Hiring staff is often seen as a gamble. There are many factors to consider, and getting the right person can be a long process. Inefficient hiring decisions can be the result of a poor interviewing technique, hiring applicants who don’t fit with the culture or selecting those who can’t keep up with the required speed (or standard) of work, just to name a few.
The ideal candidate
Before any questions are asked, you need to understand what you are looking for in an employee. This isn’t necessarily a rigid box-ticking exercise, but one that establishes your expectations and guides your thinking about each candidate you interview. Below are four aspects of assessing an interviewee that can aid your decision.
Character and competency. Whether they have the skills and experience to do the job is the baseline expectation. This can be ascertained by assessing their work experience and, depending on the type of role, conducting a practical assessment as part of the interview process. You need to determine what you expect of their values and work ethic, as well as their potential for growth.
Commitment.Your company may be looking for a ready-made solution who can slot in and do the job in the short-term or a long-term prospect that your business wants to develop. The compatibility of how the interviewee sees the role vs how your business does is a key element and often mismatched expectations will result in confusion and a bad hiring decision.
Culture. An employee must fit with the rest of the team and business expectations. You need to decide if a particular applicant has expectations that outstrip what your business can deliver, or if they match with the feel of the office or workplace. This can be anything, including work speed and quality, the social aspects of the business (such as events and team building excursions), and much more.
Focus vs ambition. A candidate who is focused on their future promotions within your company at the interview stage may not be dedicated to the initial assignment. If they come across as someone chasing advancement, rather than demonstrating a desire to perform the role in question to the best of their ability, they will probably not be effective. They must be committed to the job at hand and work hard to perform well now. The candidate must understand that if they are passionate about the role from day one, the better they will perform, and, therefore, the more their potential for rewards will improve.
Getting beneath the surface
Standard interview questions are designed to assess past behaviours. When an interviewee with a basic grasp of the process is asked a question like “Describe a difficult situation and how you dealt with it”, they instantly know that they are being asked to detail the steps they took to save the day. This type of question doesn’t get to the root of what they know, rather, it shows that they know how to answer this question.
A more illuminating question would be similar to “What did you learn from your first paying job?” The earliest learning experiences set the tone for all subsequent ones, with expectations and patterns established and perpetuated throughout their career. Being able to identify what they learned and then how it would apply to your business can help you decide if they would be a genuine asset or are just really good at answering vague questions.
Follow up questions will reveal all
Ask more than one question. Always follow-up a candidate’s first answer with questions that delve a little deeper. Interviewees practice responses to the common interview questions, which means that their first answer is rehearsed. While they may not be lying, it is hard to get a sense of a person and their personality when they are repeating practiced answers.
Follow-up questions don’t have to be complex or thought up on the spot. They can often be as simple as “Can you tell me more about that?” or “Why was that important to you?”, or picking out a specific detail of their answer for clarification like “You said that you didn’t like working in sales, why is that?”
Ask for specifics. The “devil is in the details” as the saying goes. When following up a candidate’s answer, aim to probe deeper. If their response is about how they increased sales by 50% or turned an underperforming store into the most successful, ask for step-by-step details. Have them outline what specific measures they took and how the accumulated results created the larger gain. An interviewee who accomplished what they claim will have these details and be proud to show off their knowledge and expertise. A person who talks in vague terms may be attempting to fudge their role in the process or just outright lying.
Interview them more than once, in more than one location
The first interview is usually a rush of nerves and stammered responses. Candidates are generally on their best behaviour and dressed to impress. For a second interview, it can be beneficial to change the scenery. For example, you could go to a nearby coffee shop and bring a couple of colleagues. A more relaxed interview atmosphere and the subsiding of the initial nerves will often reveal more about the person’s demeanour and the practiced veneer will come off. It will teach you things about the person’s ability to adapt to changes and how they perform in different settings. This can be particularly important if the role will involve dealing with different people in different locations, but it will also give you an indication of their social intelligence and how they will fit in with other members of your team.
Create a conversation
Ideally, the interview process will become more than a series of questions and answers. People are most open when they are relaxed, and the formality of an interview can often mask incompatibilities that may prove costly in the future. Create an atmosphere where candidates feel comfortable to talk at length with little prompting and much candour, and the process will prove more valuable than the longest, most in-depth interrogation. The worst thing an interviewer can do is make it feel like an adversarial contest, with the interviewee feeling like they are on trial and hiding something. This person may be the one you hire, and starting under a cloud of suspicion won’t create a loyal and honest employee/employer relationship.
Hire in haste, repent at leisure
There’s no magic formula to choose the right employees and every business will make mistakes from time to time. It's important to look beyond an applicant’s CV or references and get to know who they are and how their experience and personality will benefit your brand. This approach may make the recruitment process longer, but it will save you money by reducing the chances of fully-trained new employees leaving after a couple of months, putting you back at square one and out of pocket.