How to be a good interviewer: 12 tips from hiring experts

Productive interviewing is a company's first line of defense against poor hires. According to a study by CareerBuilder, nearly 3/4 of employers say they have hired the wrong person for a position in the past. Doing so is costly in terms of lost efficiency and replacement efforts, but it can also create a ripple effect of poor performance and disengagement throughout your company.

An interview provides a valuable, albeit short, window for assessing a potential employee for talent, character, and cultural fit. With strong interview acumen, you can identify the underlying truths behind a candidate's well-rehearsed answers and determine if they are truly a fit for the position and your company. But you're not the only one who benefits from becoming a better interviewer. Positive interview experiences are also important for boosting candidate experience, and increasing the chances that a desirable candidate eventually accepts a job offer with your company.

Interviewing is both an art, in that it requires adaptation and improvisation, and a science, in that there are concrete steps you can take to improve your communication and critical-thinking skills to be more effective. Follow the twelve tips below from hiring managers, CEOs, and other experts to become a stronger, more insightful interviewer.

1. Stay organized

When you're hiring for multiple positions and evaluating many candidates, it can be complicated to juggle the input from various sources. Keep all of your data well organized so that you can eliminate confusion and keep everyone on the same page.

With a company of 140 employees across five countries and growing fast, Sarah Tait's People Ops team at Branch needs to be extremely coordinated when conducting candidate interviews. To do that, Branch emphasizes communication through pre-interview huddles with the hiring committee and post-interview recaps (after all data has been entered into their ATS, to maintain objectivity).

“The bigger that we got, the more variability existed,” says Sarah Tait, Head of People Ops. In response, her team created interviewing guides with example questions, and concrete grading rubrics for evaluating applicants for technical jobs, like computer engineers. A prepared interview evaluation form can help you stay organized and maintain a uniform framework throughout the interview process.

An ATS should serve as your single source of truth — capturing candidate information across the entire applicant lifecycle, as well as enabling your interviewers and hiring managers to submit feedback seamlessly.

2. Align the stakeholders

Before you bring in a candidate for an interview, ensure that all internal stakeholders at your company are on the same page about the role. This can prevent major problems later on in the process. William Uranga, Director of Talent Acquisition at Spokeo, points out, “It's a lot of effort to screen someone, interview them, and then have them die on the table because nobody can agree what they're looking for (the role), or looking at (the candidate).”

At the beginning of the hiring process, discuss the position with potential supervisors and coworkers. Why does this role exist? What traits and skills do they think the new hire will need? What sort of person would thrive in the role? You want to make sure that everyone agrees on the purpose of the position and the qualities a good candidate should possess before you’ve started interviewing candidates. Otherwise, debate later in the hiring process can cause unnecessary delays and possibly losing out on a stellar candidate.

3. Be conversational

Great interviewers are able to foster a conversational atmosphere in a situation that often feels tense and formal. A candidate will be more at ease if they feel like they are participating in a conversation with you, as opposed to simply fielding questions from a script. This will lead to more candid, and fewer canned, answers. “Tailor your interview questions to the role and the person, versus using a standard set of questions. Be more conversational,” says Stacy Adams, the Head of Marketing at Vyond.

To cultivate your skills in conversational interviewing, use situational, rather than leading questions. Instead of asking: “Do you prefer working alone, or as part of a team?” ask something like: “Tell me about a team project you did at work. What was the project, what was your role, and what was the outcome?" Continue the conversation with follow-up prompts tailored to their answers.

4. Practice active listening

Being a good listener is an important, but commonly underdeveloped, skill set. When interviewing, active listening is just as important as asking the right questions. It's not enough to make sure your candidate hits all the required beats in their answers. If a candidate says something interesting in their answer, use the opportunity to dig in further with follow-up questions — don’t just move onto the next question on your interview prep document.

Stacy Adams is a strong believer in honing your listening skills: “When you practice active listening, be sure to be engaged, pay attention, and come back with further questions based on the candidates’ responses, versus just reading a list of questions from a piece of paper.”

Improve your listening skills by focusing your attention exclusively on the speaker's words, face, and body language rather than frantically taking notes or thinking about what you’ll ask next. Avoid interrupting and only respond or give feedback once the other person has finished speaking.

5. Probe for the candidate's underlying motivations

You don't want a candidate who can just parrot talking points about your company’s mission statement; you want someone who has done their research and has a deep understanding of how they can fit into, and strengthen, your organization. Clarifying why the candidate wants to work for your company and in this specific position will help you make a decision on their fit.

Your job as an interviewer is to dig deeper with follow-up questions designed to expose the candidate's root desires and motivations. Sofia Quintero, CEO of EnjoyHQ, says, “Focus on understanding the underlying motivations of the candidate. [For example], ask what success looks like to them and how they see your company helping them achieve their personal goals.”

6. Try to match for cultural fit

Culture-driven recruiting is a key component of long-term employee retention. Studies show that employees who share important qualities with the organization and their coworkers perform better at work and stay at their company longer.

To determine if someone is the right fit for your organization, you'll need to look beyond their qualifications to make sure they share your company's values. Chris Lake, Head of Marketing at Vestd, says, “Know your company values. Know them inside out. You should try to establish as early as possible whether the person is a good cultural fit. If you have doubts, then steer your questions accordingly. Hiring the right kind of person is of paramount importance. It's not just about their skill set.”

Assess for alignment on values by asking cultural fit questions designed to start a deeper discussion about the candidate's values and key traits. Brian Nolan, CEO of Sellbrite, agrees: “Ask questions that "test" each of your core values so you can easily determine if the candidate would be a good fit.”

For example, if your company places a premium on putting the customer first, ask the candidate for an example of when they went the extra mile to help a customer. If your culture tends to be self-directed, ask about a time they noticed a process that was broken, and the steps they took to fix it.

7. Know your own biases

When assessing whether or not a candidate will fit into the culture of your company, don't let your inherent biases cloud your judgment. Hiring bias is a subtle, but serious, problem that can cause you to pass over great candidates and give too much attention to poor ones.

Start by being aware of the hiring biases you're most prone to. “Be aware of your...triggers and affinities so you know the perspectives that are coloring your judgments,” says Leah Ward, Chief of Staff at Teampay. This means employing methods to challenge your assumptions about candidates and to second-guess your first impressions. Do post-mortem reviews on past hires to critically evaluate how you hire and why.

To tackle hiring biases, you have to first acknowledge that they exist and raise awareness among your workforce — particularly your interviewers. Consider instituting unconscious bias training to start a dialogue and look for areas of improvement within your hiring processes.

8. Ask curveball questions

Most candidates know what to expect when they go in for an interview. They've already rehearsed answers to most of the common interview questions, which means their answers may sound scripted. How do you get around this? “Ask curveball questions,” says Chris Lake. “You know, the ones that put someone on the spot. The kinds of questions that may seem impossible to answer, or that might have more than one answer. You want people to reveal a little about how they think, and see how they go about joining up the dots.”

This doesn't necessarily mean silly questions like, “If you were a donut, what flavor would you be?” All interview questions should probe for useful information. For example: “What's the last thing you really geeked out about?” or “What do your friends/family/colleagues consider you the 'go-to' person for?” These reveal more about your candidate and their personality, but are less expected than “tell me about yourself,” thus yielding less scripted answers.

9. Honestly represent the position

According to CareerBuilder, two in three workers have accepted a job that they later realized was a bad fit. Half of those workers quit within the first six months. The most common reasons were bad culture fit, mismatched management style, and a lack of clear expectations. Another study found that 6 in 10 employees believe that aspects of their job are different than the expectations set during their interview.

Remember: An interview isn't just about you evaluating a candidate; it's an opportunity for the candidate to evaluate the company and their potential role in it. That's why honesty and frankness about the requirements and demands of the position are essential. Sofia Quintero says, “Be clear about the expectations for the role. People need to know what they are getting into.”

10. Don't be afraid of long pauses

We typically try to avoid long, awkward silences. Your first impulse when a candidate seems unable to answer a question might be to jump in with explanations or examples. This can actually prevent your candidate from forming a thoughtful answer. Chris Lake says, “Don't jump in to fill the gaps. A bit of breathing space in a conversation is perfectly normal. Allow the interviewee to think, and to explore answers at their own pace. Embrace the awkward silence!”

11. Practice until you're confident

Confidence isn't just an important trait for candidates to display. Interviewers who are self-assured and comfortable in their role can also put the candidate at ease, whereas scattered or nervous interviewers may make the interviewee feel the same way.

If you're not naturally confident directing an interview, you can build these skills up with practice. “I always recommend that my interviewers role-play with a friend, family member, or former colleague prior to an interview,” says Luisa McInnis, Division Director at OfficeTeam. “It's a great idea to practice in the mirror to see what your posture and facial expressions look like as well. You want to be confident and inviting.”

12. Cultivate curiosity

The best interviewers aren't just ticking off boxes on a rubric. They genuinely want to learn about the candidates they meet. They dig deep into people's motivations, their skills, and backstories by asking probing questions.

Showing genuine curiosity doesn't just make you a more insightful interviewer; it makes the candidate feel important and valued, not just another person on the docket. “Develop an innate sense of curiosity. Ask good questions, and know what good answers are. You need to be able to drill down.” says William Uranga.

Cultivate curiosity in your daily life that will carry over to your interviewing activities. Practice asking “why?” encourage people to talk about themselves, and pay attention to how much you speak compared to how much you listen in conversations.

Develop your own interview style

You may not currently have all of the skills outlined above, but you can cultivate them with training and practice.

Great interviewers know what traits to look for in a candidate, and how to find them by asking the right questions and follow-up questions. They have confidence, along with good organizational and communication skills. They know how to be honest, not just with candidates, but with themselves, when it comes to assessing their own values and biases.

As you develop your interviewing skills, naturally incorporate your personality to create a unique style. You'll run better interviews, hire better candidates, and eventually become the expert giving interview tips.

About Hire by Google

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