Improve Your Interviewing Skills

Hiring is hard. Do you give candidates a test? Do you ask about their experience or pose theoretical situations to see how they think them through? These questions are hard enough for recruiters to answer and even more of a mystery for entrepreneurs. While there’s no perfect formula, when it comes to finding talent, interviewing has to tell you a lot. Enhancing your talent efforts is a combination of creating a process for interviewing and improving how you interview candidates through that process. In this lesson, we provide steps to improve your interview process and interviewing skills to give you the best chance of success in accessing talent.

Create a Standard Process

Relying on someone's "gut" feeling is not a process. A process structures the timing and evaluation tools you use to optimize your hiring efforts. You should create a standard process to streamline your interview process:

  • Determine the Interview Team. Determine who will interview a candidate. If it is just you, include third parties such as advisors that may bring a more objective view of a candidate than you and your team can.
  • Create a Standard Evaluation Form. Create a standard form that scores the individual on the areas that are important to the company. This allows for an objective score as a starting point that can then be colored with qualitative opinions.
  • Structure a Standard Process. Establish a standard process for distributing resumes, collecting feedback and following up.
  • Check References Closely. Dig deep into references to find out as much as you can. Challenge references to point out challenges the candidate how to deal with, areas they could improve upon or an example of how they fell short. Try to get as candid an assessment as you can.
  • Come Up With a Score. Use your standard scoring template to come up with numerical assessments from every team member. Use those rankings to hold discussions among team members to make final decisions.

With this process in place, you create some discipline around which you can best apply your judgment.

Improve Interview Techniques

Of course you will never know what it is like to work with someone until they join you, but these techniques may help you gain some greater insights. On the interviewing end, this means that interviewers should:

  • Ask Situational Questions. Interviews shouldn’t be treated as due diligence but as a way to determine whether this hire can do the job well, fits in with your culture and preferred way of working and is enjoyable and professional to work with. This comes from asking for specific examples from a person’s professional past. “Tell me about a time when…” will evoke more meaningful responses than the basic “Would you be able to…” or “Can you…” questions. Ask for anecdotes, or a walk-through of old projects to see how candidates think and work.
  • Ask Open Ended Questions. An open-ended question is designed to encourage a full, meaningful answer using the subject's own knowledge and/or feelings. It is the opposite of a closed-ended question, which encourages a short or single-word answer. To successfully ask open-ended questions in conversation, be knowledgeable of their characteristics:
    • They require a person to pause, think, and reflect.
    • Answers will not be facts, but personal feelings, opinions, or ideas about a subject.
    • The control of the conversation switches over to the person being asked the question, which begins an exchange between the people. If the control of the conversation stays with the person asking questions, you are asking closed-ended questions.
    • Avoid questions that have the following characteristics: answers provide facts; they are easy to answer; and answers are given quickly and require little to no thought. Questions that reflect these things are closed-ended.
  • Hold a Behavioral Dialogue. During the job interview, help the candidate demonstrate his or her knowledge, skills, and experience. Start with small talk and ask several easy questions until the candidate seems relaxed. Then, hold a behavioral interview. A behavioral interview is the best tool you have to identify candidates who have the behavioral traits and characteristics that you have selected as necessary for success in a particular job. Additionally, behavioral interviews ask the candidate to pinpoint specific instances in which a particular behavior was exhibited in the past. In the best behaviorally-based interviews, the candidate is unaware of the behavior the interviewer is verifying.
  • Assess Non-Verbal Communications. You can learn not only from what a candidate says, but how he or she acts including:
    • Posture and Space Usage. Is your candidate sitting comfortably yet upright, but not stiffly, in his chair? Does he walk with a self-assured ease? He’s likely confident and comfortable with himself. Slouchy posture speaks loudly about sloppy work and low self-esteem. Posture that enables an individual to take up the appropriate amount of space in the room tells you that the applicant is secure in his abilities. Sloppy posture gives the impression of low energy and carelessness.
    • Handshake. Notice whether your candidate has a firm, dry, solid handshake. Again, a confident, comfortable person uses the handshake as a positive nonverbal interaction. The handshake should assure you of the candidate’s desire for a positive first interaction and impression. A limp handshake signals low confidence and low self-esteem. An excessively strong handshake may tell you the person is overly aggressive.
    • Clothing and Accessories. No matter how informal your work environment, a professional job candidate needs to wear a suit to the first meeting.
      • The selected outfit tells you how well the candidate will interact with and be perceived by customers.
      • The chosen accessories either telegraph professionalism or they don’t.
      • A briefcase, a leather portfolio, a nice pen, leather purse and shined shoes present a solid, professional appearance. They tell you the candidate cared enough to want to make a good first impression.
      • Makeup, perfume, and jewelry, worn tastefully, can add to your perception of their professionalism.
      • Dirty fingernails or scuffed shoes tell you the person is careless, too hurried, or unaware of the impression they have on others. Not good.
      • Alternatively, if the candidate attempted to look polished and professional for the interview – and doesn’t – this is likely as good as it gets.
    • Attentiveness and Eye Contact. Watch the listening and interactive behavior of your candidate. He should act as if he is engaged by leaning slightly forward in his chair to close some of the distance between himself and the interviewer.
      • You want to hire a candidate who can comfortably put his portfolio on your desk to take notes, yet not take up too much of your space.
      • You want an employee who can maintain comfortable eye contact without staring or forced attentiveness.
      • If the candidate spends the interview with his eyes moving all over the room, rarely looking at you, this can signal a lack of confidence – or worse – he doesn’t care.
      • Long, forced eye contact can indicate an overly aggressive person who does not care about your comfort. And, if he doesn’t care about your comfort during the interview, that behavior won’t get better when you hire him.
      • Listen to the candidate’s responses to your questions. Did he hear your question? Did he answer succinctly and share stories, or ramble incessantly off topic? The former tells you he prepared for the interview and has success stories to share. The latter signals unprepared, ill-at-ease, or that he didn’t care enough to pay attention.
    • Facial Expressions. Nothing is as communicative as the facial expressions of your candidates. The key to listening to their nonverbal communication is whether their facial expressions match the words spoken.
      • Facial expressions that fail to match the words spoken can indicate serious discomfort or lying – neither desirable behaviors in a candidate.
      • A candidate that never makes eye contact and talks to a spot over your shoulder is uncomfortable and demonstrating a lack of confidence. You want to hire an employee whose facial expressions are consistent with and punctuate her words.
    • Body Language. Body language speaks loudly, too. Is the candidate leaning back in his seat with his legs crossed at the knee? He’s too relaxed for an interview setting. Has he taken over your whole desk with his arms and accessories? He’s overly aggressive. Does he lean back with his hands crossed behind his head? This is aggressive interview behavior in the extreme. Don’t expect less aggressive behavior if you hire him.
      • If the candidate makes a statement and looks away from you or appears nervous, she’s probably not telling the truth. If she stares into your eyes as she tells her story, she may be fabricating.
      • If she taps her pen constantly, twists her jewelry at the end of every sentence, strokes her hair every few minutes, she is sending all sorts of messages about her discomfort—with the interview setting or with her skills and abilities in general? It’s hard to tell.

Improving these interview techniques will improve your chances of making the most of your ever important early hires.

Illegal Interview Questions

Expanding the types of questions you and your team asks can provide insights, but make sure your team knows to avoid illegal questions around:

  • Age
  • Gender
  • Race
  • Religion
  • Citizenship
  • Disabilities, illnesses
  • Ethnicity, national origin
  • Organizational or political affiliation
  • Family, children, marital status

The following questions should be avoided:

  • What arrangements are you able to make for child care while you work?
  • How old are your children?
  • When did you graduate from high school?
  • Are you a U.S. citizen?
  • What does your wife do for a living?
  • Where did you live while you were growing up?
  • Will you need personal time for particular religious holidays?
  • Are you comfortable working for a female boss?
  • There is a large disparity between your age and that of the position’s coworkers. Is this a problem for you?
  • How long do you plan to work until you retire?
  • Have you experienced any serious illnesses in the past year?

During an interview, you must take care to keep your interview questions focused on the behaviors, skills, and experience needed to perform the job. If you find your discussion straying off course or eliciting information you don’t want about potential job discrimination topics, bring the discussion quickly back on topic by asking another job-related interview question.

Sample Interview Questions

Use these sample job interview questions when you interview potential employees.