The hiring process can involve quite a few steps, including gathering résumés and applications, identifying suitable candidates, screening them for red flags in their background, and ultimately, making a hiring decision. But few elements of the job search are as personal and as pivotal as the job interview. The way you run a job interview determines whether you will gain valuable insight into how good a fit a job candidate might be or whether you leave the interview with the same information you had at the outset. If you're planning on hiring new employees for your small business, consider these tips for conducting a job interview the right way.
How to interview a job candidate the right way
Interviewing a job candidate is relatively easy if you stick to a clear plan. Generally, an interview should flow in the following way: introduce yourself and open with some light conversation; ask open-ended questions about a candidate's life, hobbies, and interests; discuss their previous experience and how it relates to your open position; and offer them the opportunity to ask questions of their own.
"Over the last 25 years, not only have I interviewed and hired hundreds of internal people, I owned staffing companies, and we had to build our own interview methodology to interview people for our clients," Stephen Halasnik, managing partner of Financing Solutions, told business.com. "We spend hours, weeks, years perfecting interviewing to be the best it can be."
Halasnik added that interviewing is an "imperfect science" that depends largely on a company's circumstances and needs, as well as on the interviewer's ability to adapt the process. While flexibility is important, Halasnik recommended having an interview plan in place and revisiting and refining that plan regularly.
1. Do your background research.
A key element of running an interview properly is doing your homework beforehand. It's important to thoroughly understand a job candidate's résumé and to review any supplemental material they provided. You should keep this information in the back of your mind throughout the interview.
"The first step in any interview process is to review a person's résumé before they come in and to come up with a set of open-ended questions that come to your mind," Halasnik said. "As the interview moves along, other questions will come to mind."
Background research should also include verification of any information the candidate has provided about past work experience, as well as calls to any references listed on their résumé. Don't plan to bring a job candidate in for an interview until you've thoroughly investigated their background.
2. Have a consistent interview structure.
Stick to a set format for all of your job interviews. If you have a set interview structure, be more prepared for the meeting. Ask questions in a particular order, and keep the interview under a specific time limit.
When designing a structured interview, write down your questions and keep them open-ended. Ask each candidate the same questions in the same exact order. For a structured interview, the format usually is the following: introduction period, information period and wrap-up.
3. Use a scoring system for the interview.
Structured interviews allow you to develop a standardized scoring system for candidates. Since all candidates are given the same questions, you could rate each response. As one example, you could score each answer from 0 to 5, with 5 being outstanding and 0 being not well-suited. You could then narrow down your candidate pool by reviewing each interviewee's score.
Another option to score candidates is to use a check mark system. For every question that meets your criteria for the job, you could give the person a check mark. At the end of the interview, add up the total of check marks earned.
4. Keep the interview short and sweet.
When the interview actually begins, be sure to use time efficiently. A good job interview is relatively short. You shouldn't need a very long time to gather the information you need if you run your interview properly.
"In my opinion, the shorter it is, the better," said Ben Walker, CEO of Transcription Outsourcing. "A half an hour should be more than enough."
Ian Kelly, vice president of operations for NuLeaf Naturals, suggested keeping things even shorter.
"An interview shouldn't be more than 20 minutes," Kelly said. "Fifteen minutes is a good sweet spot to hit."
5. Focus on the job candidate, not the job.
A job interview should be primarily about understanding who a candidate is, not whether their experience level is suitable for the job. Their résumé should provide the information you need to determine whether they could have the skills they need; after all, you chose to bring them in for an interview. Instead, focus on intangibles, such as whether they would be a good cultural fit and a team player, and how interested they truly are in working for your company.
6. Reiterate job responsibilities.
You don't need to spend the entire interview focused on the job responsibilities, but you should review them with the candidate. You could, for example, provide a "day in the life" scenario to convey what is expected of the candidate if they are hired. At this point in the interview, you should confirm with the candidate that they have the skills and experience to fulfill the necessary job duties.
7. Give the job candidate a chance to ask questions.
Finally, always offer a job candidate the opportunity to ask any questions they might have about working for your company, whether they want to know about day-to-day expectations, company culture, or compensation. These questions provide two benefits: They help you gauge the candidate's level of interest in the company, and they demonstrate the candidate's analytical ability and dedication to preparation.
"Always ask if the candidate has questions for you," Walker said. "It should give you a gauge of their interest level towards the job, and it addresses any pressing concerns at the moment."
Types of interview techniques to consider
While you should stick to the general plan outlined above, there are many interview techniques you can use to improve the responses you get from a job candidate and leave the interview with a more complete perspective as to whether they might be a good organizational fit for your company. Each interview technique should be used with a clear goal in mind, whether it's to elicit a specific response or to focus more on behavioral interview questions. Here are some techniques that experienced hiring managers employ to get the most out of every interview they conduct.
Suspend any prejudgments you might have about a job candidate.
We all have prejudices and preconceived notions, many of which are subconscious. This is known as implicit bias. However, if you are going to run a successful interview, it's important to think through your implicit bias and set it aside beforehand.
"You have to [suspend] any prejudgments for at least the first 15 minutes of the interview," Halasnik said. "If you feel you are prejudging someone on their appearance, how they speak, their résumé format, or anything else, then you are likely to start off being led by your unfounded thoughts. So, be conscious about not making any conclusions for the first 15 minutes at least."
Create a comfortable environment for the job candidate to speak freely.
Nobody is going to open up if they feel uncomfortable, and interviewing for a new job can be a daunting prospect for many job candidates. Do your best to soften them up with some small talk on the way to the interview room or with some softball questions that get them talking about themselves. Don't start off with a question that puts your candidate on the spot. Instead, ease them into things with a light question, a joke, or a warm welcome.
"Building a good rapport in the beginning is key for a successful interview," Kelly said. "It should be all about easing the candidate. The interviewer can start with casual small talk or even crack a few light jokes. Once the candidate seems to be at ease, the interviewer can start asking the important questions."
Watch for nonverbal communication.
Most candidates have likely prepared responses for some of the questions they anticipate, and while it is important to presume that candidates are representing themselves honestly, it's also fair to keep in mind that their responses are at least somewhat polished. What is less easy to prepare, however, is nonverbal communication. Keep a close watch on a candidate's movements, facial expressions, and ability to maintain eye contact throughout the interview.
You should also gauge their reaction to unexpected questions or detailed follow-ups they might not have anticipated. Getting to a place where a candidate is comfortable and responding organically in the moment can yield the most insight during an interview.
"When I am interviewing someone, I am so totally focused on them that I forget everything around me," Halasnik said. "I am watching body language, listening intently on what they are saying, and asking detailed follow-up questions. I want no distractions, because my focus is really on that person."
Anchor abstract statements to concrete examples.
A lot of candidates will make abstract statements about their skill set or experience. If they describe themselves as a "self-starter," for example, seek to ground that claim in a concrete example. You can do this by directly asking them to offer an example of when they believe they exhibited the qualities of someone they would consider a self-starter.
"When an interviewee states something, rather it be verbally or on their résumé, look for proof to back up what they are telling you, and don't always rely on one example," Halasnik said. "So, when someone says something like 'I am really good at working with people,'" I ask for a specific anchoring example, such as they've worked with a very difficult teammate who wouldn't do the work. Then, I ask what they did about it.
Ask about their expectations and professional goals.
Understanding how a candidate envisions their own career trajectory and how they expect your organization to support it is a good way to determine whether they are a cultural fit. Additionally, it helps your company understand what potential employees are looking for in an employer. That can help you gauge not only whether this particular candidate is a good fit but also if you could offer additional perks or benefits that improve your ability to attract and retain top talent.
"Why you, and why us? Find out why they think they are a good fit and whether they did their homework about the job and company," said Paige Arnof-Fenn, founder and CEO of Mavens & Moguls.
Following up with candidates after a job interview
It's very important to follow a set procedure after each completed interview. The following are best practices for following up with candidates after the interview.
- Set a time frame to get in touch with each candidate. When a job interview has concluded, thank the candidate for their time, and inform them that you will be in touch shortly. Prepare to follow up with them within a week of the interview, if possible; set a reminder after the job candidate leaves. "Pro tip: Don't go more than one week … without being in touch with a candidate who is in process for one of your open positions," said Helena Wu, a content marketing specialist at Scouted. "Send a quick email, even if it's just to say, 'I want you to know I haven't forgotten about you.'"
- Check their references. Review the references of your top candidates. Confirm employment history and collect feedback from past employers and co-workers. At this point, you may want to perform any background checks.
- Set up second interviews. For some positions, one interview may not be enough on which to make a final hiring decision. Many businesses have a multistep hiring process, with two or more interview sessions. During the second interview round, more detailed questions may be asked as well as follow-up questions. At this point, additional team members and managers may be brought into the room to ask questions of the prospective hire.
- Make an offer. Prepare an offer for the top candidate. Call the candidate first to make the notification, and then send all offer details electronically for record-keeping.
- Notify other job applicants that a decision has been made. "Once a hiring decision has been made, notify all the other applicants – especially the ones who also reached an interview stage – about the decision and that they were not chosen," Wu said. "It's just common courtesy and especially needed during this time of insecurity and uncertainty for job seekers."
- Keep a file of future prospects. Even if a job candidate you interviewed isn't being hired for the open position this time, you might want to keep their résumé on file for another opportunity. Keep notes on the candidates you found most suitable for your company, and let them know if any new openings are expected in the near future.
The importance of a job interview
Hiring is a lengthy and difficult process that has a direct impact on your internal operations. Focus on finding the candidate who not only has the right skills for the job but also will be a good cultural fit for your company. If you do so, it is more likely that the new hire will stay on your team for years to come.
Employee turnover is a major problem for many businesses, and it can be costly. According to research conducted by Employee Benefit News, it could cost up to 33% of an employee's salary to fill their vacant position upon their departure. That means, for an employee who makes $60,000 annually, your company could end up spending $20,000 just to fill that gap in your organizational structure and get a new employee up to speed. Those costs can quickly stack if the replacement employee doesn't stick around for long.
An effective interview process is an integral part of a successful hiring plan that can mitigate the lost productivity and associated costs of employee turnover. A properly conducted interview will help you make a hiring decision that will benefit your business for years to come.
A precise interviewing technique is key to making the right hiring decision.
A job interview should be about getting to know candidates you've already confirmed are qualified to do the job. Interviews offer employers insight into the type of person they are considering hiring and whether they will fit in seamlessly with the existing workflows and company culture. Conducting an interview the right way ensures you get the answers you need and helps you to make a better hiring decision that will lead to a lasting and mutually beneficial working relationship. By following the techniques described above, you can make your interviews more impactful and improve your hiring process.