Conducting an Interview: Candidate Interviews that Get Results

By: Frances Bolles Haynes and Daniel Porot

What can you learn from job seekers in your interview process? It turns out quite a lot.

We looked at the most common things that job hunters are taught as they prepare to interview with an employer and believe that their lessons hold valuable insights for those who are conducting an interview as well. Here are three practices to consider:

1. Job seekers are taught that they must be able communicate what they are good at doing and what unique skills and qualities they have that can help the company. 

Know what catastrophes await you if you don’t focus on the right criteria. Focus in on the critical skills needed to do the job well. Don’t worry so much about non-critical tasks. Make sure you have a thorough understanding of the three key skills (or traits/knowledge) the candidate you choose must possess. If you are thinking of trading off one skill or ability for another, make sure it is not one that is essential for performing the job well. It’s easy to go wrong here when you are faced with two or more good candidates.

Base your decision on those things, without which, a candidate will not exceed expectations and grow over time. For a customer service job, it’s much better to hire the candidate who is a dream when dealing with irate people, than the one who can write up thorough reports. Be sure you match the vital issues and challenges faced by your company with the qualities and characteristics of the candidate you want to hire – if you can’t – you haven’t found the right person yet.

2.  Job seekers are taught to understand the employer’s fears. In other words, a job hunter will do much better in an interview if they know why interviewers ask the questions they ask.

Understand which interview questions are essential. You will need to cover at least three broad areas here to make sure you’re on the right track (maybe four if you really like the candidate). 

First: “Can they do the job?” You must be certain that the candidate possesses at least 60 to 80% of the skills, traits and abilities you’ve established are needed to perform well.  If you can’t take care of the more technical stuff (different for each job) you won’t be able to hire efficiently. 

Second: “Who are they?” This area is a bit more difficult to gauge, as there aren’t necessarily right or wrong answers. There are only answers that may make for a better fit with your organization. Questions must help you get a sense of the “authentic person” if you are to seriously consider the candidate for the job. 

Third: “Will they fit in at your company?” You need to establish if you’re dealing with a loner or a team player, a leader or a follower, a person who can take risks or is risk aversive. There’s no tangible proof that this category of questioning is more important than the first two, but it’s a pretty safe bet that if you make a mistake in choosing the candidate to hire because you misjudged the importance of this area, the consequences will ultimately cost you a lot than you want to pay. Skills can be taught, goals can change, but a person who creates more problems by not fitting in with the existing team than they solve by the skills they bring to the table is, simply put, the wrong choice. 

Fourth: If you really like a candidate, (and only then), you will need to find out, “How much they are going to cost you?” This should be left for last as there is no point wasting time dancing around the salary issue if you feel you are not really interested in hiring the candidate. 

3.  Job seekers learn to substantiate their answers with facts and figures and must listen to the entire question and give complete answers. 

Triangulate the answers you get!  This is an effective method in how to interview candidates. Find three different ways to validate the information you hear from the candidate to make sure they can demonstrate a pattern of behavior and not just one isolated instance. Dig deep. Then dig some more! Make sure you keep digging for information if you hear something interesting (or something that raises a red flag!). It takes between five to seven questions to fully explore an issue. Challenge candidates (always nicely!) to back up what they say with facts, figures and tangible evidence of their claims if they don’t do it themselves. Don’t leave out leisure and volunteer activities – they often show valuable transferable skills.

Author Bio
Daniel Porot
is one of Europe’s leading pioneers in career design and job hunting. He co-taught with Richard N. Bolles (author of What Color is Your Parachute?) at Dick’s annual summer two-week workshop for over 20 years.  Frances Bolles Haynes has worked in the field of career development for more than 25 years. They are co-authors of the book 101 Toughest Interview Questions (Ten Speed Press.)