1. Relax the applicant
This is nigh impossible to do because almost anyone being interviewed for a job will feel nervous. However, don’t make it harder for them by creating some kind of pressure chamber or interrogation room.
Be warm and friendly and welcoming however, don’t get into too much small talk or before long they’ll be telling you all about their last vacation in Florida.
2. Set the scene
Let the applicant know that you want to find out if they have the talent to do the job you need. Make it clear that you will be asking some structured questions and that you want them to say how they feel and what they think. Explain that it could be different from any interview they’ve had before and that you want to make a decision that is best for both of you.
Make it clear that you’ll allow time at the end of the interview for them to ask any questions they have. However, let them know that if they’re invited back for a second interview then that would be the best time for them to ask questions.
This interview is where you will decide whether this person has the talent to do the job; it’s not where you talk about the duties involved, the benefits or the salary. You can get to all of that at a second interview. If they ask any questions about salary, (if hasn’t already been made clear) then there’s no reason not to tell them. In fact, I quite like people who want to know what they’re getting paid.
3. The questions
Based on the talent you’re looking for you need to have prepared questions before the interview. Do not interview by the seat of your pants and ask questions as you think of them. You could then end up just having a chat and you will never uncover the talent you’re looking for.
You’ve heard all the stuff about open and closed questions; what you want in an interview is open questions that allow the person to go in various directions. You want them to reveal how they would respond if faced with the situations you know they’ll encounter every day on the job.
Be careful that your questions don’t give the applicant a clue as to the information you want.
You have to be careful of questions that telegraph the answers you want. ‘What do you enjoy most about being a maintenance engineer?’ is going to get you answers like – ‘I enjoy the challenge of solving customer’s problems.’ – Yuck!
4. ‘Tell me about a time’ questions are good
If you were looking for a customer service person who you wanted to build good relationships with your key accounts, then you might ask a question such as – ‘Tell me about a time when you built a relationship with a customer.’
If the individual is good at building relationships then they’ll immediately respond with a case history. If they ask you – ‘What do you mean?’ simply repeat the question. If you start to prompt them or put the question in a different way, then you’re in danger of telegraphing the direction you want the applicant to take.
5. Listen for specifics
Some applicants will answer the above question with something like – ‘I have good relationships with all my customers, it’s difficult to give you a specific example.’
The reason they say that, is because they don’t have a specific example. They may just be a processor of customers and don’t really build good relationships.
The good guys will tell you stories such as – ‘I’ve dealt with Susan at the Acme Tool Company for the past two years. We didn’t get on too well when I first made contact because we’d let her down on deliveries a couple of times. So I decided to set up a system whereby I’d contact Susan once a week and discuss the order situation with her. We get on really well now and she’s even asked me to come and visit her company.’
6. ‘How do you feel’ questions are also good
You might ask an applicant – ‘How do you feel when a customer is angry about the service from your company?’ You may get the response – ‘It’s no problem to me, I can handle it, water off a ducks back, I sort their problem out.’
If you were looking for someone with the talent to empathise with your customers, then you’re not getting it here. The response you’re looking for should be something like – ‘I feel really uncomfortable for the customer when we don’t get it right, I realise that it must be very frustrating for them. I listen carefully to what they have to say and make it clear that I do care about their situation and tell them what I’ll do to resolve it.’
7. ‘What gives you great personal satisfaction’ is another good question.
Every individual is different and what is personally satisfying for one may not be for another. I’m sure there are many jobs that you wouldn’t think of applying for no matter how much they paid.
I find it hard to understand what anyone would find satisfying in being an accountant or a dentist; however many people do. Some people find it really satisfying to turn round a difficult customer or negotiate a loan. Finding out what an applicant finds satisfying will give you clues to their talents.
8. Keep thinking
The benefits of having structured questions prepared beforehand means that you don’t need to be thinking about what to ask next. You can devote all of your time to listening for the information you need.
It’s also important to keep your thinking brain engaged, don’t let your heart rule your head. If they were to say – ‘I hate customers who don’t know what they want.’ Don’t think – ‘It’ll be okay, they probably don’t mean that.’
The thing is, they probably do and it may cause problems with their ability to build the customer relationships you need. The trick is to believe what the applicant says and don’t put your own interpretation on the answer.
Too often a manager will interview someone and realise that they may not quite have the talent they’re looking for. The manager then thinks – ‘It’ll be all right, once they’ve started in the job I’ll train them, or I’ll sort them out.’
You’ll only be able to bring out a talent that’s there in the first place, so you’re going to have to be sure that it’s there.
As long as the applicant is talking and you’re carefully listening and thinking then you’re more likely to pick up the information you need.