Help me be an efficient and reliable interviewer.
March 29, 2012 6:22 AM   Subscribe

How to be a good interviewer, not interviewee.

Hello Everyone,

At work I've been asked to be one of ten interviewers interviewing a 4 candidates for a new position here. I've never done this before and HR just gave me a checklist to work off of, no actual training. Two of the sessions I will be accompanied but two will just be me doing the interview alone. I was told that I need to focus on a specific aspect of the new position.

Can you please give me tips on how to be a good interviewer? Whats the process? How should I make my selection? I know this checklist will help but is there a general script I should keep to? The first interview is tomorrow and I only found out today so I'm rather freaking out but I am excited since this is a good experience for me.
posted by xicana63 to Work & Money (19 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
All interview questions should fall into three general categories:

1. Can you do the job?
2. Will you love the job?
3. Can we tolerate working with you?

Those are the three things you are trying to ascertain.

Things to avoid:
1. Don't talk too much. Don't talk much at all. Let the candidate talk. Let them talk a lot. the more they talk, the more you learn.
2. Avoid "yes/no" questions and use open ended-questions. Again, the more they talk, the more you learn.
3. Remember that you are there to represent your employer, not to help someone get a job.

At the end of the day, there are only two choices: Hire or Don't Hire. If you're not completely convinced that the person is the right person, then the answer is Don't Hire.
posted by DWRoelands at 6:38 AM on March 29, 2012 [2 favorites]

Please, for the love of dolphins, don't ask stupid college essay type questions. I had an informal meeting (not even an interview, just totally preliminary kinda thing) with some folks at work to see whether or not it would be a good fit for me to transfer to their area, and while I liked the lady, the guy at one point randomly asked "What is your biggest weakness, and how have you learned to overcome it?".

I decided then and there that I didn't want to work with that fuckwad, and didn't pursue it any further.
posted by Grither at 6:46 AM on March 29, 2012 [9 favorites]

Listen to the candidate, and then listen to yourself. Notice how you respond to the candidate's answers.

These are some things I'd think about, and that I would ask myself afterwards: Did you feel like they adequately answered your questions? Did they respond well to being challenged by a follow-up question? Do you have the impression that they would work well or poorly under the direct supervision of a man? A woman? A [racial, say] minority? Were they pleasant? Will they get along well with others in your organization? Do they have the basic competency to understand and execute the tasks of their position? Do you have the impression that they will immediately start looking for promotion opportunities? Do you feel like they will jump ship as soon as something better presents itself? Do you feel like they are trustworthy? Do they convey a sense of integrity?

There's no pressure of performance for you: you're not there to be the smartest or most interesting person in the room. You're there to give the candidates an opportunity to present themselves well.
posted by gauche at 6:48 AM on March 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

I usually start off and tell them about myself, my background, and what I do at the company.

Then, ask them what they have been told about the position, what their background is and how they think that applies to what they know about the company and position.

If there are specifics that you know of about the position that cause problems for people or have been traditionally tricky things to get right, ask them about those.

Get them to demonstrate their knowledge. If they can do that competantly, as you would expect from a coworker, the next issue is if you could work with the person and they fit the culture.
posted by rich at 6:55 AM on March 29, 2012

It sounds like you may be working from a defined list of questions, but if you have any freedom in what you ask, I was once advised to ask interviewees a specific question about something they'd done in the past instead of a hypothetical question about what they would do in the job they're interviewing for.

Thus, instead of asking, "How would you deal with a difficult customer?" you say, "Tell me about a time at Job X when you dealt with a difficult customer." Instead of asking "How would you find information about an unfamiliar topic?" you say, "You mentioned having to get up to speed on Y thing at your old job -- how did you do it?"

The reasoning is that everyone knows what the "right" answer is to a hypothetical interview question, and they will tell you that right answer regardless of what they'd actually do (and to be fair, many of them probably actually think that they would do that thing). But when asked to describe a real situation, few people have the presence of mind to make up a lie on the spot in an interview, so you get a good description of how the person actually behaves in that situation.
posted by teditrix at 6:55 AM on March 29, 2012

I can tell you about my last interview: one person talked the entire time, asked me zero questions, and ended the interview with a trick. Um, don't do those things.
posted by JacksonandFinch at 6:58 AM on March 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'd try to coordinate with the other 10 interviewers, or at least the person(s) most likely to make the hiring decision. As both an interviewer and interviewee, I've always been frustrated by the lack of planning in the interview process. You say there's an HR checklist--does anyone actually give a shit about it? If not, have just one person run through it quickly. But if the checklist is actually important or if there's another set of questions/topics, decide if everyone should ask the same questions or split the questions among the group. The former choice helps with comparability but the latter may allow interviewers to get more and better detail. I don't know what's best but I do think it helps to think about it and organize some among the group.
posted by mullacc at 6:59 AM on March 29, 2012

Personally, I stay away from obviously canned questions as much as possible. For one thing, they're just going to response with a prepared answer, which is useless. For another, it puts everyone on guard and isn't a good reflection of what they're going to be like as a coworker. As long as you can stay on topic, let the conversation happen.

Do what HR says you should do—fill out the checklist—but if this is going to be a coworker of yours, one of your goals is to figure out if you want to work with this person. That's probably why your boss is asking you to interview the candidate in the first place. With just four interviews, you should be able to nail that down just by meandering along the story of their career path. How they got where they are, why they applied to this job, where they'd see themselves going next, what other fields they might have considered, etc.

Do they like to be micromanaged? Are they a person that will get hyper-defensive if you criticize them? Are they someone with enough emotional intelligence to navigate office politics? Do they need deadlines to get anything done? Is it easy to push them into badmouthing their current employer and coworkers? Do they like what they do and are they fully engaged? Do a bit of research on the companies they've worked for and use that to prompt them: "You were at XXXX during layoffs/scandal/product launch/acquisition/etc. That must have been a crazy time..."

Make sure you give them an opportunity to ask questions. The interview is also a tool for the candidate to figure out whether or not the job is a good fit. You'll probably learn a lot from the type of questions they ask. Be candid in your responses: there's a lot of downtime; the boss is very active in our day to day routine; office politics are complicated.

Immediately after the interview, write down whatever you remember.

Maybe this is obvious, but DO NOT ask any questions that could get you in trouble. ie, "planning to have kids anytime soon?"
posted by pjaust at 6:59 AM on March 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

-Let the interviewee do most of the talking
-You can do what Rich suggested by starting off with a brief background about yourself and your position with the company; however, stick to 1-2 sentences rather than a lengthy description
-Also, give a brief description about the position before asking any questions
-Try to refrain from asking double-barreled questions where you give two options in one question
posted by livinglearning at 7:01 AM on March 29, 2012

Here's a handy little cheat-sheet of the questions you can't ask without the appearance of impropriety. It sounds like HR didn't give you any guidance, so here's some things to avoid:
posted by juniperesque at 7:08 AM on March 29, 2012

I'm interviewing for jobs right now(and I have been the interviewer before) and I think I've done my best on both sides of the desk when the interviewer makes it more into a conversation. I think this is the best way to go for one-on-one interviews because the candidate will feel more comfortable and you will get better information. You will get bullshit answers from canned questions.

I think making the interview into a conversation (with the interviewee doing most of the talking, obviously) is a better way to get a feel for whether or not the person will fit in at the organization as well.
posted by fromageball at 8:18 AM on March 29, 2012 [2 favorites]

I try to cut through the usual interview bullshit about halfway through an interview by asking purposefully negative questions:

* You've seen our website, what sucks about it?
* You've had the tour of our operation, what are we doing wrong?
* Evaluate your current boss, both positively and negatively.

I've been involved in a lot of group interviews that were basically lovefests - the interviewers ask softball questions they got in a list from HR, and the candidate answers exactly how they learned to in Interviewing For Dummies.

Forcing the candidate to be negative can inject a little humor into the process, catches them off-guard, and can lead to a much more real conversation. It also gives them enough rope to hang themselves, if they're a poor fit for the job.
posted by coolguymichael at 8:20 AM on March 29, 2012 [3 favorites]

I always try to give the person a realistic idea of the job and urge them to consider if this is really a position they want - if the job is for a details oriented stickler make it really clear what is expected.
posted by shothotbot at 8:27 AM on March 29, 2012

Behavior, behavior, behavior. Pick a thing in their c.v.--even a random thing--and DRILL WAY DOWN ON IT.

So you were captain of the football team?

What did you like most about it?

What was your season like?

What were your duties as captain?

Did you want to play professional football? If you did want to and didn't, how did that happen?

What was your team like?

Are you still friends with any of the team?

What did you guys do when you won?

What did you like least about it?

What was your relationship like with the coach, and with the school?

Engaging people in stories from their lives is how you find out how they act, treat others, behave, think about the world, deal with adversity and problem solve. Nothing else matters. It's also how you spot liars, narcissists and other kinds of awful people.
posted by RJ Reynolds at 8:53 AM on March 29, 2012 [3 favorites]

Please don't interrupt them when they are speaking.
posted by hmo at 9:59 AM on March 29, 2012

In the past I have led interview committees for entry level/post-college positions, I've been a youth employment counselor and I have been on interview committees for mid-level positions in big bureaucracy.

I apply the golden rule so as to treat the interviewee as I would like to be treated if I were in their place. Dress professionally. Smile, be kind, be present. Shake hands. Be on time by blocking out 15 minutes before and after the interview appointments on your calendar and between interviews. Brief the receptionist to expect interviewees. Be a good host by picking a comfortable, quiet room and consider offering coffee, tea or water. Make introductions but don't feel the need to draw them out.

If your HR department did not give you guidance on what kinds of questions to ask, they're not doing their due dilligence. All candidates need to be asked the same questions that you determine ahead of time. Avoid protected status ( questions like the plague (even/especially during the casual introductions before the interview.) Interviewees may innocently bring up some protected status information and you should avoid asking follow-up questions or taking notes on those things.

When in doubt, write your questions beginning with the phrase, "tell me about a time when..." I'm also a big fan of finishing with the question, "Now that we're almost done with the interview, are there any questions that we didn't ask that you wish we would have asked?" And then follow up by asking them their own question. This question trips some people up but when it works it's great.

I also utilize the skills of active listening to drill down on or flesh out questions. ( It's okay to give a signal if someone is answering a question with WAY too long of an answer. Or to ask for more information if they answer too briefly.

I would advise against relying on gimmicks such as coolguymichael's "negativity" interview or RJ Reynolds' "drill down on something mundane" interview. Those kinds of gimmicks may be successful for them, but different workplaces have different workplace culture and gimmicks won't work everywhere. Gimmicks often give you apples vs. oranges information that will be difficult to compare fairly between two or more candidates. (For the love of all that is good, don't ask them what kind of tree they would be...)

I personally choose, in my own mind, to give candidates the benefit of a doubt up until they've left the room and I've closed the door. In my own mind, I take on the role that, "I will help this person give the most successful interview that they are capable of giving." There will be plenty of opportunity to tear them apart and look for faults after they've left the room. I've sat on committees where other interviewers were visably disinterested and it reflected very poorly on their professionalism.

I've also had hiring managers plan "casual" interviews in cafes/public spaces and it also seemed very unprofessional. Phone interviews are also their own ball of wax and should be avoided as much as possible.

In short, your role is to collect the best information for making a decision. In my experience, acting supportive towards the candidate through the interview process will yield the best information. Interviews are super stressful and high stakes by definition and you should recognize those facts in your planning by creating structure. Trying too hard to show how cool and laid back you are or how smart and tricky you are doesn't help you find candidates except in very specific workplaces with SUPER laid back or SUPER duplicitious workplace cultures. Since you probably work in a pretty standard office, your interview style should be just that, standard and predictable.

The idea of sitting someone down in front of a workstation and asking them to complete a task as an alternative to second round interviewing has gained some following in recent years. If that's an option for you, you may want to consider it.

After they've left the room, though, there are two bon mots that I think about, 1) "Almost anyone can sober up for a 1 hour interview." 2) "Red flags only get redder."
posted by Skwirl at 11:50 AM on March 29, 2012

I've had good luck with, instead of asking a thinly-veiled hypothetical about a crisis our organization addressed (I've interviewed people for senior positions where they deal with a lot of one-off crises as well as ongoing problems), asking, "Here is a thing that happened, with some pertinent background details but not so many I overwhelm you. How would you handle that sort of situation in general?"

When I watched my co-interviewers ask veiled hypotheticals, they tended NOT to get the types of answers they were after because they'd leave out of the hypothetical some key points -- sort-of how good Ask questions include enough, but not too much, background details. Anyway, I started just giving the outlines of the ACTUAL SITUATION my non-hypothetical arose from, and asking them to answer it in the general case.

Interviewees would usually say, "As a general rule, you should manage those types of situations like X, and in your specific case I probably would have done Y to handle specific detail Z; when I worked for A, we had case B which was similar and I did C ..." and the answer's a lot more interesting.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 12:50 PM on March 29, 2012

Familiarize yourself with the candidate's application and be prepared with at least one question specific to each interviewee. If possible, pick something related to the specific job aspect you're supposed to be concentrating on, but if not this can make a nice icebreaker—instead of starting out with challenging questions, ask them about something interesting that you saw on their resume. (I see you worked at Sprockets, Inc.'s Fake City plant a few years ago. Did you ever get to the Fake City Museum of Underwater Basketweaving? I've always wanted to go...)

Realize that interviewing is a skill that gets better with practice. You may feel awkward and uncomfortable with the first few interviews, but make notes of things that went wrong and strategies to try to improve for next time.

If possible, sit in on an interview (or interviews!) with an experienced interviewer. Make notes of questions that they ask that elicit illuminating responses, and observe their good habits (how long and when do they make eye contact, how do they cut off or redirect rambling answers, how do they draw out a quiet intreviewee, etc.)
posted by BrashTech at 1:44 PM on March 29, 2012

Know what your questions are really getting at, or what they're referring to. I recently had an interview that contained a question with a turn of phrase I'd never heard before. I asked for clarification, and the interviewer couldn't give me an answer.
posted by ThisKindNepenthe at 5:52 AM on March 30, 2012

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