Job seekers aren’t the only ones stressed by interviews. The process can be nerve-racking for employers too—especially if you don’t conduct interviews on a regular basis. Or perhaps you’re new to recruiting. Both can make it difficult to conduct interviews with ease.
“I used to get all nervous before I interviewed someone and nine times out of 10 would fall into chat mode where I wouldn’t ask anything about the job and more or less found out that they liked cats or had family in the area and that’s it,” says Jayca Pike, marketing director at Breezy HR.
Good interviewing starts with a clear vision of the role you need to fill. It also requires having an awareness of how to conduct an interview in a constructive, stress-free way. Here are five golden rules to help keep it all together:
Rule No. 1 – Understand what you’re looking for
When Sabrina Balmick, marketing manager at ACA Talent, hired a marketing specialist last year, she first developed a job description and candidate profile, then used it to write interview questions. It helped her get clarity about the role and the questions she wanted to ask. “Because it was an entry-level role, I wanted to explore things like teamwork, attitude, and analytic skills and crafted questions based on those topics,” she says.
The other nice thing about having a candidate profile is that you can always refer back to it when you conduct the interview. It can be a way for you to structure the interview itself, or you can also use it to remind you of areas where you want further clarification from the candidate.
Rule No. 2 – Curate questions that apply to all candidates
Use a consistent interview process for everyone. If you’re feeling frazzled planning your interview, create a structure where you use the same questions and ratings for every job candidate. Pike switched from being a nervous interviewer to a confident one after she went to work for an employer who used a consistent interview process.
“The mandate from HR was like, ‘Ask these 10 questions. Grade each answer. You have 30 minutes … go!'” she says. “It sounds cold and corporate, but in reality, I could run an effective interview that way.”
Do press candidates by asking follow-up questions about any unclear or open-ended responses. “These answers often yield great insights about a candidate’s work style or personality, and may create further lines of communication,” Balmick says.
Rule No. 3 – Take time to de-stress before you conduct interviews
Interviews can be nerve-wracking, even for seasoned professionals, so take time before each interview to clear your mind and calm your nerves, says Jason Hill, CEO of boutique consulting firm Sound Advice Consulting Services. “The best way for me to get in the right mode is to get mentally prepared,” he says. “I listen to some of my favorite music and let go, or I meditate and focus for a few minutes with no distractions.”
Check in with yourself before you conduct the interview, and return to your plan if you start feeling overwhelmed. As with the candidate, a little self-care goes a long way to clear your mind and build self-awareness.
Rule No. 4 – Treat yourself and applicants with kindness
Focus on the candidate rather than your fear. Don’t monitor your racing heart or churning stomach. Instead, focus on reducing the job seeker’s stress when you conduct the interview. Jana Tulloch, CPHR, a human resources professional at training firm DevelopIntelligence, positions herself as the job seeker’s ally in the room. She opens the conversation with positive statements: “I’m glad you’re here. Your resume was impressive. I’m looking forward to learning more.”
To put candidates at ease, she tells them what to expect, how long the interview will last, the types of interview questions asked, and why everyone will take notes. Tulloch even tells job seekers that if they draw a blank, they can skip a question and come back to it.
Go for literal comfort, too. Conduct your interviews in the coziest place in your office. Avoid overly hot, cold, or dark spaces. Everyone feels less tense when they’re comfortable.
Rule No. 5 – Share your concerns openly
Be direct without being confrontational. When you avoid a difficult topic, it’s often because it makes you uncomfortable and even tense. But not sharing your concerns with the job seeker denies them the chance to respond to them.
Ted Bagley, senior talent manager at Influitive, an advocate marketing firm, regularly shares his doubts with candidates and asks them how they’ll address challenges. “I did this to a candidate in a phone interview, and he addressed my concerns,” Bagley says. “We had a follow-up interview in person a few days later, and he gave me a well-thought-out action plan that provided steps on how he was planning on working through my objections.” Bagley said this showed that the candidate had a “clear plan to overcome them and would be coachable—the biggest thing I look for in new hires.”
The takeaway: Be direct and honest with candidates about your concerns. Avoid using negative language or jumping to assumptions. This approach can help you learn something new about the candidate’s problem-solving skills.
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