While many job candidates do mock interviews to prepare for the “real thing,” few managers charged with hiring have ever done a mock interview to prepare to conduct an interview. Indeed, it is often assumed that anyone who has gone through an interview is already qualified to interview job candidates, but this is by no means the reality. Not surprisingly, then, stories of job interviews gone wrong are not difficult to find, and bad and even disastrous job interviews are a phenomenon that appears to cut across nearly every type of organization and industry imaginable.
First, there are interviews that are simply ineffectual—those which fail to discern anything that is not already evident from a candidate’s resume, cover letter and online profile. The ineffectual interviewer is often the interviewer who assumes that the point of an interview is simply to verify information. This is the type of interviewer who asks, “Can you tell me where you completed your MBA, and what you have done since graduating?” rather than asking, “How did your MBA prepare you for your current position?” While the former question is about verification, the latter question asks the candidate to explain what they learned during their formal education and its relevance to their current position. Ineffectual interviewers are also those who spend so much time talking, job candidates slip into the background and have no time at all to leave an impression.
Much worse than the interview that fails to discern anything new about a job candidate, however, is the interview that is inappropriate or even illegal. In some cases, inappropriate interviews are a matter of context. In the academy, for example, it is a common practice for long-listed job candidates to be interviewed at annual conventions, which means that candidates are typically invited to a hotel suite for their interview. While it is by no means the norm, reports of interviewers asking questions while lounging on beds or wearing nothing but a bathrobe or pair of sweatpants are not unheard of. Much more serious than the inappropriate interview, however, is the interview that steps across a legal line (e.g., an interviewer asking an interviewee about his or her marital status or making a lewd comment).
Whether an interview is ineffectual, inappropriate or illegal, however, when interviewers fail to do their job, organizations lose time, money and in some cases, potentially strong job candidates. After all, interviewers are not simply charged with the task of asking candidates questions but also charged with the task of selling their organization to prospective job candidates. Interviewer training, then, is essential. As a baseline, interviewers need to appreciate the importance of the following five considerations:
Before an interviewee arrives, know what you want to find out and how you’re going to obtain this information. If something is already evident from the candidate’s resume, cover letter or portfolio, don’t ask them to repeat the information. Focus on probing for information that is not evident (e.g., gaps in the candidate’s career history or troublesome absences in qualifications or experience).
If it is a group interview, know who is going to ask what—there’s nothing worse than three interviewers asking the same question. Prepare one collective interview schedule and decide who will ask what before the candidate arrives.
As much as you may want to explain your organization, talk about your history, describe what you need or hope to find in a new candidate, you should spend much more time listening than talking. In fact, an 80-20 split (or even better, an 85-15 split) should be your goal. Bear in mind that once you do the hire, the tables will turn, and you’ll have ample time to talk about your organization, its history and the scope of the new position.
4. Knowing Internal Policies and Legal Limits
Asking the wrong question can be inappropriate or worse yet, it can land you in a legal dilemma you’ll live to regret. Ensure you have reviewed all HR policies on hiring prior to the interview and ensure you already know what you can and cannot ask by law.
You are representing your organization. As a result, where the interview takes place, how you present yourself and how you behave will be read as a reflection of your organizational culture. Keep it professional and embody your organization’s public image. Moreover, while personal questions (e.g., about travel or a candidate’s favorite sport) can be a great way to learn more about a candidate and their interests, avoid asking overly personal questions that may land you in a legal quagmire or simply take you off topic.