Most recruiters prepare their candidates for interview, very few prepare their clients. Most clients don’t – they often feel they should know how to interview and so don’t ask when they should! There are millions of books and websites out there that will answer all of your questions in about 10,000 words. I can answer this in two. BE PREPARED
Once you truly understand this you will succeed in getting the right outcome at the right time. The fact is that interviewers are very often not formally trained (and certainly not prepared) to interview. Interviewers fall into one of two categories. Those who have been promoted to a level where they are asked to recruit (most common). Or owners of organisations who have a massive emotional attachment to their company but little or no experience of how to properly interview. Being prepared for interview is not about taking control, or taking charge (as many will advise you). It’s not about taking at all. It is about finding a way for you, the interviewer to work together with the interviewee during the interview process – if you do that you will be successful and find the right person for your team.
In my opinion the job of the interviewer or client is the hardest in this process. Candidates can be nervous (you have to put them at ease). Candidates can be dull (you have to pull their personalities out). Candidates can be irritating (you have to not punch them in the face). When you are the interviewer you have to think about a myriad of things. By considering the following prior to your interviews you put yourself in the best possible position to find the right person for your business, and you will be a step ahead of your competition!
Research? I recommend imagining that you are going for interview with the company. Look at company ethos from the candidate perspective, check credit history, social media, trade press etc. Often there is bias when you are ‘in’ a business, you need to know of anything negative that could come up so that you can deal with it head on.
Who are you meeting? Know the candidates, read the CV’s please! I am constantly amazed by clients who don’t even really look at CV’s before they meet people… surely that’s a) rude and b) potentially wasting your time. Pick your recruiters brain; their initial job is to ensure you interview their candidates. A good recruiter knows their candidates; not just their CV and salary requirements – if they don’t then they should – this is your opportunity to test your recruiter, if they cannot answer your questions why are you using them?
When are you meeting? I always recommend seeing all the candidates for first interview on the same day if you can. I appreciate this will mean taking a whole day out of your business but better to take out one whole day than break up a number of days. Interviewing can be a massive distraction for you and your team, it’s also much easier to make comparisons if you see them all on the same day.
Where you meeting? Use your offices as long as it is practical, any potential employee will want to see where they will be working. If you have a highly confidential project or candidates coming from competing businesses then keep away from the office for first interview stage. Interviewing in the office can be at best distracting and worst unnerving for the rest of the staff and a paranoid workforce is an unhappy and scared workforce, and that is not conducive to success. If it is common knowledge then involve current staff in the process – ‘we have interviews today and if you spot something that I may have missed let me know’. ‘I need you all to be my eyes’. And the existing employees may know someone perfect for the job thus saving a recruitment fee.
Who is Co-Ordinating? Who is coordinating the session? Depends where you are interviewing. If you are meeting in a hotel then you will have to be the one to do it unless you bring someone with you (you only have to ask, it would be a pleasure). In an office you have excellent tools at your disposal. if you are meeting candidates at the office make sure you have the time and space booked in the diary. A few years ago a client of mine had a particularly embarrassing moment when a member of staff stormed into his office to tell him that the new products were ‘crap and would never sell’. Make sure ‘Wingman’ knows who you have coming in and at what time – please never underestimate the strength that this lady (normally) can offer you. Having someone to orchestrate the timings etc puts you at ease, which in turn will put candidates at ease and make for a much better session. The office manager will organise parking spaces, seat people if you are running late, bring people into the interview and get people out of the business at the end. I cannot urge you to use this person enough (if you don’t have one then nominate someone/bring in a friend to help/ask your recruiter) they are the only person apart from you that will have met all of the candidates and the two of you can bounce ideas at the end of the session. The best interviewers create a checklist for their ‘wingman’ for each candidate – what time did they arrive? How well did they introduce themselves? How did they interact? What did they do while they were waiting to be called? Do you like them? The very best person for this role is the receptionist for your company. Never ever underestimate the receptionist; they know everyone in your business (probably better than you do) and people behave differently with her (or him). Some people are very different with a receptionist than they are with an MD and you need to know things like this – you are employing them to work for you and represent your business, you need to make sure that the interviewee carries themself in the right way for your organisation both inside and outside of the interview situation.
Who are you talking to? Know your candidates (this is where your recruiter should be working with you and not just sending you CV’s) and the business they work for. If you want to share confidential or sensitive information then ask candidates to sign NDA’s, it shows potential employees that you take your business seriously, you have built a rapport and now you want to share a secret or two… it’s a very powerful thing when it comes to job offer time.
Questions: Without doubt the number one question I get from clients during the preparation for first interview is “what am I allowed to ask?”. Being prepared for the people you are going to meet seems obvious but is very often ‘winged’. You are selling yourself and your company to the people you are going to meet, you have to choose your questions wisely and try to think of something different (good candidates will have prepared answers to ‘standard’ interview questions) to the norm; work with your recruiter to come up with interesting questions… I work with my clients to create bespoke questions. You need structure and focus but also you need to give yourself the freedom to allow this interview to flow. You will only achieve the rapport you are looking for when you allow flow to happen – open questions, the same questions delivered in the same order to each interviewee is vital. Introduce yourself,your business,the vacancy, the reason for vacancy. Then you say ‘tell me about you’ and you shut up. Please do not underestimate the value of shutting up… I know its exciting, I know you want to tell them everything but you are on a time limit and you must not spend the whole interview talking.
Timing. How long are you allowing for the interview? Decide and time it, this is for the benefit of all concerned, being aware of the time means that you will not allow things to drag or go off on too many tangents. Keeping the interview punchy and fast paced will ensure that everyone gets the most out of the meeting. My advice is to block out a day and utilise it fully, its one day and then its is done; putting time between the candidates means that you are in a different place every time you interview (at least mentally if not physically which makes for a much harder decision-making process. Nothing in the world worse than being double booked, having to change interviews at the last-minute holds no benefit for any and puts all on edge. When you book out your time, make sure all who need to know about it – you don’t have to tell them why just that you have time blocked for meetings. It will save of any embarrassment I had a client who once called me mortified that an employee had stormed into the office telling him to tell him the credit controller was a witch, the computer system had crashed for the 15th time that day and none of the stock had arrived – luckily the candidate took it all with humour and has been with the company for about 6 years now! **
Go Compare! How are you going to compare/contrast candidates? create a check list or tickbox list that works for you for each candidate, could be anything on there that’s important to you – shoe size, hair colour, handshake, accent, account experience, product experience, memorable comments. Keywords about them as they come to you and the big questions – can they do the job? Do you trust them to do the job? Do you like them? Will the team like them? Will your customers like them? (such a lot to think about)
Walk the Walk. Walk the candidates out of the interview and out of the venue. Make an excuse if you need to; need to get something out of the car for example. People automatically relax when removed from the interview setting and show you the ‘real them’. It is important to ensure that this happens, the best way I know for doing this is to tell the candidate that the interview is over and that you are going to show them out. You will be able to see where they have parked, what they drive and if they bothered to clean their car!
An interview is a 2 way street, it’s not merely about an employer interviewing 10 people and picking one they like! The candidates will have decisions to make too – do they want to work for this business? Do they want to work for you? I tell each and everyone one of my candidates “its just as much about you coming away wanting this job as it is for the client to decide that they want you”. You need to know the company that you work for and the reasons why its good to work there (it must be, you do). Your role as the interviewer at the first stage is to have all the candidates wanting the job so that the choice remains yours.
I have concentrated all my tips on the first interview stage and have kept everything very top line. Give me a call to discuss your particular needs in more detail, I don’t bite and feel very passionately about interviews being conducted rather than chucked together!
Please add your top interviewing tips as comments on this blog as this will aid many interviewers in the future too.