When anyone mentions the phrase “Interview tips”, you automatically turn your thoughts to it being a guide for candidates attending interviews. It’s easy to forget that not everyone is an experienced interviewer and sometimes a few tips for the person on the other side of the table may be welcomed. With that in mind, I thought I’d offer a short guide to some of the best advice for effective interviewing.
Effective Interviewing is all about the planning
Interviewing can be a tough task, particularly when you’re a novice. Having to talk to multiple candidates (often on a back to back schedule) can be gruelling, especially when it's generally the same questions and subject matter under discussion. We must remember also, that interviewing is probably not part of your regular day job. The pressure of having to identify a suitable applicant from a series of interviews can put a lot of pressure on even the most experienced interviewer. Always remember, every interview process should start at the planning stage, not at the moment the applicant is sitting opposite you. Like so many things, the key to interview success often comes down to ensuring you invest the time into planning and preparing fully for each meeting.
Before you start interviewing
It’s good practice to have a prepared bank of interview questions before you enter into any conversation with applicants. These should include several different questions set against your particular skill requirements or company competencies. There’s no set requirement to ask every question to every applicant but having a pool of questions allows you to be flexible with each applicant but still conduct your interview on a level playing field. Constructing a specific set of questions will help to introduce structure into your interview process and help to steer your applicants through the process. Structured questions will also allow you to assess each candidate on a level playing field and make a fair and balanced judgement about their suitability. It is always worth considering asking for input on what questions to ask from colleagues or the person currently doing the role too. They can often provide additional input to ensure you are not introducing any bias (unconditional or not) into your interview process too. The last thing you want to be doing is asking questions that may have repercussions around subjects such as Age, Gender, Marital status, race or religion. (You can read an article here about Unconscious Bias in the recruitment process).
Research the candidates
It sounds obvious, but don’t just pick up the candidates CV 5 minutes before they are due at the meeting to skim read their career history. You should always prepare well in advance, reading through each CV in-depth and highlighting any particular aspects you would like to discuss further in person. Do your homework on each applicant, check out their Social Media profile, what does their LinkedIn profile tell you about their background/experience. Do they have any recommendations from former employers or colleagues?. If you are looking for a potential ice-breaker at the interview, what interests and hobbies do they have?. I once had a client open an interview with a comment to an applicant about the musical instrument she played. It happened to be the same one his daughter was interested in, whilst not relevant to the application, the subsequent conversation put the applicant at ease and the client learnt some useful information to pass onto his daughter. In case you were wondering, the same candidate was offered the position too!
Setting the interview scene
Is your interview room painting a professional picture of your organisation?. There are many factors to consider here and all have a part to play in ensuring you are setting the right image to your applicants. You should always give thought to the interview location, room aesthetics/ambience, furniture, evidence of branding/marketing and of course privacy. Put yourself in the shoes of the applicant, if you were being interviewed for a position would you like to be led through a dirty workshop into a poorly-lit room with a pungent aroma of engine oil piping through a noisy free-standing air conditioning unit?, I thought not. Remember just as first impressions of the candidate are so important, the first impression of your business is equally as vital. It’s also important to ensure conduct interviews in a location that will be free from interruptions, unplug any unnecessary telephones and ensure everyone in the business is aware you should not be disturbed for anything other than the unlikely event of a fire. It’s also courteous to offer a candidate a drink of water or something a little stronger (by which I mean Coffee or Tea…although an interview over a glass of Gin would be sure to relax the applicant!).
Two ears, one mouth
The early stages of any interview will always involve a significant amount you controlling the conversation, taking the lead in these early stages will help to settled the applicants nerves. You should always remember the "Two ears, One Mouth" saying though, allowing an applicant to have their say is key to any interview. Be careful with what you say in these early stages too. Diving straight in with the Killer question, “So what appeals to you about joining our organisation?” a soon as the applicant’s seat hits the chair is never a great idea. It’s often the small talk that helps to put the candidate at ease. Discussing the weather, the journey to your office, the football result from last night…even their musical instrument of choice will all help to break the ice. Putting an applicant at ease during the early stage of an interview will always result in a more productive conversation throughout. Take the lead in these early stages, introduce yourself and your company, shifting the pressure off the applicant until the interview gets into its flow. Remember too that you are there to promote the organisation and role to them just as much as they are there to promote themselves to you. Use this opportunity to paint a picture of your organisation’s vision and values and share some of the successes that make it such a great place to work. As you work through the structure of the interview and ask your structured questions be sure to offer a clear outline of the role responsibilities and how it sits within the wider finance and non-finance function.
Feel free to note your thoughts
It is always good practice to have a colleague present at the interview, ideally a representative of HR or perhaps even someone who has been in the role being interviewed for. Your HR colleague will no doubt have undertaken interview technique training and can provide a great level of support, especially if you are an inexperienced interviewer yourself. Having a 2nd opinion to reflect upon after each meeting is essential to ensure you get a balanced view of each applicant. Always ensure, either yourself or your colleague take notes during the interview, you will find these notes can often be a great source of reference, especially to refer back to during potential 2nd interviews with the same applicants. It’s good practice to let the applicants know you’ll be making some notes, so they don’t feel intimidated if you suddenly reach for the pen after they’ve delivered what seemed to be an unsuitable response. Do be careful not to resort to doodling if for any reason the interviewee is failing to inspire you with their answers, that’s not going to set the right impression however suitable or unsuitable the applicant.
Bringing a close to your interview
Always bring every interview to a proper close, there’s nothing worse than just allowing the applicant to float away without a proper closing conversation. Asking the applicant if they have any further questions they would like to ask is usually an indication the process is drawing to its conclusion. In most cases, you will probably have covered many of the subjects that a candidate would like to know but never assume that is the case. Candidates are always advised to have some interesting questions to ask and the subject of what they ask can often offer a strong indication of their motivators. For example, if they ask a question such as, “Could I ask, where the last person who undertook this role was promoted to”…is a far more insightful question than if they ask, “How many holidays would I get? (I have known this to be asked by a candidate…cringe!). Before any applicant leaves the interview room set down the foundations for how the process will proceed from here. Let them know what timescales you are working to and when/how they can expect to hear of their progress. If further stages will be involved offer an overview as to what form those stages they make take. At the end of any meeting, whether you think they are suitable or not, always thank them for their time and interest in your organisation. It’s all about ensuring they leave the interview with the right positive impression of your organisation. If not an employee they may one day be a customer.
The process doesn’t end just because the interview is over, now it’s time to collaborate with your interview colleague and compare notes/thoughts on the applicants. Using an interview scorecard at this stage can often help to avoid any unconscious bias. Rating candidates on an even playing field is essential to ensure each candidate is assessed fairly and evenly and that each is given an equal opportunity to be judged on their interview. Here is a little information about Interview scorecards, if you haven’t used them before, it provides a good overview as to how and why to consider using them. If you have promised feedback within 48 hours, always follow through on your promise, not delivering on your commitments will only portray a negative image of your organisation. For those who have been successful it’s most likely you need to go back to point 1 on this article to start all over again for 2nd stage interviews
Interviewing can be a nervous experience, especially if you are a novice recruiter. The importance of planning and presentation is key to help you relax. Never be afraid to engage your agency recruiter in the process of helping you set some interview questions. On a personal note, I have spent almost 20 years interviewing candidates and have heard all sorts of weird and wonderful interview questions posed over those years. I would always be happy to share my experiences and help you plan your interviews. Feel free to contact me to discuss the subject here.