Key to Good Hiring: Good Interviews

In these times of low unemployment, don’t you as an employer want to know the key to good hiring? After all, a bad hire means that recruiting dollars are wasted, projects remain incomplete and you may even lose customers or good employees who are tired of dealing with the subpar employee.

In an ideal workplace, each new hire performs the job duties well, fits into the culture, contributes new ideas and energy, forms close professional relationships with coworkers and increases the efficiency and effectiveness of the organization.

But how do you achieve that ideal? You have to know the key–good hiring requires good interviewing.

Okay, that should have been obvious. But in my 25+ years of experience in the world of employment, I’ve seen more poor interviews than good ones. See if any of these questions sound familiar:

  • How did you hear about this job?
  • Tell me about yourself.
  • How do you know so and so?
  • Do you know how to use a computer?
  • Do you like to work in a fast-paced (or casual, or family-oriented, etc.) environment?
  • Insert any other close-ended question that provides zero information here.

Open-ended questions that are too general like “tell me about yourself” will only inform you of whatever the applicant wants you to know. Close-ended questions that require just a “yes” or “no” answer provide you with no useful information.

We often treat interviews like we are trying to make small talk at a cocktail party. And we often have similar awkward results. So how do you interview well?

  1. Know what the job actually requires. That means that you have a written job description in front of you when you are coming up with interview questions. Those are the duties that you are going to ask about. For each duty, you can ask about the applicant’s experience and knowledge with that duty.
  2. Also consider what character traits you want in an employee. For example, integrity is always very high on my list because of the confidential nature of my business. So I always ask a question about integrity, such as “Who have you known or worked with that you would consider a person of great integrity and why did you come to that conclusion?”
  3. Make sure your questions are open-ended but specific. That means you start them with phrases like “describe for me”, “tell me about”, or “give me an example of”. And you finish them with a specific skill or trait that you are seeking, whether that is about computer skills, customer service, stress management or sales abilities.
  4. Come up with a list of approximately 12-15 questions that will really help you distinguish between the applicants and find out what you really need to know. For example, if being detail-oriented is very important in the job you are filling, ask “Describe for me the steps you take to assure that your work in your current job is accurate.”
  5. In addition, you can ask some preliminary questions like “Describe your ideal job for me” and “Tell me about the best boss you’ve ever had and why you responded to him/her” to get a feel for the applicant’s real career desires and motivations.
  6. You can wrap up your list with closing questions, such as “Now that you’ve heard about us and the job, what hesitations or reluctance would you have in taking the job if offered?” and “Tell me anything else you would like us to know about you that would aid us in making our decision”.
  7. All of these questions need to be written out before the very first interview. Read them over carefully for any discrimination or illegality or have your lawyer review them. Have the written questions in front of you during the interview with space to make your notes.
  8. Ask those same questions of each and every interviewee in the same order. Don’t change a question and don’t skip a question.
  9. Make notes in writing during and immediately after each interview to memorialize how the applicant answered each question.

At the end of several interviews, you will have an apples-to-apples comparison of how three or four applicants answered these same questions and you can pick the one applicant who gave the most thoughtful or relevant answers.

From an employment lawyer’s perspective, these two concepts of (1) knowing what you are going to ask ahead of time and (2) being consistent in asking the same questions of each applicant are crucial to preventing any discrimination in hiring. This standardization of each interview helps avoid off-the-cuff mistakes and conversations in interviews that stray into dangerous territory, such as “do you have young children”, “where do you go to church” or “have you ever been injured on the job”.

Good interviewing also means that the applicant should talk five times more than the interviewer. You want to put the applicant at ease, but then you must shut up and listen. You are trying to gather information that will tell you if the interviewee could be a great employee, not fill in the awkward pauses with a bunch of your own chatter.

This process will be a little time-consuming and a little tedious at first, but every employer I know who has regretted a hire has acknowledged that rushing the hiring process was a mistake. Take your time, make your plan and then stick to it and you will get a good hire.

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