What’s in a Question? A Second Look at Interviewing

interview tips and techniques

Onboarding top talent does not happen by accident.  Boost your interview skills by giving a second thought to what you are asking.

Interviewing is the bottom line method across industry for vetting potential hires. Whether via phone, video, or in person, there is usually an interview involved at some point in all hiring processes.

Thomas Edison is credited with inventing the modern job interview. Potential employees were subjected to a barrage of questions to test their knowledge and memory. The battery of interview questions included:

  • Who discovered how to vulcanize rubber?
  • Who wrote “Home, Sweet Home?”
  • Where is platinum found?
  • Who was Cleopatra?
  • What country makes the best optical lenses and what city?

If you have the sinking feeling Mr. Edison may not have hired you, consider your company. Mr. Edison failed his own, highly intelligent, son, as well as Albert Einstein.  Mr. Edison created ill will with his questionnaire, and likely lost the opportunity to hire a significant number of talented workers.

Today, the research and development efforts of Mr. Edison would be languishing as word spread of his untenable hiring practices based largely on potentially irrelevant pre-testing.  Yet today, many companies offer unrealistic testing, and unstructured, inconsistent interview processes.

We talked earlier about fine-tuning your interview process by creating meaningful structure around your interview.  While the interview is only one way that a candidate gets to know your company, it is usually the most influential factor in whether to accept or reject an offer of employment.

Talk the talk:  Tips to improve interview skills

After algorithmic selection, phone calls, and other filtering, sitting down to talk, one-on-one (or more) is a fundamental tactic for getting to know another person—or potential employee.

The success of the interview depends on the ability of both parties to cut through and get to the real goal—evaluating whether the candidate is the best fit for an available position.

Everyone has a story about a serendipitous hiring experience, but the reality is that most people obtain employment through some type of hiring process. To get the most from the time you spend with your job candidates, consider these thoughts to shape your dialogue, and your understanding of what you—and the candidate—are bringing to the table:

Hiring decisions made in the first three minute?  Not so much:  Upon meeting—in all settings—people take stock of unfamiliar others.  It is human nature, and not a bad idea

Through verbal and non-verbal inputs, we make decisions about trust, authenticity, and purpose.  In a hiring setting, snap decisions, or “gut feelings,” are not likely to serve the best interest of the company, or the candidate.

In one study published in the Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology, researchers took a look at hiring decisions and interview cycles. The findings of the study are not surprising and may help hiring staff create more effective interviewing processes. Some key points include:

  • More experienced interviewers made quicker decisions than less experienced interviewers.
  • The structured interview process calls for each candidate to answer the same question as the next. Interviewers were less likely to make snap hiring decisions when the structured interview process was in place—giving candidates longer access to hiring personnel.
  • In a series of interviews, hiring personnel took more time with the first few applicants, and less time with candidates scheduled later.

Structured interviews balance the playing field by posing the same questions to all candidates based on competencies identified earlier for the position.  A structured interview is not likely to begin, “Tell me about yourself…”

Bias:  Awareness of bias is critical when evaluating a job candidate.  As noted in the Harvard Business Review, intuition may not be your best friend when it comes to hiring the right applicant for the job.  Consider these points:

  • Intuition could lead to overconfident decision making.
  • Rushed or stressed decision making rarely leads to the best hiring choices.
  • Consistent criteria and structured interviews offer better predictors of performance than unstructured interview questions.

Personal bias exists in forms other than belief in intuitive, rapport-based interview questions.  Snap judgments based on stereotypes, confirmation bias, or even appearance, do not give the candidate, or the company, a legitimate opportunity to explore the real question at hand—whether the candidate is a good fit for the position.

When the next interview cycle comes up—be prepared.  Evaluate your interview process and apply it evenly across the board.  Give yourself, or your hiring staff, time to craft questions that earn real, not rehearsed answers. A successful hire is not a matter of luck—but hard work.


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