Interviewing job candidates is critical but stress-inducing. How can you make sure the candidate you’re speaking with won’t turn out to be a dud? How can you get past canned answers and really find out whether the individual you’re speaking with really has the goods to do the job?
The internet is full of articles on “what interview questions to ask.” Normally these laundry lists of questions are pretty generic and might leave your scratching your head about whether or not a candidate would be a great fit. If you want to know who your candidate really is, you need to take a more careful approach. How?
Here at ACCUR Recruiting Services, we interview thousands of candidates each year for high level executive positions. We also coach our client companies on what questions to ask when they are the ones doing the interviews. Unsurprisingly, we’ve learned a lot about interviewing technique over the years. And the first thing to know is: that laundry list? It’s tangential to the information you really need.
Instead, we recommend you set four goals for the conversation and let that guide the way you conduct the interview. If you can keep these four goals in mind, you can be confident you have gathered enough information to make an informed decision about your candidate.
Goal 1: Don’t Talk First
A big mistake we see a lot of people make is spending too much time talking about the company or the role right up front. Starting the interview with an extensive description of “what you are looking for” would be like handing an answer key to someone who is taking a test.
It’s the same principle you would use in a negotiation: the first one to reveal key information (like a price) loses. What’s more, when you leave spaces for someone to talk, sometimes they tell you things that you didn’t think to ask. So as tempting as it may be to fill awkward silences with words, it’s imperative that you stay quiet and begin with an open-ended series of questions.
Goal 2: Start with Open-Ended Questions
Next up, plan to ask open-ended questions that allow you to get a full portrait of the candidate. Some ideas:
- Ask the candidate to describe his or her current professional situation
- Why: this breaks the ice and it may give you some ideas to bring up later.
- Ask the candidate to describe their ideal job regardless of the current job opening discussed.
- Why: this response will tell you a lot right off the bat: is the candidate right for the position being offered, do they see the position realistically? Have they put a lot of thought into the position or are they just telling you what you want to hear? Is their answer “stock” or uninspired? Do they reveal themselves as being interested in a completely other line of work?
- Ask the candidate to briefly guide you through each of the jobs on their resume.
- Why: Can the person summarize coherently and articulately? Are they prepared? Do they produce an overall look at what has shaped them professionally (which can show you a level of maturity and competence)?
Goal 3: Look at the Big Picture
The third goal of our interviewing process is to spend some time talking with the candidate about big picture items that go to their understanding of the way their company works. This is especially critical in hiring ambitious, self-starting individuals. In other words, it’s how we identify people who can do more than just “do the job,” but really perform.
We like to ask interviewees to paint us a picture of something complex, like the business model of their company (can be particularly revealing if they work in a complicated industry like credit or banking). For Sales and Marketing candidates, we ask them to break down pricing of their products. Asking these questions will show you if you have a strategic thinker with a sophisticated understanding of the business, which is obviously important for the most critical executive roles.
Goal 4: Dig Deeper on Key Projects
The most successful interviews we see are ones where the interviewer takes the time to really delve deeply into a few questions, rather than just going through a checklist by rote. Why does this matter? Some candidates are good at canned answers that sound good and put their best foot forward, but when you start digging, there is nothing behind the words.
In this regard, it’s worth thinking about what you really want to know and how it relates to your business:
- For a marketing candidate, you might ask for a detailed account of a product launch.
- For a sales candidate, walk through a store visit or the full details of difficult negotiation.
In general, probe for the full details of a project. Ask the same question several different ways. Spend the time to find out if your candidate is the real deal or just hot air.
The bottom line for conducting successful interviews is simple:
- Don’t talk first, leave space and time for the candidate to reveal themselves
- Ask open ended questions that invite the candidate to show their true colors
- Ask the candidate to talk you through the big picture view of companies they’ve worked for
- Dig deeply into a few questions, asking the same question different ways