Saturday, 23 June 2007

How I Conduct Interviews

If you find yourself in the role of interviewing someone for your workplace, you might find a few of these ideas useful.

Clearly these are my own ideas and they won't do it for everyone. But if you take at least one of these points, I will have done my bit!

Get your ducks in a row

Before the interview starts, be clear on what your ideal candidate is. You need to know their skills, personality, strengths, daily tasks, and what the challenges are in their role which will push them.

I think knowing this type of stuff without needing to read it allows the conversation to feel natural. The more paper you need to take in and refer to, the less eye contact you make and the less comfortable both of you will feel.

Make sure you are happy with your technical knowledge for the area of interview. You don't have to be an expert, but you need a good bearing around the technical areas to keep the conversation on topic.

Remember that you are also on interview, you need to give out the right impression too.

Help them relax

No, not a massage...

Imagine yourself having moved jobs. First Friday comes around and you are invited our for drinks. You don't know anyone yet, so when that first person says a casual 'hi there, how are you?', 'where are you from?', 'do you like the new job?'.

All of these questions are very open questions which help open the conversation. You are both likely trying to establish common interests be it people you know, things you've done, things you aspire to.

It's exactly the same at interview.

Give out warm, friendly signals at all times and try to keep the start of the interview geared to learn broadly what they are like and what they have done.

Use their name when appropriate. Again, you would do this normally when you first meet someone, same thing applies here. The added bonus is it helps to relax others by making them feel familiar with you.

If you offer a drink, please please don't fill it right up. It's easier to knock over and any slight shakes they have will cause it to spill raising their stress.

Broad brush strokes to start, then detail the smaller areas

Ask very open questions early into the interview. After I explained about the role and company to the candidate, I will use something open such as 'tell me about yourself?'.

Let the candidate talk about themselves in their own way without it being pushed by you. Try not to interrupt them, take notes of areas to dive into afterward instead of stopping them talking.

The hardest part here is being a good listener. It's possible that nearly the entire interview line of questioning can stem off of the answer to this one question which helps to give the whole of the interview a very natural conversational flow to it.

Be careful to listen to what the candidate is saying. It is easy to fall into the confirmation bias trap, hearing what you want to hear.

Use the notes to delve into things which are interesting. 'I was interested to hear you worked with the health service. What was that like?'.

Once you've gone into the detail as far as you need, pan back up again in your notes.

Get a good set of stock questions

Candidates will freeze. So will you. Be prepared with some good general questions. I've leave you to Google for your own though!

However take care not to just read a script without thinking about what you are asking. You may just be repeating a previous question.

Speak from the heart

If you come over as passionate about IT, you will win over 9 out of 10 candidates. Candidates who see you being passionate and open will assume that this is because of the place you work at.

If the candidate asks me about my job, do I like working here, I will do my best to be entirely honest. All jobs have craps bits in them and all jobs have gems (some more than others). The candidate it interviewing you as well as you them. Do what you can to build trust and confidence, it will make decision time easier for all.

Some workplaces will not allow this unfortunately.

Don't be afraid to tell the candidate the areas which concern you. I make sure that if I have any doubts about the candidate, I get them into the open there and then. 'I notice that you don't have any experience with SQL. We really need this skill, can you help me understand if there are any things you have done which contribute toward your knowledge of this area?'. Again, try to help them along, show them the goals they need to score.

Clearly there are legal traps in what you say, so be careful what you try to find out.

It's not a competition

I only learned this lesson after my first year of interviews. I tended to ask questions of candidates and tried to catch them out by showing how my knowledge was far more accurate than there knowledge. I thought this showed me their weak areas which helped me learn who was the best candidate.

Looking at this now, I see that I missed the point entirely!

What I really should have done was focus on their strengths.

Give them as much opportunity to shine and don't try to upstage them. They will only close up, you will lose their confidence.

See your role here as cross examining the candidate to help them remember as much as they can about their experiences. Try to guide them toward any areas you think may contain gems.

Clams

Not all people are created equally. No matter what you learn about interviewing, you will eventually meet someone who you can't get to open up to or can't relate to. When it happens, the best thing to do is try to get them to talk about themselves.

If the candidate is clearly freezing up, then change the direction or tempo of the interview. Do something a little different like suggest that they perhaps take over the line of questions for a short while. Offer to answer any question related to your work and promise to answer it as honestly as you are allowed to. They might see this as a little humorous, it can crack the ice a little if the interview isn't going well.

When I get a clam, I make sure to tell the recruiting agency if there is one. They need to prepare the candidate properly, and although I may not select them, I do want them to find the right job.

End game

The final things I tend to ask candidates are

  • Was there anything I didn't ask that you wanted to discuss?
  • Are there any answers you were not happy with?
  • Do you need any more information to help you decide on your next move?

Keep the door open, even if you don't want to hire them. You never know when you will run into them again.

The calm after the storm

Make totally sure that as soon as they leave, you structure and document your thoughts. You will have forgotten their answers within 1 hour! :-)

The more you can see interviews as a social conversation, the more you will get from the candidate.

Oh, one more thing. Learn how to smile properly and shake hands. It helps make an impression.

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