Interviewing is an art — but it sure doesn’t feel like it when you’re staring at an stack of resumes, planning to meet new candidates.
How will you prepare? Who should be involved? How can you make sure you’re connecting fully with candidates?
Interviewing is one of the trickiest parts of hiring, and a bad hire costs time and money. It’s crucial to always be improving your process.
We’ve compiled our best advice (from thousands of interviews) to help you prepare and conduct this critical phase of the hiring process.
You get out of interviewing what you put into it. You already know to be present, engaged, and ready to listen during the interview. But the truth is, the best interviewers spend just as much time in the moments before and after the interview.
BEFORE THE INTERVIEW
Remember why you’re hiring.
Most companies decide to hire when they start to feel a deep, nagging, recurring pain point. It’s typically in the midst of high growth and pressing needs — which doesn’t lend to a long, thoughtful interview process. If this is you, at the bare minimum write down your must-haves, should-haves, and nice-to-haves.
Know what you’re looking for.
Whether this is a new role or a replacement role, get specific about what a successful candidate looks like. Don’t ask what attributes you want to advertise for (years of experience, etc.). Instead, make an exact list of what this person needs to do — their first priorities on the job. Start these phrases with verbs instead of adjectives.
Get team input.
Your team will likely have extra insight into the job functions and qualities for the new hire — utilize their knowledge!
You can’t just wing it. If you do, you’ll go on how you feel, and that’s dangerous.
Standardizing your process is the #1 way to reduce bias in the interview process. Without a process, you’ll be susceptible to hiring for culture fit instead of cultural contribution. A standardized process guards you from hiring people who you simply like and who are simply like you.
- Create a standardized question framework. Create a “question bank” that you can pull from during individual interviews. If you’re working on only one position, then you need to use the same questions, every time. (TIP: For your first call, you’ll want to get to know the candidate — ask about their goals and strengths.)
- Decide what kind of interview you’re conducting. There are two different types of interviews: a “Culture” interview and a “Focused” interview. “Culture” interviews cover the person (career goals, strengths, and weaknesses). This is your first chance to sell the candidate on the growth opportunity. The “Focused” interview covers the work history of the person (jobs held, accomplishments). Learn much more about types of interviews from ReWork’s Client Interview Guide, or the highly-recommended book “Who?” by Geoff Smart and Randy Street.
- Know who’s interviewing. Make sure that the people who are an early part of your hiring process stay involved throughout interviewing. Schedules change and interviews pile up, but don’t pull someone in last minute to interview without any prior context. They won’t know what to look for!
- Create a Scorecard. Write a purpose at the top of your scorecard to remember why you are interviewing candidates in the first place. Take the verb statements you created above and turn them into your scorecard, listing them in the the left-hand column. You can also include Actions and Abilities as categories to score. For more information on creating a scorecard, check out Harvard Business Review’s blog post here.
- Learn about candidates in advance. Have their basic information on-hand and any extra notes.
DURING THE INTERVIEW
It’s time to interview — lean on your process. Ideally, your team knows just what to do when a candidate arrives. You know which questions you are asking. You’ll already launch into your framework for interviewing your candidates the right way, the same way, with the same questions, every time. You’ll have already created a scorecard and be able to assess candidates on a preconceived rubric.
Set the tone and show up fully.
To improve skills conducting interviews, turn to the experts. Journalists can teach us a lot about how to interview candidates for jobs.
Ira Glass (This American Life) is a master storyteller; he recently shared notes from behind the microphone on the Longform podcast.
Glass says an interview is like hosting a party. You get what you put into it. If you tell a story, they will tell a story. As spoken on Longform:
IG: “An interview is a party that you’re throwing. And so the way you act, is the way that they’ll act. And if you act relaxed, then they’ll act relaxed. And if you act like a stiff, and you’re like a stiff, asking like a reporter’s questions, and you act like, “I’m an official person, I’m going to ask you official questions,” then you’ll get official answers. But if you act like a real person, and you tell them stories, they will tell you stories back.”
Reciprocity is a powerful social force. And it’s a tool you can use in interviews too. We are equipped with mirror neurons, parts of our nervous system that enable us to literally mimic the physical movements and emotional tenor of others. If you’re comfortable, then your candidate will be comfortable, and you’ll learn more than you thought.
- To dig deeper into a response, remember these three phrases: tell me more, tell me what, and tell me how.
- Keep your pen handy. Write notes during the interview.
AFTER THE INTERVIEW
Write down your favorite moments.
Ira Glass says, “More important than taking notes during the interview, when you walk out of the interview, to write down, right then, your favorite moments.”
Everything is really vivid in the moment. Ira immediately talks it over with a teammate, or writes down, his three favorite moments. Those are the ones he’ll remember. Your candidate, of course, is more than three moments; but now you’ll have a mental bookmark to use as you think back through your own thoughts later.
Assign number values on your scorecard immediately after the interview.
Remember to keep the candidate informed.
If you need more time, that’s OK, but let them know. And YES, lean on your scorecard in order to hire for cultural contribution and not for cultural fit.
Interviews don’t have to be nerve wracking, high-stakes affairs. You want to structure your process and structure your questions. But that doesn’t mean you need to be stilted and cold. In fact, to get what you’re looking for, lead with vulnerability, and you’ll learn much more about a candidate as a person. The sooner you do, the sooner you’ll find the right hire. You’ll add the next top performer to your team to help achieve your mission.