How to Conduct an Effective Interview
There are several key elements in the recruitment and hiring process, including aptitude tests and reference checks, but the most crucial and valuable step is the properly conducted interview.
“The interview is the most important part of the process,” says Derek Gagné, former CEO of Talent Edge Solutions, a Vancouver-based consulting firm that helps employers use effective HR practices to recruit and retain top talent. “As the employer, you have ability to interact with candidates, put them into scenarios and ask them for examples of how they have responded in the past. Skill assessment, aptitude tests and even reference letters are secondary. Someone might do well on a test but be a complete bonehead to work with.”
Before you can pick the right candidate, you need to pick the format of interview that most practically suits your work scenario. Thanks to modern technology, there are several ways to conduct an interview, and there are also various formats of interview, each with its own strengths and limitations.
- Face to face: Ideally, interviewing an applicant in person is best, says Gagné. A face-to-face interview allows you to make a well-rounded assessment of a candidate’s social skills, which may be important in a customer-driven or team-playing role.
- Telephone: Interviewing over the phone doesn’t require the applicant to be in front of a computer; not everyone has a laptop at home. Phone interviews are easily scheduled, but make sure you round out the process with reference checks and case-study responses, because you can’t see how the applicant in behaving during the interview. “On the phone,” says Gagné, “you can’t check out the body language, and body language is a big piece of the picture, because it helps point to how applicants deal with people.”
- Skype and video-conferencing: These technologies are particularly useful in the tourism industry. A good example is the hotelier who needs to interview housekeeping candidates from Europe or Australia by going online, because it is impractical for applicants to travel to the employer’s place of business, and even long-distance calls can incur unnecessary costs. Interviewers should bear in mind that some job-seekers may be willing to do an online interview but might be somewhat uncomfortable with the technology, so don’t be too judgmental in the area of speaking style or body language. Also, people tend to come across differently on-screen than in person even at the best of times.
Whether conducted in person, on the phone or online, there are various interview formats that serve specific purposes. Picking the most suitable format will help you make your interviews as effective as possible.
- Screening and preliminary interviews: Usually conducted on the phone by an HR manager, or by the line manager if an HR person isn’t available, a screening interview can save both parties a lot of time and effort. Now is the time to ask what Gagné calls “the knockout questions, the non-negotiable questions. For example, if you’re looking for a bartender, ask about the candidate’s availability to work at night. If they can’t work at night, you don’t go any further.” In preliminary interviews, you verify the basic facts in a candidate’s resume. In both cases, you are trying to winnow down the number of candidates to only those whose skill set and experience merit further interviewing.
- Interviews involving line managers: Gagné recommends having line managers involved for two reasons. “First, they’ll be the best person to assess the team-player aspect, whether the applicant will be a good fit. Second, it’s good from an accountability point of view. Three weeks later, the line manager can’t say, ‘Oh yeah, I knew that person wouldn’t work out.’ “
- Panel interviews: Having several of your key people interview an applicant together can provide a depth of information that might elude a single interviewer. “The potential downside of the panel is that each person might have different expectations or understanding of what the employer is looking for, and different ways of assessing the candidate’s answers,” says Gagné. “That can waste everyone’s time. If you’re going to do a panel, have a list of specific questions that each interviewee is asked and have a rating system you’re going to use, so at the end of each interview each panel member can compare apples to apples. The advantage to panels is, you get to draw different perspectives to an applicant’s response to a particular question. That can be valuable.”
Whatever method and format you end up using, preparation is the key to conducting an effective interview. For more on this subject, read Preparing and Conducting Interviews.