Job interviews from the other side of the desk
May 27, 2010 3:52 AM   Subscribe

Any tips for holding a successful job interview?

I've just been asked to help with job interviews at my company and I have no experience of job interviews from the other side of the desk.

My boss will be present, but what questions and things should I be aware of so we can get the best out of the person and the interview?
posted by Navek Rednam to Work & Money (9 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
You'll probably be asked about your overall "feel" of a candidate first, your sense of how they might fit in your corporate culture. In terms of specific questions it might be helpful to prep. with others on the interviewing team to make sure all bases are covered. If the candidates will be working directly with your team perhaps you could target your questions to how their skills would match-up with your needs, covering the areas the middle-managers might not have on their radar.
posted by Pamelayne at 4:06 AM on May 27, 2010

If possible, you and your boss should work out who will ask what before the interview. It can be weird if one of the interviewers asks all the questions.
posted by mullacc at 4:17 AM on May 27, 2010

Best answer: A few general tips:

- ask open-ended questions
- make sure the interviewee does at least 80% of the talking
- take notes, recording your observations of the candidate as well as what he/she says

Beyond that, it really depends on how your company generally interviews candidates. If, for example, you have a list of competencies for the specific job, you and your boss might want to discuss (in advance) appropriate questions to ask and who will ask which ones. You didn't mention anything about the position you're interviewing candidates for, but it wouldn't be surprising if your boss asked for your involvement so you can evaluate the candidate's technical know-how. This might be especially likely if the open position is for a teammate or is somehow related to yours.

I am a firm believer in behavioral-based interviewing. With BBI, you ask questions that start "tell me about a time when..." or "give me an example of..." Asked in this way, you're not tipping your hand about what you're looking for so the candidate has little choice but to provide a reasonably direct and honest answer. That yields the best information for you to evaluate.

I interview job candidates for a living. Feel free to memail me with specific questions or more information.
posted by DrGail at 5:01 AM on May 27, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'm in the process of hiring someone right now, and similarly it's my first time being the person to ask the questions. Here are some tips based on my experience, which I culled from speaking to several other people in the office with far more experience:

We're taking a committee approach -- three people interviewing the candidate, two from within the department and one from another department that makes sense (that is, is typically represented on cross-functional teams that the open position would also be part of). Before the interview, I prepped folders for everyone with the candidate's cover letter and resume, the list of "DO NOT ASK THIS BECAUSE IT'S ILLEGAL" questions from HR, a short overview of the full hiring process (to go over next steps), the actual job posting, the evaluation sheet, and the actual list of suggested questions. Review all the info ahead of time and bring it with you to the interview, but you'll probably find that you don't need it during the interview.

Questions were drafted to assess three areas: skills, content knowledge, and organizational cultural fit. The skills questions should be closely matched to what is listed in the job description. Skills questions should be framed to get detailed, concrete answers -- it can be helpful to ask the candidate to run through a scenario (e.g. "Tell us how you would approach pulling together a major presentation from idea to follow-through, and what tasks would you need to complete along the way?"). Content knowledge, again, should be related to what they need to know for the job, or if you're not expecting an expert, then tailor it to how they plan to gain that knowledge and what methods they use or plan to use to stay current in your field. Org culture questions are around preferred management style, how would your coworkers describe your working style, give an example of how you "manage up," etc.

Our committee met beforehand to review questions, and we agreed that we all felt most comfortable with keeping the flow of questions organic and not predetermined. It's worked for us and keeps the interview less stiff, but YMMV. We open the interview by asking the candidate to tell us what they know about our company / the position and why they were interested in the first place (gives them a chance to show off that they did their research), we add in any clarification, and then jump into the questions. After finishing our set of questions, invite the candidate to ask questions of you, close by detailing next steps so they know when they can expect to hear back, thank them, and leave. The committee meets immediately afterward to discuss strengths, weaknesses, further questions we have about the candidate, and come to a general consensus on where they rank.

Random other pieces of advice: when the person first arrives, be welcoming! Offer them water, let them know where the restrooms are, etc. Interviews can be intimidating, and you'll get a better interview if the person is comfortable. When asking questions, keep it concise.

Good luck with the process!
posted by ohruaidhri at 5:05 AM on May 27, 2010

Listen for how the interviewee answers; sometimes when I interview I ask the traditionally lame "tell me your strengths and weaknesses" question, but I don't really care what their answers are unless they really screw up. Whether they answer their weaknesses first, if they can coherently explain their strengths, if they rephrase their weaknesses as strengths or vice-versa, it tells a lot about the person. I also ask a lot of 'opposite questions' for similar reasons, plus it filters out BS: "tell me about a time you worked on a team", immediately next ask "how about a project you worked on entirely by yourself". The purpose is to get them to talk about themselves and show what kind of employee they are; lots of people can check boxes on a form to identify skills. Skill requirements for a new employee aside, you're hiring somebody for the purpose of spending 8 hours a day at your company, being given instructions and being taught how to do things, and personality has a lot more to do with those aspects of an employee than you might think.
posted by AzraelBrown at 6:02 AM on May 27, 2010

Depending on where you live there are certain kinds of questions that you can't ask the candidate. Make sure you are aware of these types of questions.

Either your boss or your HR department should give you guidance here.
posted by dfriedman at 6:19 AM on May 27, 2010

Best answer: Some of the best advice I was ever given regarding hiring was that, if you're screening your candidates appropriately, for 90% of the positions your filling, just about everyone who you call in for an interview can do the work. Assuming you screened resumes appropriately, the candidates in the room with you are competent and can be taught to do what you need them to do. After that, it's purely a question of who you want to spend 8 hours in a room with. You can send a candidate you like in for more training if they're weak in a certain area, but you can't train someone to no longer be a jerk.
posted by craven_morhead at 8:01 AM on May 27, 2010

Best answer: DrGail : I am a firm believer in behavioral-based interviewing. With BBI, you ask questions that start "tell me about a time when..." or "give me an example of..." Asked in this way, you're not tipping your hand about what you're looking for so the candidate has little choice but to provide a reasonably direct and honest answer. That yields the best information for you to evaluate.

I agree with this very much. I would also encourage you to press when you hear the word "would", as in; you ask a question and the candidate says "I would do this..." Hypotheticals can be unhelpful. Demand specifics. So if someone were to respond with an answer like "I would work with the team to solve the problem" you should drill down with "Give me an example of when you did this."

Also, it's very important to know what questions are illegal; there are a surprising number of small-talk inquiries about things like family and background that, when asked in the context of an interview, are in violation of the law. It's a good idea to know what areas are off limits beforehand so you can avoid them.

Finally, and this one is really the most useful, write out all your questions beforehand. Try to have some that cover the candidate's characteristics, some that cover the specifics of their work experience, and some that address how they will "fit" into the job (career goals, room for growth, etc.)
posted by quin at 12:46 PM on May 27, 2010

- Remember the do-not-ask questions mentioned above. It is hugely awkward when you ask one.
- Have some game plan for the follow-up (not just "you'll hear from us" but "we will follow up in 2 weeks"

(and I can't believe no one has said this)
- Your mobile phone is not invited to the interview (neither is the interviewee's, obviously).
posted by whatzit at 4:17 AM on May 28, 2010

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