Interviewing candidates in a buyer's market

Today’s economy has produced a “buyer’s market” for employers who have open positions. On the surface, this looks like a good problem to have. After all, you can get more for your money! However, with the market saturated with good people looking for jobs, the hiring process can be daunting.

Preparation is the key to selecting the candidate who will best meet today’s needs and tomorrow’s strategic opportunities. Ultimately, you want to surround yourself with passionate employees who provide the best products and services for your customers and maximize profits for your business. So in the interviewing process, you want to be on the lookout for people who have the right combination of “can do” and “will do.”

“Can do” factors include the knowledge, skills and experience the candidate brings to the table. The “will do” qualities relate to the individual’s desire, willingness and attitude towards performing the job. You want people who are both technically capable of doing the job and enthusiastic about the position; otherwise, you are potentially hiring a problem employee.

Preparing for the Interview

Your ability to get the most out of the interview process depends on how prepared you are. Some managers just “wing it”—but this is dangerous. First of all, it is disrespectful to the candidate. And it certainly does a disservice to you and your organization. A bad hiring decision can be very costly; both in terms of the time, money and energy you invest in recruiting, training and managing that person, as well as the potential for unhappy customers and reduced morale of other staff.

So prepare for that all-important interview. Here are some key steps:

  1. Thoroughly read the job description and hiring criteria. What knowledge, skills and abilities are necessary to be successful in the position?
  2. Review all paperwork the candidate has submitted, including the résumé, cover letter and application. Make notes where you’d like clarification, such as gaps in job history, interesting job titles and inconsistent career focus.
  3. Establish a structure for the interview. Develop a list of standard questions you will ask every candidate. This ensures consistency and fairness in the decision-making process and helps you focus on what is truly important for success in the position.
  4. Schedule a time and place for the interview. Make sure you allocate enough time and that there will be no interruptions.

Let the Interviews Begin

Now you’re ready to start the actual interviews. There are generally three parts: the introduction (or warmup), information gathering and the closing. The warmup helps put the candidate at ease. As part of your introduction, make sure you convey what your role is and how it relates to the position that’s open. Explain what your organization does and how the job fits into the goals and objectives. The introduction should be insightful but brief; after all, you want to spend the majority of the time learning about the applicant.

Questions, Questions

The heart of the interview is information gathering. Since this phase of the interview is critical to your decision-making process, you need to make every question count—and that means if a question has no strategic significance, don’t bother asking it. It’s also vital that all questions you ask be legal and not offend the individual. Equal Employment Opportunity laws prohibit discrimination against applicants on the basis of age, race, color, religion, sex, disability or national origin. So the best way to avoid legal pitfalls is to ask only questions that are job-related and will help you assess a candidate’s qualifications, skills and things like maturity level and willingness to accept responsibility.

Using a structured approach for the interview ensures consistency and allows you to compare candidates against the same criteria. It’s also helpful in maintaining control of the interview if the candidate is chatty or likes to go off on tangents. Apply the same method of questioning to all applicants and use open-ended questions to probe for “who, what, when, where, why and how” answers. Here are a few examples:

  • Tell me a little about yourself.
  • What do you know about our organization and why do you want to work here?
  • What is appealing about this position? What skills and strengths can you bring to it?
  • Tell me about your favorite boss. What attributes do you hope your new manager will have?
  • What aspect of your work life are you most passionate about?
  • What skills do you bring to this job that will make you successful?
  • Who and what have motivated you in the past?
  • Why did you leave your last position?
  • What are you most proud of in your career?
  • Tell me about a time when you made a mistake. How did you handle it? What did you learn from it?
  • Tell me about an important decision you made.
  • Can you give me an example of how you handled a workplace conflict in the past?
  • Tell me about a time you pulled a team together to produce solid results.
  • What skills would you like to improve?

If the answer you’re given to a question doesn’t elicit the information you’re looking for, don’t be afraid to continue probing. For example, if the candidate states that he saved the company money on a project, ask how much and how those savings were achieved.

Wrap It Up

At the end of the interview, give the prospect a chance to ask questions—remember, he or she is interviewing you, too. You’ll find that these questions are very revealing, as well as a good way of determining if the applicant is truly interested in the position or just needs a job.

A good technique for closing the interview is to summarize. By repeating the candidate’s strengths and weaknesses and reasons for wanting the job, you let him or her know you are a good listener and care about hiring the most qualified person for the position. This also gives the candidate the opportunity to clear up any misunderstandings.

In addition, make the applicant aware of the next step in the interview process. Will there be another interview? Are there additional forms or tests that need to be taken? Besides being a courtesy, discussing the next step also emphasizes the importance of the hiring decision to your business.

End the interview on a formal note by standing and shaking the individual’s hand and thanking him or her. This lets the candidate know the session is formally ended and gives the signal that it’s time to leave.

Document, Decide and You’re Done

There’s one last step that’s critical to making your hiring decision a good one: document your interview findings. Documenting the interview provides proof that your decision was based on legitimate criteria and not factors that can be construed as discriminatory. Most important, by using a standard form that is completed after each interview, you’ll have ready access to the details about each candidate when it’s final decision time. This is especially helpful when you have a lot of candidates to choose from. By objectively comparing everyone’s documented skills, abilities and qualifications, you ensure that you’re selecting the best candidate for the position—and your organization’s future.

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