the job applicant. Don't let the candidate's first exposure to your company be through someone unqualified to answer the technical questions they may have. This first exposure needs to go to the manager of the position.

Now, let's move on to questions you can't ask in an interview.