The vast majority of job interview advice is directed at interviewees. We all know, however, that it takes two to tango. Both parties are important. Despite that self-evident principle, interviewers are relatively neglected, and that neglect can by no means be attributed to the great skills they universally employ.
It’s equally obvious that every organization has an interest in making every interview as productive as possible. There are obstacles, however. One difficulty is that there are few reliable guidelines, especially if reliability entails the correlation of interview variables with job performance. Sometimes, that difficulty becomes an excuse: Since the interview is more art than science, we may as well accept its imperfections and settle for a “good-enough” result.
Instead of giving in to that state of mind, it’s at least worth remembering some of the basic principles that help the interviewer do a better job.
Do Your Homework
All too often, it becomes obvious to an interviewee that the interviewer is starting from scratch. He hasn’t read the resume or, if he has, he no longer remembers it. He reads it on the spot. He looks up from time to time to ask a question. The interview is over before it has a chance to really start.
Even the busiest interviewer would be better served by taking a few minutes to review things in advance. Go over the resume. Read the cover letter. Highlight items that stand out, and take notes as you go. An interview that’s simply a rehash of a resume is a poor use of everyone’s time.
Take notes throughout the interview. It’s essential if you’re seeing a long line of people back to back, but it’s almost always a useful exercise.
Take a few minutes after the interview to jot down a summary. Candidates blur together as you work your way through a series of interviews. Let a week go by, and you’ll be very glad you took the time to record your immediate impressions.
Canned Answers for Canned Questions
The Internet has had a profound effect on the job search, and the interview process has not been spared. For one thing, interviewees have access to all the questions that companies have asked, from the most mundane to the most bizarre. If the shape of a manhole cover was ever a mystery, that mystery has been solved. If you think a behavioral question is original, think again.
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Interviewees rehearse. They anticipate the questions and they practice their answers. They tell you what they think you want to hear, and who can blame them?
Canned answers, then, are a fact of interviewing life. One way to avoid them is to return to the idea of interviewer preparation. Again, do your homework. Spend some time with the candidate’s paperwork and let that be your guide. It’s a rare resume that fails to suggest some questions, and those questions are likely to be more personal, more relevant, and more revealing than the questions that are not specific to a given interviewee.
We’re all willing to acknowledge that a job interview is an artificial situation. We want it to be something better, something more like a conversation. That goal cannot be reached if the entire interview consists of question, then answer, then question and answer, on and on until time’s up.
Follow-up questions break the cycle, but they do require something more of the interviewer than the ability to work through a list of prescribed questions. They require attention, a willingness to listen and to respond. When the interviewee is being vague, or when you’re hearing perfectly appropriate generalities that tell you nothing, you need to follow up. Ask for specifics. Ask about practical applications and alternatives.
The follow-up questions themselves are not the issue. What matters is that they give you a chance to get the interviewee to actually talk to you, not at you, one sign of an interview that’s on the right course.