Tips (and traps to avoid) if you’re interviewing potential recruits

In Zoomly’s ‘How to interview’ workshop it soon becomes crystal clear why our lovely client has chosen this topic from the menu. Many managers who find themselves involved in the recruitment process for a new team member are, erm, not as skilled as they could and should be when it comes to interviewing*. And many participants in the workshop soon reach the same realisation – before we’ve completed the first task.

If you’re a manager and you’re getting involved in selection interviews, these tips – and the traps to avoid – are offered to help you. Important: I’m not an employment lawyer. If legal advice is what you need, please seek a suitable specialist.

Tip #1: Get clear on what you’re looking for
What skills, knowledge and behaviours are essential for the job role? It’s worth taking time to collaborate with team members, drafting a long list and discussing with HR to create a clear, up-to-date specification of must-haves.

Trap: Starting with the job title and assuming everyone involved in interviews knows what that means in terms of skills and capabilities for this particular role is asking for trouble. Specialist skills and knowledge may be required that differs from one holder of the job title to another (for example, sector, territory, legal, language, cultural).

Tip #2: Identify the essential questions to ask
Only when you’re clear on your specification can you craft questions, that are directly related to the role, to ask in the interview. The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development – CIPD – suggests a set of pre-agreed interview questions are asked of every interviewee. There may also be an agreed scoring system for applicants’ answers. That way, there’s a consistent process, no matter who’s doing the interviewing.

Trap: Wheeling out the bizarre (‘If you could be an animal, what would you be?’) and impossible, or ‘killer’ question. Glassdoor shares some strange ones.

Tip #3: Treat all interviewees exactly the same
If this tip sounds obvious, just check back on your notes about past interviewees and see how consistent they were. You may want to draft a checklist and review it with HR to ensure your approach is consistent. Little things matter: being met promptly and courteously in reception, getting information about the process and when candidates will hear about what’s next.

Trap: Falling prey to your unconscious biases and letting them lead your behaviour in the interview, for example taking a dim view of someone’s capability based on their appearance at first sight and making disparaging remarks.

Tip #4: Focus on getting the relevant information
You need to find out how the candidate may be suitable for the role (or not). What football team / celebrity / social media channel / game they’re into may seem like harmless chit-chat, but it’s not why you’re there. You might think it will put the applicant at ease, but it could easily backfire.

Trap: Indeed, chatting about interests such as sport could lead to unconscious bias, such as the ‘similar-to-me-effect’, where recruiters view applicants with similar interests, points of view, background, etc. more favourably than others.

Tip #5: Take careful notes of candidates’ responses on relevant points
Make detailed notes of responses, particularly what the candidate did and how they did it. Probe with further questions if necessary. N.B. This is one of several good reasons to have more than one person conducting the interview – you could take it in turns to ask questions / take notes.

Trap: Going with your first impression or ‘gut feel’ – it’s unreliable. Don’t be daft with your notes – no insults or profanities – and remember that applicants can request sight of any notes made, and other personal data about them stored by the potential employer.

Tip #6: Give feedback
People need to know if they’re in or out of the running – and why. Whether you’re using a recruitment agent or hiring direct, you owe it to candidates to give them feedback soon after the interview. Best to do this with a call to discuss a few prepared points about what the person did well / not so well and a clear indication of what, if anything, is next.

Trap: emailing in haste. Wrong in so many ways…and bound to get widely circulated if it’s poorly handled.

You may find this post useful: ‘What works for new joiner welcomes?’

*Yes, yes, there’s much more to recruiting people than the face-to-face interview. There are job boards, and those entertaining employee rating websites. Online applications. Social media trawls. Video calls and conferences. Assessments and essential skills tests. Simulations. Presentations. Taking up references and making background checks. To name a few.

Thankfully, most mid- to large-scale employers have Human Resource (HR) professionals who can ensure that these elements are relevant, robust, fair and non-discriminatory. Many smaller firms make smart use of smart consultants to do the same.

But ask those HR professionals for some examples of front-line colleagues’ howlers in the interview discussion and the challenges soon emerge. Confession time: some of the most memorable examples have found their way – anonymously, obvs – into the workshop.

Dawn is the author of ‘The Feedback Book’ and ‘How to be Zoomly at work’.

Image credits: @danielala/DepositPhotos, @rastudio/DepositPhotos @ jacklooser/DepositPhotos

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