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Interviewing is Not Interrogation

May 12, 2000
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Every recruiter knows the phases of an interview like the buttons on the TV remote.

We've been through them a million times, which is how we feel at the end of a long day of interviews. You open with an icebreaker to build rapport, give them a little background about the company and the position (just not too much), then start asking questions.

And more questions. You pepper them with questions until they either eliminate themselves or demonstrate that they're worthy of the next interview. A day or so later you contact them to set up that meeting with the hiring manager and the person turns you down. No, they don't have another job already, although that happens frequently enough.

No applicant wants to feel like they're standing at the wrong end of a shooting gallery.

They're just not interested because they were unhappy with the feel of the organization that they got from the interview. What went wrong?

Well, frequently, their reasons centered on the interviewer's technique, which was all too visible from where they were sitting. I've spoken with many people who have turned down offers of second interviews. A composite of their responses would go something like this:

"First he asked me about the weather and if I'd had any trouble finding the place. Then he switched gears, saying 'Let me tell you a little bit about the position.' Right after that he started in with questions, one right after another. 'What interests you about this job?,' 'Tell me what your boss would say about you?,' 'Where do you see yourself in five years?'

The whole time he barely looked at me. He just went through his list. He looked so bored in his job I don't see how I could ever get excited about working in that place. When he called me, I said, no thanks."

Here are some thoughts I have on avoiding this kind of rut:

Plan but meander

You need to know which questions you'll ask to obtain different types of information about the candidate's background, but plan to meander, too.

Think about the order of the questions. Does one question lead naturally to the next? Will the candidate feel that you're jumping all over the place, or that you have a sense of where you're going in the process?

Remember that the rapport building portion of the interview doesn't end five minutes after we sit down and start talking. Rapport building has to happen at the beginning, at the end and throughout the interview. It has to happen after every question and as you progress from one part of the interview to the next. Look the candidate in the eye and respond to show that you're listening.

If you don't look like you've got it together, you're presenting a negative image of the whole company. Remember, for all intents and purposes, at this point you ARE the company.

Don't lose control

Sometimes when you hand the reins of the interview over to the applicant, they will tell you fascinating things about their experience. Keep the conversation job related. You don't want to find out that they're caring for a seriously ill family member or anything else about them that could put you in litigious hot water. Be sure you can reassume control of the interview without making the candidate feel uncomfortable or that they've talked too much.

Paraphrase some answers to insure that you've understood what they are saying, but also to keep yourself interested and involved in the process. Sometimes when you give the candidate minimal encouragement--the occasional "I see" or "Tell me more" can work wonders--they open up and flood you with relevant information.

Take your time

If you're busy working your way through a list of prepared questions, you're very likely to make the mistake of overlooking their answers. This is one of the reasons so many interviewers find they can't differentiate one candidate from another at the end of the day.

Don't be afraid to take your time with the better candidates. Be a storyteller in the interview. When you're setting the stage for them to answer a hypothetical question, give them a realistic idea of the situation you're asking them to assess and respond to.

What's the worst that can happen? You'll fall a little behind in your schedule. But what is the goal here, checking off all the names on the list of candidates, or finding the best one?

Remember, you need them as much as--and often more--than they need you.

Actually listen

The goal is to make the candidate feel like it's not an interview. People have told me about interviews they remember that seemed more like a conversation with someone who was interested in them than an interview. They also told me they were more likely to accept an offer from that company.

Most important, be an active listener. When applicants start talking, of course you have to take some notes, but look them in the eye and really try to be interested in what they have to say. They're nervous enough already.

If you want to get the most useful information from the candidate, make the interview as easy as possible, not as hard. It's a skill to seamlessly guide a candidate through the interview without their realizing that you are leading them to reveal what you need to know in order to make your hiring decision. Remember, you need them as much as--and often more--than they need you.

Recent Articles by Ronald Katz

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