Strategies of Effective Interviewing
The executive engaged in the normal conduct of business devotes much of his time to interviewing. However, there is an appalling lack of effort given to systematic attempts at building improvements into this age-old process. Interviewing remains one of those activities which we think we know all about merely because we have been doing it so long; we have been lulled by habit. It seems apparent that a modest effort aimed at an analysis of our interviewing techniques would yield generous returns.
In the broad sense, interviewing is the process whereby individuals (usually two) exchange information. The individuals may be concerned with a job opening, a promotion, a special assignment, a product sale, information for intelligence purposes, a proposed merger, or other questions. The information exchanged need not be limited to facts. In business, particularly, such products of an interview as meaning and understanding are oftentimes more significant than objective factual statements.
Interviewing in the contemporary business setting invariably takes place in an atmosphere filled with a sense of urgency. The time allocated to the interview is necessarily limited. Consequently, a nondirective approach finds little application; it is necessary to use the guided interview in the vast majority of situations. This inherent time constraint sometimes brings about dysfunctional consequences: the interviewer is so preoccupied with budgeting his time that the content and the purpose of the interview are vitiated. Hence, we must define what we mean by an effective interview. For the purposes of this article, an effective interview is one that optimizes the perceived communication objectives of the individuals involved, with time as the principal constraint. We shall focus on research findings concerning:
You and Your Team
Hiring and Firing
Be wary of historical questions. Questions that require a candidate to describe how they performed in the past, also known as “behavioral interview questions” (e.g., “Tell me about a time when you led…”), are problematic in a fast-moving world where yesterday’s approaches quickly become irrelevant. And according to research by professors Frank Schmidt and John Hunter, those questions predict success only 12% better than a coin flip. Why? Because the way a candidate did years ago at another firm may be the wrong answer today at this firm with its unique culture. Historical questions also allow a good storyteller to passionately describe how a problem was solved even though they only played a minor role in the solution.
Assess their ability to solve a problem. If you were hiring a chef, you would ask them to cook a meal. Taking a “job content” approach, by having an applicant do some of the actual work, is the best way to separate top candidates from average ones. Consider asking them to:
- Identify problems on the job. Say something like: “Please walk me through the steps of the process that you’ll use during your first weeks to identify the most important current problems or opportunities in your area.”
- Solve a current problem. The ability to solve current problems is often the number one predictive factor of job performance. Provide them with a description of an actual problem that they will face on their first day. Then ask them to walk you through the broad steps they would take in order to solve the problem. Prior to the interview, make a list of the essential steps. Deduct points if they omit important steps like gathering data, consulting with the team or customer, and identifying success metrics.
- Identifythe problems in our process. Hand them a single-page description of a flawed existing process related to their job. Ask them to examine the process and identify the top three areas where they predict serious problems are likely to occur. Prior to the interview, make a list of those pain points and flaws.
Evaluate whether they’re forward-looking. In fast-evolving environments, employees must anticipate the future. Consider asking these questions to assess how well a candidate can do that:
- Outline your plan for this job. The very best develop a plan before they begin a major project or new job. Ask them to outline the elements of their plan of action for their first 3–6 months. Have them highlight key components, including goals, who they’ll consult with (by title), what data they’ll analyze, how they’ll communicate with their team, the metrics for assessing their plan’s success, etc.
- Forecast the evolution of the job/industry. Anticipating major shifts is critical. Ask them to forecast at least five ways that their job will likely evolve over the next three years as a result of changes in the business environment. New hires must also be able to anticipate changes in your industry. So consider asking candidates to project 3–5 major trends in our industry, and then forecast how the top firms will need to change over the next few years to meet those trends.
Avoid duplication. When selecting questions, avoid asking about factors like education and job responsibilities that were already covered in the resume or in the telephone screen.
Allocate time for selling. The bulk of the interview time should be allocated to assessing the candidate, but set aside time to excite and sell candidates on the job and your firm. Proactively ask, “What are the top factors that you’ll use to assess a job offer?” Then be sure to provide compelling information covering each “job acceptance factor.”
Interviews are tough to get right. (Some firms, like the India-based e-commerce company Flipkart, are successfully hiring candidates without a single interview). But research has shown that carefully selecting questions and determining acceptable answers ahead of time greatly increases your chances of success. Research also shows that most hiring decisions are made within 15 seconds, so you must consciously avoid any judgments until the interview is at least 50% completed.
10 Why should we hire you?
Don’t you just hate this question? It’s tempting to list your sterling qualities, but odds are that your competitors have a lot of the same qualities, which doesn’t exactly make you stand out. Instead of repeating a laundry list of skills and attributes, try restating what you understand about the company’s needs and the position, and then explaining why you’re a good fit. Here’s an example of that strategy in action from Forbes:
”From what I understand about the job, it’s a position that requires a lot of fast activity during the day, and that’s the kind of job I thrive in. I love to stay busy and wear a lot of hats. Is my assessment of the environment on target?
Dress for the job you want, smile confidently, and offer a firm handshake, but remember to do a little behind-the-scenes interview prep. It can mean the difference between walking away with a sinking feeling and walking away with a job.