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The art of interviewing

"You referred in an earlier Dilemma article to the importance of recruiting the right staff . I fi nd it increasingly diffi cult to fi nd the right staff and when I do appoint someone, they often prove to be very diff erent in reality. I have never been trained in interviewing techniques so am I going wrong somewhere?"

Julian O'Dell
Julian O'Dell image

Julian O’Dell is founder of TM Training & Development

The most common throwaway remark that I hear used by business owners is that “our staff are our most important asset” but then fail to follow that mantra through, falling into the trap of a flawed recruitment approach. This is coupled with lack of training and/or career progression leading to a constantly high staff turnover which costs companies untold sums of money.
Base camp 1 is to employ the right team members. Obvious isn’t it? Interview imageIn practice, those responsible for recruitment are not equipped for the purpose. I have witnessed countless job interviews where time was taken up with the interviewer waxing lyrical about the company with the occasional inane question like “Are you a team player?”

So, five key tips on how to conduct a job interview.
Fully assess your need and the necessary attributes 
Too many interviewers focus on eligibility rather than suitability – a track record rather than the actual skillset an applicant possesses. Think hard about what business need you are trying to meet by appointing this person. What specific abilities or attributes does this role require? Who will their colleagues be?

I’ve seen job interviews where the interviewer asked inane questions like, “Are you a team player?”

Don’t take the best of the candidates from the batch that applied. You are looking for the best possible person to help solve your business need – this person may not present themselves within the initial pool. As Neil Blumenthal crudely put it, “It is better to have a hole than an asshole.”
Do your homework Too many interviewers have a cursory read through an applicant’s CV a few minutes before the interview. Prepare key areas for discussion. Look for gaps in dates between jobs. Try to spot any anomalies in figures. Assess the real reasons behind comments around previous job changes. Check the candidate out on local media – what does it tell you about hobbies, about them as the real person behind a glowing CV?

There is an argument to say that your research should take longer than the interview.
Ask the right questions Anybody in estate agency knows the merits of asking open questions over closed ones.

  • “What are your three main strengths in your current job?”
  • “What areas do you have to work on?”
  • “If I called your boss and asked him to describe you in a sentence, what would he/she say?”
  • “What is your greatest work achievement in the past 12 months?”

These questions all serve a purpose but the follow-up questions are the most important.

If a candidate states that they are a great problem solver, ask for an example. Keep silent to allow them to think and respond. Genuine candidates will be able to discuss examples with confidence, those who are telling you want to hear in response to initial questioning will be left floundering.

Example questions: “Give me an example of a difficult sale that you held together”, “Tell me what you did to become part of the team,” and “When you last missed your monthly instructions target, what did you do next month to ensure you hit it?”

If you are looking for a specific skill set, questions about the applicant’s skill level are crucial. Easy to say they are great at handling applicants, harder to answer a question like, “What are the three most important questions you should ask a new applicant when you are registering them?”
Seek other opinions If you can’t interview alongside another person, consider asking other people who may have knowledge of them. If the candidate has approved you contacting previous employers/referees, then do so.

There may even been an impression picked up by staff who greeted the applicant, chatted to them before the interview or have prior knowledge of them.
A second interview However certain you may be, a second interview (ideally with a colleague) is a must. Study the responses from the first interview, consider extra areas of questioning and any answers that demand expansion or clarity.

In the same way as second viewing a property can cause it to be seen in a different light, second interviewing a candidate can change the picture, for better or worse.

By following these tips, your selection process will be more effective and there is the added benefit of the candidates recognising that they are being taken through a proper professional recruitment route which will give them a favourable impression of their new potential employer over and above others who are courting them.

October 30, 2016