Better Interviewers for Better Interviews

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

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.

Follow Up

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.


15 Comments on “Better Interviewers for Better Interviews

  1. All respect to you Paul, but are you not in essence here referring to page one of the ‘Guide to Recruitment’ understood so that we are really talking the very basics and foundation for what constitutes recruitment?
    As much as I think the mere basics being forgotten or at least not applied by many recruiters, someone who does not know how to cover the areas described by you ought not to be in the recruitment business.

  2. @ Jacob: Having a convenient list such as Paul has provided is useful to both recruiters (to make sure we cover everything without relying on imperfect memories) and to interviewers (who may not have done it before or done it properly).


  3. It seems that so many companies these days are hiring new college graduates to do their recruiting. They receive very little training and are set loose to contact candidates. A candidate’s impression of the company is based on his/her initial interaction with that recruiter. Even if that novice recruiter’s job is just to conduct a phone screen, so many little things could go wrong (e.g. scheduling), leaving a poor impression of the hiring company. I will be sharing Paul’s article with several new college grads I know who are working as recruiters.

  4. @Keith Nothing wrong with having a checklist and guidelines, it is how you quality assure and ensure best candidate experience so I am all in favour of that. @Marcia Young college grads doing recruitment, exactly my point and trust me I have had more than enough exposure to them..Unless properly trained, properly vetted and qualified it is directly wrong and detrimental and with chances of huge mistakes potentially being made (again here own hindsight as well of what exposed to over the years) these young people being let loose on subjects and people on whom they have had little or no exposure. If under my management I would n e v e r allow anyone near a candidate (and companies like PepsiCo have a system where anyone from recruiter to hiring manager have to pass ‘interview ability assessment’ prior to being allowed near a candidate) unless I was sure that they conducted interviews according to best practice. Much is broken in recruitment and if we cannot even assure the very fundamentals like proper interview behaviour being of a high standard, then we really are regressing.

  5. Thanks for many thoughtful comments on my article. You are certainly the experts! An additional thought after reading these comments is that selecting a more senior employee to conduct interviews with new grads may be wise but keep in mind the risks that come with it, such as the interviewees looking at the interviewer as a potential boss. Anyone hitting the job market is going to give some thought to avoiding the bad boss in the first place. New grads don’t always know what clues to look for and may be sensitive to a nightmare waiting for them if they are “lucky” enough to get the job.

  6. @Paul. There are those in recruitment that subscribe to the attitude of that an interview is a one way affair, and that it is the role of an interviewer to make sure that t h e y get their answers first and foremost. That it is BUT, as much it is about making sure that there is a dialogue and that candidates leave with a positive fulfilled sense that will translate to interest, enthusiasm and engagement. The interviewer must on their side ensure that all required information is extracted.
    So it is in effect a near 50/50 affair and a delicate balance must be tread ensuring all aspects covered from interviewers side a n d from candidates side.
    A good seasoned and mature recruiter will know exactly how to do that, be able to provide required information and at the same time ask for and understand the nuances of a candidate. Personally I have huge difficulties with interviewers under the age of 30 as they rarely go beyond their scripts, what t h e y wish to get out of a candidate and the competency based interview questions that they have been taught to ask and and get an answer to.

    I have experienced and seen them all, and near no one has much of a clue what they are doing, why and how, not to mention putting it all into context.

    In respect to you comment about a graduate possibly feeling intimidated by an older interviewer, back to earlier made comment (and based on having interviewed hordes of graduates) a good interviewer (and that can only come through exposure and experience) will understand to put their candidate at ease, make them understand that an interview a two way affair and tailor their approach according to candidate age, background and role in question.

  7. Great piece, I was just talking about that today with a colleague. The interview process goes both ways, bad choices can lead to candidates leaving shortly after they are hired or being put off and saying no to the job offer, resulting in the lose of a great canidate. Here’s a great blog on mistakes recruiters make and how it results in losing a potentially great candidate

  8. I think this article is an excellent reminder of the basics of a good interview. Some may say these suggestions are obvious, but having worked in the recruiting field for a combine 40 years, my team and I can tell you first hand that “obvious” is often not “obvious” for many people. There are constant changes in the recruiting world as “new and innovative” ideas pop up. Some are good, some are not. Unfortunately, the obvious basics that make a strong foundation for a good interview are often tossed aside during the process.
    Having a reminder like this one is a great way to refocus interviewers.
    Ken Schmitt

  9. @Kenn Following said with deepest respect to someone with 20 years of additional experience and background to myself.
    If the basics and what I consider absolute within top 10 of most important aspects of working and being in recruitment and conducting interviews need reminding then I afraid I have to say that there is something fundamentally flawed here. This is what I learnt as t h e most important criteria more than 20 years ago, and I have them printed into my DNA and everything I do, and consider the same ought to be the case for every single person in the industry of recruitment and interviewing. Certain elements in recruitment should never ever leave you and simply be part of you, these amongst those.

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