How long does it take to become good at conducting job interviews?
November 30, 2007 8:12 AM   Subscribe

How long does it take to become good at conducting job interviews (as an interviewer)?

Lately, I've been conducting job interviews at work. I've interviewed three candidates in the last month or so. I suck at this. Please help me.

I am one person on a circuit of interviewers. I am not the hiring manager (my boss is). The candidate would be hired as my peer.

My job is to ask questions assessing whether candidates have the day-to-day skills required to do my job. The problem is, all three candidates I have interviewed are switching careers. I always get them to talk about how they developed past projects that were similar (which they submitted to show aptitude), but they just bomb out on the questions that I ask because they are unfamiliar with the framework we use to do the job in a professional capacity.

Once the candidate bombs a question, I get really thrown off. I have no idea how to interview career changers and how to try to tease out whether or not somebody is likely to be able to learn our framework.

I also bungle interview timing. I tend to get to the end of the alloted time without having asked questions about some areas of interest. I can't put my finger on where or how I get off-track.

All three of the interviewees also asked me at various points in the interview "what are you getting at". I guess people are trying to figure out what I want to hear.

I leave the interviews feeling like I didn't really ask the right questions to figure out whether or not this person has the aptitude to learn the skills we need. I'm left making a hire/no hire recommendation based on a gut instinct for "team fit" than anything else.

I know about behavioural based interviewing but I don't know how to ask probing questions. I usually follow up with one or two questions, but I don't think that I really get to the bottom of an issue.

So, how do I learn how to do this? How do I practice interviewing without running the risk of making/recommending bad hires? Do you know of good books or resources that can help me? And how many job interviews did you do before you felt comfortable with the process? Thanks
posted by crazycanuck to Work & Money (8 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
My first interview went terribly. My second interview was a little better. My next few interviews went considerably better, though I wouldn't call myself an expert. I do feel more comfortable with it, though.

What helped me was to make a list of the topics I wanted to cover and then share that list with coworkers to see if they've got anything to add. If you know beforehand what you need to know, it's just a matter of asking. Getting someone else's input on those questions can help, too.

I don't know what kind of position you guys are hiring for, but I like to ask a combination of skill-related questions and personality questions. It also helps the interviewee feel a little more comfortable when they get to talk about something lighter like their hobbies or their first job. When they relax, you'll relax (and vice versa).
posted by katillathehun at 8:25 AM on November 30, 2007

Check out the site for some very helpful articles on all aspects of recruiting and hiring. Try doing a google search of the site with the keyword "interviewing" and you'll probably find some helpful suggestions.
posted by sevenyearlurk at 8:35 AM on November 30, 2007

I interview a lot. I always start the interview off by telling people to talk of SPECIFIC examples when answering questions. I tell them to draw from previous jobs, classroom project teams (if new graduate) and outside groups. I remind them that most experiences are relavant and that the examples do not have to be work related. If they answer in general terms, I follow up with "tell me about a specific instance where you did that/ thought that".

I also make a list of questions for a candidate and generally stick to the same questions for everyone. I think it keeps me on task. It also keeps it fair if someone bombs the first question. My biggest problem is keeping an interviewee on task. If they start wandering from the subject, I have trouble reigning them in.

Good luck!
posted by beachhead2 at 9:04 AM on November 30, 2007 [1 favorite]

I've been doing it for something like 7 years and I still suck.
posted by steveminutillo at 9:36 AM on November 30, 2007

Best answer: Yeah, it can be hard.

We have a list of easy questions that I usually start with. They're generally easy questions that get progressively a harder. Anyone who gets these easy questions wrong is a no-hire, and we ask them of everyone so it is pretty fair. Overtime you can tweak the list.

Everyone starts out as a no-hire and remains so until the prove themselves a hire. You have to keep in mind that once you hire someone, it's hard to get rid of them.

If they're changing careers, and you're actually looking to hire someone with little to no experience, you have to asses the fundementals. Ask yourself:

- "Does this person seem smart?"

- "Would I want this person coming to my office everyday asking questions?"

- "How far do I think this person's development in this organization may go?" E.g., if your company is a large, corporate company, they have some sort of level system. If you hire them at level 1, do they have the potential to go to level 10? Or just level 2? You probably don't want to hire people who will top-out really quickly.

Look at your watch frequently. If you only have an hour, spend 5 minutes explaining what you do at the company, 20 minutes asking them details about their past work, 30 minutes asking them to do some sort of problem solving and 5 minutes for them to ask you questions at the end. If you start going long, it's okay to interrupt and say that due to time constraints you have to move on--they can always take it up in e-mail later.

Also, ask your coworkers for advice. I went through two days of interview training but when I had to do the first one, I still went and asked a more senior guy who I respected what sorts of questions I should ask and he had really good advice and my first interview wasn't the disaster I imagined it would be.

Above all, remember it is really okay to be spkeptical. I've done over 100 interviews in the last seven years and said hire for a ridiculously small portion... maybe 1 in 10?
posted by jeffamaphone at 9:49 AM on November 30, 2007 [2 favorites]

I think Beachhead2 has great points and that's what I do. Legally, you should make a list of questions that you follow. Ofcourse this may change for everybody but because one person bombed the first question, you skipping the rest of the questions is going to end up badly for you in a legal situation.

What I do is regardless of their experience, I identify skillsets. One of most common is being able to multitask with multiple deadlines with effective time management and prioritization skills. So you ask how do you feel about having to multitask and meet various deadlines? Of course they're going to say I am great at it. Some, smarter candidates, will know to give you examples without you asking, but after they answer, "I am comfortable multitasking and meeting multiple deadlines", you ask give me an example based on your experience. The example can be anything since you have sufficient knowledge to determine what they bring to the table is applicable to the work.

I am not goign to disclose all the questions I ask, but do go to your local library and read 3-5 great books on being the interviewer and interviewee. You can also attend a seminar that handles interviews, but find good interview books by reading opinions on or other bookstores to select 3-5.

Another thing is, don't be nervous. You're in a better position than they are...they should be nervous. Have confidence that your boss put you there cause you know enough to make the decision. Tell them what's required from them and ask for examples. And give him scenarios and ask how they'd handle it. They'll have great answers, the ones you want to hear, like "I'd stay and come in on the weekend to get the job done, even if that means missing out on my kid's HS graduation" Ask, tell me a time when you had to deal with such difficult decision. If they haven't had a chance, then you don't know enough to say, this person CAN do this job, you ARE looking for experience, no matter where it was.

Best of luck!
posted by icollectpurses at 11:46 AM on November 30, 2007

More info, as I am cleaning house and was thinking about it.

I always start the interview, trying to get the person to relax - ask about their travels to the location; weather; sports (if I know something about where they are from or went to school).

I usually ask them to take me through their resume.

Then, I break into my piece. I explain that I am going to take them through a series of questions and that I want them to give me specific examples from any of their experiences. I tell them that I am going to take notes and not to let that bother them, because it helps me keep candidates straight later on. If they seem stiff, I tell them to relax and that I am the easy interview (as I am not the plant manager). I then ask them if they have any questions for me.

I don't know if these questions apply to you, but here are a few of mine.

1. Tell me about a time you solved an urgent problem.
2. Tell me about a time you went out of your way to satisfy a customer.
3. Tell me about a time you were a part of a successful team. What about that team made it successful. (I look for team work comments, not "my leadership made my group successful")
4. Tell me about a time you did not reach a goal you had set for yourself. What would you do differently now?
5. Tell me about a time you had a disagreement with a coworker or supervisor. How did you resolve your differences?

Then I usually ask a question about safety because I work in a plant. Might not be necesary in your case.

I don't talk about my position/ work history unless asked. I always ask what they know about the position they are interviewing for. If they know little, I talk about it.

I always end with "do you have any questions for me?"

Don't be nervous. After awhile, it comes naturally.
posted by beachhead2 at 12:26 PM on November 30, 2007 [2 favorites]

Life long career changer. I'm going to suggest that in addition to revising how you ask your questions, that you provide a consistent way of assessing the potential skill set.

The interviews that were the most useful for me as a career changer (for both parties, myself and the interviewers) had a clear cut way to assess your potential skills.

Anyway, my last job required that I take a writing test as part of the interview. I would be writing on the job/and need to interpret science information. So, as part of the interview process I was asked to summarize a general review article (basic science) for a lay person.

In the real job, I write for other researchers or doctors, but the test was helpful to assess a basic skillset. Could I interpret information and could I string sentences together? I've heard from some people who take these interviews that the test helps them too - some people take it, think it is boring or become overwhelmed by the information and want to stop then and forget the rest of the interview.

Anyway, I've seen other jobs also create a test like this. You can have it be timed, in the office, and everyone needs to take it. To ensure quality (and clarity), have several peers review it/remember they are assessing whether the person has the ability to develop a skill set, not demonstrate skills in an obscure computer program. Have more than one person judge the quality of the response, too.

Take that part away (assessing the skill set/potential as a career changer), and in the interview you can concentrate on assessing whether the person would be a good fit for the tieam and other criteria.

Good luck.
posted by Wolfster at 8:02 PM on November 30, 2007

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