Conducting Better Interviews

Ange Connor

I’ve sat in on thousands of interviews with my clients during my career in recruitment and I’ve experienced great interviews, bad interviews and cringeworthy interviews. And I’m not talking about the candidate interviewing poorly, I’m talking about the company; the interviewer conducting the interview.

If you are hiring, the interview is one step in the recruitment process to determining the suitability of the candidate for your vacancy. It’s the step in the recruitment process that is often the most important and valuable in assessing the candidate however the value of that interview relies on how well the interviewer facilitates the interview. And this is where I find, particularly small to medium businesses who don’t have a HR representative or a skilled interviewer at the table can completely come unstuck. This leads to not accurately assessing the candidates skills and expertise and ultimately hiring the wrong person for your vacancy. For small to medium businesses, you may not be hiring that often, so chances are you haven’t had much experience at interviewing and in my opinion, interviewing is a skill set within itself.

Here’s 3 tips for conducting better interviews to give you the best chance of hiring the right person for your vacancy:

Get your language right

This is about how you frame and word your interview question. Asking questions that are worded like:

  • You have experience using MYOB don’t you?
  • From reading your resume it looks like you’ve dealt with a range of stakeholders, haven’t you?
  • So, you’ve been in roles similar to ours?

You’ve probably heard of the term ‘leading the witness’ in a legal context. In a recruitment context, it’s much the same, these kind of questions are effectively leading the candidate. You are also making assumptions and the candidate simply has to respond with a yes or positive acknowledgement without providing any context, for example to their level of experience with MYOB. While you are thinking this is great, the candidate has MYOB experience, what you don’t dig in to is that the MYOB experience was from 15 years ago, was for a period of 2 weeks and was just inputting data for invoicing. When in fact you need a candidate who can use MYOB for accounts payable, receivable, payroll, perform reconciliations and generate end of month reports. The problem is that you don’t realise until you hire this person that they actually can’t perform the tasks you require, even though they said they had MYOB experience.

A better way to frame these questions would be:

  • Tell me about your experience using MYOB and the specific tasks you have performed?
  • I can see from your resume you have dealt with stakeholders, tell me about the different stakeholders you have dealt with, how you established and built relationships with them and share with me an example of a challenging stakeholder you had to negotiate a mutually beneficial outcome with. (This is a long question, break it down and ask it in stages instead of all at once.)
  • Talk me through your previous roles, detailing the tasks you performed and highlight your skills and expertise relevant to this role.

The other important part after you frame your interview questions like this is to probe and gather specific information based on the examples shared.

Let the candidate go first

It can be tempting to kick the interview off by sharing a bit about the company, providing some info about the role and detailing what you are looking for in your successful candidate. Some interviewers think this gives the candidate time to relax and get comfortable and is a bit of an ice breaker. However, the problem with sharing all this info right at the start is that you are giving the candidate all the answers. If they are smart, they’ll regurgitate this info back to you, ultimately telling you what you want to hear.

By asking first, what they know about the company, what their understanding of the role is, and questions about their skills and experience, you will be better able to assess the candidate. I’ve also observed many candidates try and deflect and flip it back to the interviewer, so be aware not to fall for this. For example, you ask, tell me about your understanding of this role and they reply with ‘I’ve read the job advert / PD so it would be great to hear from you about the role and what a typical day looks like.’ Don’t fall into the trap of jumping in and answering, flip it and get them to explain what they know, then you can provide further info or context and add anything that they might have missed.

Keep control of the interview

While in this day and age, interviewing is a two way street and you absolutely want to give the candidate every opportunity to ask questions and determine if your vacancy is the right opportunity for them, it is important to keep control of the interview. By keeping control of the interview I’m referring to:

  • Keeping the interview to schedule; you want to make sure that you gather all the info you need to assess the candidates suitability in the time you have allocated
  • Keeping the interview on track; it can be easy to go off on tangents and get talking about things that might not really be relevant, or the candidate might have a tendency to go off on a tangent with their response, meaning you don’t end up getting through all the questions you have, or the candidate might try and take control of the interview and be asking questions which leads to you not getting to ask the questions you need to.
  • Keeping the interview professional; while you may want to know the candidates age, marital status, if they have children and if so, how old they are – it is not appropriate to ask these questions. It can also be easy to slip in to talking about common interests, mutual connections, and while a little bit of this kind of conversation is ok, you don’t want to miss the opportunity to ask the questions you need to, to be able to assess the candidates skills and expertise. You don’t want to fall in to the trap of hiring the person you like, because you had a lot in common when you should be hiring the person with the right skill set to do the job.

Conducting better interviews all relies on your preparation. As business owners and managers we all talk about the cost and the difficulty of hiring the right person and we talk about the importance of it, however in so many instances when it comes to interviewing, I see many people take the ‘wing it’ approach. Investing in the preparation will give you a much greater chance of recruiting the right person to your business.

About The Author
Ange Connor

Ange is the Founder and Director of Inspire HQ, one of regional Victoria’s leading recruitment, human resource (HR) and careers agencies. Ange is an ‘ideas’ person and a ‘big picture’ thinker. She loves to challenge the status quo – in fact, that’s how Inspire HQ began.

Ange has supported hundreds of businesses across Ballarat and regional Victoria to attract, engage, motivate, develop and retain their greatest assets; their people. Ange’s unyielding passion and invaluable knowledge of the recruitment and HR industry ensures she delivers the best solutions for her clients.

Ange has held various board positions and regularly volunteers her time to share her industry and market knowledge. She was recently a Councillor for the Victoria and Tasmania region of the Recruitment Consulting and Staffing Association (RCSA) of Australia and New Zealand, and she is a current Board Director of the Committee for Ballarat.

For more useful information, follow Ange on LinkedIn.

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