Monday Mornings with Madison

STAFFING UP: PART 5

HOW TO CONDUCT FACE-TO-FACE CANDIDATE INTERVIEWS

For weeks, we’ve been going over the steps on how to find the best candidate to fill an open position. After years of not hiring, many have gotten rusty in this important process.  Once you define the position, screen tons of applicants’ resumes, and further screen numerous applicants by phone interview, you’ve got your list of top candidates. Now, the next step is to conduct face-to-face interviews.

As the interviewer, you may think this part is easier for you than it is for the candidate. Think again. You want to make sure you keep from hiring someone whose best skill is doing well in job interviews. After all, there is only a limited amount of time to interview each candidate. If you don’t use it wisely, it can cost you—oftentimes more money than you think. The cost of a bad hire is not just the wasted salary. Severance payments, wasted training time, potential customer problems, and the cost to recruit a replacement are the least desirable line items in any budget. Experts estimate that the cost of a bad hire exceeds the annual salary of a position. To lessen the chances of making an expensive hiring mistake, there are some best practices you can follow.

Interviews are typically Q&A sessions. The interviewer asks a question. The candidate answers. The problem is that many times the questions are too superficial or candidates go off on a tangent and the interviewer does not get the full picture. Also, interviewers often will ask questions that come to mind at the moment, instead of using a preselected set of questions. This keeps the interviewer from getting an apples-to-apples comparison of the candidates’ qualities and flaws.

For best results, prepare your questions in advance. Interview questions fall into four categories.  

1. General questions.
Start with general questions. These tend to be factual. These questions might clarify information listed on the candidate’s resume. For example, “Who was your direct supervisor in your last position?” Questions that ask about why the candidate wants to pursue a job with your company also fall into this category.

2. Hypothetical or situation questions.
Hypothetical questions ask candidates what he or she would do if placed in a certain situation. For example, “What would you do if you learned that a colleague was about to make a costly mistake? Unfortunately, a lot of people answer those questions in ways that paint their behavior in the best possible light, and may not reflect what they would actually do.

3. Behavioral questions.
For several reasons, behavioral questions are best. They provide insight on how the candidate handled him or herself in the past. The idea is that past performance is the best predictor of future behavior. Ask for specific examples that demonstrate skills.  Instead of asking, “What might you do to increase sales?”, you might ask candidates to “Tell me about a time when you initiated a project that resulted in increased sales?” Most behavioral questions start with phrases like “Tell me about a time when” or with words like “What”, “When”, “Where”, or “Why”. Instead of asking someone if they have done something, you’re asking them to explain how they did something in the past.

It’s very difficult to exaggerate or fake the answers to those questions. You can double-check on the veracity of their answers, and the candidate knows that they can be double-checked. For example, someone being interviewed for a position handling advertising might be asked to “Give a time when you created an ad campaign for a new product.”  During reference checks, the candidate’s past employer can be asked if the candidate created the ad campaign for that product. This is where the step of reference checking is vital.  If the candidate seems to be fabricating or exaggerating answers, it is easy to ask former employers if their claims are factual.

4. Stress questions.
Stress questions are intended to put the candidate on the spot. For example, “Why should we hire you when you have no experience doing this kind of work. The idea is to see how the candidate reacts to a stressful confrontation. This can be an important factor for customer service representative positions and positions that deal with the public in confrontational settings. However, this kind of question can hurt your rapport with the candidate. HR experts often tend to stay away from stress questions.

Ask a healthy dose of general, hypothetical and behavioral questions. Throw in a stress question if you want to see the reaction. Ultimately, the key is dig and dig deep. Take lots of notes as candidates answer so that you don’t get them mixed up (in case you’re doing several interviews back-to-back).

As the final step in the hiring process, conduct thorough reference checks of each interviewee. Don’t just call those listed by the candidate as references. Obviously those people will give you glowing reports. Instead, call the person to whom they reported at each past position and check their dates of employment, title, responsibilities, and whether that company would be willing to hire that person again if they could.

Once all that information is gathered for each candidate, you may be ready to extend a job offer. If so, congratulations. If not, don’t feel bad going back to the applicant pool and considering some of the other applicants. The idea is that time spent hiring the right candidate pays off in the long run. 

QUOTE OF THE WEEK
“I get mad at people who talk about traumatic job interviews, about going on one and getting rejected. I get rejected all the time and not only do I get rejected, but people have no problem being really specific about why I was rejected.” Julia Sweeney

© 2010 – 2011, Written by Keren Peters-Atkinson, CMO, Madison Commercial Real Estate Services. All rights reserved.

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