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Interviewing techniques for employers

If you search the Internet for interview techniques you will get plenty of tips for interviewees. But next to nothing for employers wanting to get the most out of the interview process.

As a senior manager I used to spend about 20% of my time interviewing candidates for junior and middle-weight management positions. I often had the opportunity to observe other interviewers in action. Off the top of my head I can identify several paths to failure! These characters can be identified as the tee-crosser & i-dotter and the winger.

But first, what do we mean by failure?

To my mind, failure occurs when:

  1. The interview fails to guarantee the candidate’s fit for the job

What happens here is that the employer’s job description and/or the candidate’s qualifications and experience are glazed over. This can sometimes cover almighty gaps. Oddly enough, this can happen when interviewees warm to candidates early in the interview. They rush over the essential fact-checking aspect in order to get to more exciting things like selling the organisation.

It can also happen when interviewers assume that the fact-checking has already happened, and they are conducting a behavioural interview. In some regrettable situations, I have heard, “But I thought the other HR manager had already done all that!”

  1. Important additional information is omitted from the record

“How was I supposed to know that they were a member of the Nazi Party/Ku Klux Klan/ISIS!”

That’s extreme, but it illustrates the point. Political rancour aside, it is important to know if there are non-obvious aspects of the candidate’s behaviour. These elements can impact on the day-to-day running of the clinic.

These can include perfectly legitimate religious observations, medical conditions, allergies, preferences such as diet and room temperature. No one is suggesting that you discriminate against potential employees! But it is important that you know about these aspects to make the new employee comfortable from the start.

  1. Warning signs and red lights are ignored

Here are some examples:

Why are there so many gaps in employment status?

Why so many types of jobs?

Why the candidate never stayed in one position for more than six months?

Why no references from the last job?

These are all red lights that can be ascertained from a CV. These aspects need to be explored by the interviewer during the fact checking phases of the interview.

Warning signs, on the other hand, usually manifest during the behavioural phase of the interview. I find mild questions regarding the candidate’s previous relations with employers and colleagues can elicit a warning sign.

Some warning signs are obvious, such as use of pejorative words in describing events, bosses and colleagues. I’ve even heard, “She was a right fat cow!” Others can be more subtle. Here’s another less obvious one, “They were wasting my time, so I left.”

Again, the aim here is not to discriminate, but to explore and build up a full picture of the candidate. There may be perfectly good reasons for a warning sign or a red light. It is only fair to allow the candidate a chance to allay fears.

  1. The candidate is left with a poor impression of the hiring organisation

There is nothing more frustrating than to offer a candidate the job, only to receive a rejection of the offer. The usual reason is that the candidate has been to interviews with other employers and has taken up their offer.

Why did they take up the offer of the other employer and not your offer?

Obviously, there are many things that can impact on a candidate’s first impressions of a potential employer. From the physical aspects of the office to the demeanour of employees arriving for work! But a critical one is the impression of the interviewers and the way the interview progresses.

I’ve been in position of almost turning down a job purely on the basis of being interviewed by three starchy women from HR. They made very copious notes on everything I said. Two of them never smiled once, and one of them smiled only in the wrong places. I was offered the job, but only took it on the basis that none of the women would be my line manager.

  1. The candidate’s needs, wants and expectations are not explored

Generally, an interviewer knows what the organisation needs and wants.

But what about the potential employee?

What are their expectations?

Do they have a realistic idea of what the day to day duties are?

And what are their long-term wants from the organisation?

Finding out about the expectations of the candidate is an important indicator about how the organisation will fit into their life plans.

  1. The line manager did not interview the candidate

I’m including perfunctory rubber stamp interviews in this category. Where the line manager really just gets a chance to introduce themselves and nothing more. This ignores the human dimension rule that people generally need get along to work together effectively. It is disrespectful to the line manager not to include them and value them as part of the interview process. Ignoring them can be fatal.

You might think that this is a rare occurrence, but it isn’t. It’s happened to me three times in my career when I was the interviewee. On one of those occasions I regretted my decision to take the job and probably wouldn’t have done so had I met my line manager at interview! On reflection, perhaps that’s why he wasn’t included!

Types of interview that lead to failure

We’ve explored what failure looks like, but how does it arise? And, generally, this comes down to two reasons exemplified by the characters I mentioned above. The Cross-The-Tees & Dot-The-I’s and the Winger.

The cross-the-tees & dot the I’s interview

This is a proforma led interview, which proceeds like a tedious multiple-choice oral exam. Many of the questions do not follow logically and there is no room for manoeuvre. But each answer is carefully noted down. I always remember a series of HR interviews I observed where one question kept bugging me.

Interviewer: Do you smoke? (in my view this was an irrelevant question for the particular position and possibly intrusive)

Candidate: No.

Interviewer: We have no smoking policy (proceeds to read irrelevant no smoking policy to non-smoker.)

Afterwards I asked why the no smoking was read in detail to non-smokers. I was fiercely informed, “EVERYONE has to know the non-smoking policy!”

These kinds of interviews might be boring and frustrating, but at least they gain some information on the basic fit of the candidate with the position, the fact checking aspect of the interview.

The winging it interview

This kind of interview takes place when the interviewer has done no preparation and knows little about the candidate. The lack of preparation is excused by the inherent self-confidence of the manager in his/her ability to wing it.  This in itself is management speak for doing a poor job because of lack of preparation.

Because of lack of preparation, that fact checking aspects of the interview are glazed over in favour of behavioural aspects. The interviewer’s goal is to find out whether the candidate is a someone they could enjoy a few beers with!

To be fair to this sort of interviewer, they usually get the behavioural aspects right. After all, they tend to be professional managers. They understand the needs of their customers as well as the needs of the teams they manage. But they can also end up employing candidates who are unqualified and inexperienced. Because of this they lack the ultimate confidence to do the required job.

How do we avoid failure?

Bear in mind that we are looking for the candidate to play well in two phases of the interview,  these phases can be concurrent:

  1. Fact-checking: checking that the candidate has the skills, qualification and experience to do the job.
  2. Behavioural matching: checking that the candidate is a good match for the organisation and customers in terms of mentality, motivation and emotional aspects.

It is important to have a map  to ensure that both phases of the interview provide you with the information you need.

Let’s look at 5 areas:

  1. Define a clear picture of the job requirements

Set some time aside in advance to write down all the job requirements. Split them into two headings, fact-checking and behavioural. Start thinking about the kinds of questions you will need to tick off the requirements in each category.

Tip: get everyone involved in the hiring process together in a room. Agree on the priorities of the job and the kind of requirements a candidate must match.

  1. Create a scorecard for the interview

Before the interview takes place, create an interview scorecard based on the requirements you decided on. You might have criteria on the job skills, organizational skills, leadership abilities that interviewer scores the candidate from 1-5. In this way candidates can be objectively graded against criteria, which are important for the job.

Tip: make sure every interviewer makes occasional notes on interesting/relevant things the candidate actually said. This means that meaning post-interview discussions can be undertaken.

  1. Ask open-ended accomplishment-oriented questions

DO NOT turn the process in a multiple-choice oral exam! Open-ended questions allow the candidate to describe what he or she has accomplished.  It gives the opportunity to provide details that prove their expertise. These questions can combine aspects of both the fact-checking and behavioural phases killing two birds with one stone.

Tip: ask follow-up questions that follow logically.

Question: “What was your greatest achievement in that role?”

Follow up: “Looking back now, was there anything you would have done differently?”

  1. Listen

It’s a good rule of thumb, but if you spend more than 25% of the interview talking about yourself, you are failing to listen. This doesn’t provide the candidate with enough opportunity to participate in the interview. It is an easy temptation for managers who are natural salespeople. Organisations fall into this trap when they spend more time selling the organisation to the candidate than interviewing!

Tip: make a list of meaningful open-ended questions that the candidate has to take time to answer in full. Make notes on their answers alongside the question.

  1. Arrange a post-interview debrief

The lead interviewer should arrange a meeting with all interviewers within 24 hours of the interview. This 24-hours is the golden window, as most people’s short-term memories deteriorate rapidly and you may miss something important.

Tip: schedule the debrief at the same time as the interview itself is confirmed.

There are no gaming rules for interviews that ensure 100% success, and there is no perfect map for every interview. But following a few basic rules such as the ones above ensure that you have taken due diligence. Poor quality decisions, taken on the basis of incomplete evidence, have a big impact when it comes to hiring. There is no excuse for taking the process lightly or treating it like a rubber-stamping exercise.

When interviewing a major part of your working life in middle to senior management, there are plenty of resources out there to help you.

I’ve listed a couple of free sites below, which are excellent starting points.

Further information

  1. Employer Interviewing Best Practices: https://hiring.monster.com/employer-resources/recruiting-strategies/interviewing-candidates/interview-hiring-guide/
  2. How to Interview Potential Employees: https://www.thebalancecareers.com/interview-potential-employees-1918490

Neil Madden, Editor

The Fertility Hub