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Time of Possession and the Interview

While interviewing a candidate, success doesn’t happen by dominating the conversation but by finding the sweet spot that allows you to get the maximum information.

Based on what I do for a living in the world of HR, a portion of my network is always approaching me for advice when it comes to job search and career issues. I’m sure many of you have the same experience.

When it comes to interviewing strategies, my advice to amaze hiring managers is simple to understand by my friends looking for their next gig:

“If the hiring manager wants to talk the whole time during your interview, let him. After the interview is done, he’ll think it went great.”

The advice for your hiring managers/executives, of course, is the direct opposite. The best interviewers across your management teams understand that effective selection on the recruiting trail is more about listening than speaking.

But the ol’ “listen more than you talk” platitude oversimplifies the game of interviewing. Simply letting the candidate talk more doesn’t make you an effective interviewer. The real value is found in the following concept:

Time of Possession 

In football, “time of possession” tracks the amount of time one team has the ball. The thought process behind it is that if one team can keep the ball longer than the other team, they’re apt to score more points and have a fresher defense, which contributes to winning.

The inverse is true in interviewing. Success doesn’t happen by dominating the conversation, it comes by finding the sweet spot that allows you to facilitate as an interviewer in a way that provides you with maximum information.

I’ve seen great interviewers and I’ve seen the huddled masses who repeatedly fail to get the information they need. Here’s how they break down related to time of possession (how much they talk versus allowing the candidate to talk) and the nicknames I’ve tagged them with:

  1. The Friendster (hiring manager who talks 40 to 50 percent of the time): A lot of your managers would be satisfied with this time of possession. “It was a peer-based conversation,” he said. “I felt like we had some great dialogue,” she said. They’re wrong. They didn’t make the candidate talk long enough to gain meaningful information, and as a result, their miss rate on hires is going to be too high.
  2. The Cyborg (hiring manager who talks 5 to 10 percent of the time): If talking too much is wrong, then a manager who only controls less than 10 percent of the interview airtime must be good, right? Nope. The Cyborg represents the manager who gets the official question in, then displays a general tone-deafness to interrupt rambling candidates or ask smart follow-up questions. In other words, you can count on the Cyborg to ask the question you put in front of them, but don’t expect anything else. They’re out of their element, and they won’t get any more information than interviewers who talk all the time.
  3. The Narcissist (hiring manager who talks 65 percent or more of the time): Speaking of talking all the time, meet the Narcissist. The Narcissist loves himself. He loves his ideas. He’s got a worldview that is not only unique, it’s profound. He’ll talk all interview long and as I mentioned previously, he likes people who let him talk. If you’re interviewing with him, don’t fight it. Let him talk and you’ll be in good shape to get the job. Of course, you might think carefully about whether you want to work for him.
  4. The Investigative Reporter (hiring manager who talks 20 percent of the time): The sweet spot of interviewing, the Reporter understands the balance that is required between talking and listening. She’s prepped with interview questions, but understands that’s simply a starting point and quickly spends most her time of possession saying things like, “tell me more about that” and “why did you decide to do that?” She’s an evolved interviewer, understanding the need to be agile, probing and interrupting as necessary to get maximum information.

Do you see your managers of people in these profiles? Sure you do. Interviewing skills tend to follow behavioral trends that impact managers in other areas as well.

Your most effective managers are generally your best interviewers. Coaching skills and interviewing skills are highly related, placing a premium on relationship building, making others comfortable to get the best possible outcome and demanding more without coming across as a jerk.

Divide the managers you support into these interviewing profiles, then look at turnover trends across multiple years. You’ll find the managers with the most effective time of possession strategies don’t miss in hiring nearly as much as their peers.

To be a great interviewer, talk less. But ask for more.

Kris Dunn, the chief human resources officer at Kinetix, is a Workforce contributing editor. Comment below or email editors@workforce.com. Follow Workforce on Twitter at @workforcenews.