Updates From Talance Group

A Great Interview Requires More Than a Good Conversation: How to Structure Your First Interview with Potential Employees

Conducting a great interview requires more than a good conversation and gut instinct. Here’s a three-step approach to ensure you gather all of the information you need to make the best hire.

How much time did you block off on your calendar the last time you interviewed a potential hire? A half an hour? An hour? Ultimately as a hiring manager, you generally spend just a few hours in total actually interviewing candidates before determining whether or not they are a good fit for your team. In no regards is this a small decision either. When you choose to hire a candidate, you are choosing to invest not only money, but time. Time spent onboarding, training, and then time to continue managing this employee for months or years to come. What it comes down to is that you have a very limited window to make a major decision as to whether (a) a potential hire is truly qualified for the role and (b) whether or not the individual’s personality will fit with that of your current team members.

At THE TALANCE GROUP, we work with our clients every day to ensure that each time a candidate walks into an interview, hiring managers are prepared to ask the right questions. Not only does this improve your chances of finding the right employee, but it also improves your chances of having the candidate accept your offer once you are prepared to move forward.

Before You Begin

As with any investment you make, there is due diligence that must be performed to get the outcome you want. Before you begin any interview process, we recommend asking yourself the following questions:

  • What are the top 3 key success factors I feel someone needs to have to be successful in this role? This is a very broad question as you might value a personality trait or other soft skill while someone else places more weight in experience in a certain industry.
  • What are the top 3 goals I want this person to accomplish in the first 6-12 months? To hire a superior performer, you must define superior performance. The best way to accomplish this is by envisioning that one year from now this candidate has exceeded your expectations. What exactly will they have actually achieved to earn this recognition from you?

Understanding these points simplifies your focus on your most important needs and allows you to evaluate what the person has actually accomplished instead of simply having similar responsibilities. Broadly, there are 3 phases to every interview: the Introductions phase, the Q&A phase, and the Conclusion. Each phase has a specific purpose and should be thought through as you structure the interview.

Structuring Your Interview

Phase 1: Introductions

In the Introductions phase both you and the candidate have the opportunity to get to know one another and assess personality and culture fit through body language, eye contact, and small talk. You will also set the stage for how the rest of the dialogue will proceed. Assuming a one hour interview, introductions should take no more than 5-10 minutes.

What are my objectives in Phase 1?

Your goal during this phase is to determine the candidate’s personality type and assess overall fit with team dynamics. Is this candidate an extrovert or introvert? Are they serious or do they prefer satire and humor? The candidate will naturally be making these assessments of you as well. You want to immediately set the candidate at ease, taking on more light topics in this first phase. If you see you have something in common on their resume in front of you, smile and bring that up to get the conversation going. Don’t spend too much time on this, because the more enlightening answers will come from the next questions. Use questions such as, “From looking at your resume, I thought there was a potential fit. What is it about this role that interests you? What is it about our company? You’ve had an interesting career path – which of these roles did you enjoy the most? Why? The least? Why?” Be sure to ask the candidate if they have any questions for you as well.

What should I watch out for?

The introductions phase is where many hiring managers get stuck due to idle chit chat. When asked, “Why did you decide to move forward with hiring this candidate?”, clients commonly say they made their decision based upon an instinctual, “gut-feeling.” While it is great to know that the individual may click with your team, you’ve used all of your time determining personality fit versus assessing the individual’s skill set and ability to do the job. This is the most common hiring mistake managers make: hiring someone based on their ability to GET the job instead of their ability to DO the job, which many times have little to do with each other. Be cognizant of the time you spend getting to know the candidate and don’t forget to “sell” the company/role a bit in this phase and throughout the rest of the conversation (another common mistake hiring managers make).

Phase 2: Question & Answer

The second phase of an interview is the Question and Answer phase where you and the candidate have the opportunity to ask questions pertaining to the job responsibilities, technical requirements, and expectations. The majority of your 1 hour interview will be in this phase of the interview, approximately 40-45 minutes.

What are my objectives in Phase 2?

Throughout phase 2 your primary objective is to determine if the candidate has the key success factors necessary to excel in the role and if they are capable of reaching the performance objectives you require. We have found that candidates who succeed typically have either accomplished those tasks before, or can clearly demonstrate aptitude based on prior, similar experience or accomplishments. To do this, you begin this phase of the interview by first laying out exactly what skills/experience you need (and why you need them) and what you expect a successful performer will accomplish; then ask how the candidate’s background and experience fills this need. This approach allows you to cut right to the chase, focusing your limited time on the things that are truly important to you and removing the guesswork for the candidate.

What Questions Should I Expect?

A typical question could look like this: “This team needs leadership. Some have very strong potential but have lacked a strong leader to develop them, while others need to be evaluated and potentially replaced. Please provide an example of when you were faced with a similar challenge and how you dealt with it.” Another example could be: “We have been falling short on meeting our statutory deadlines due to some major inefficiencies. I need someone to evaluate our current processes and engage all of the other departments involved to create a more streamlined process that eliminates this issue by next quarter. Have you led a project similar to this? Please describe the situation.” It’s important here to dig deeper into all answers and “peel back the onion” for each point, asking open-ended follow-up questions such as “Tell me more about that. What was the size of the team/project/budget? What obstacles did you face? How did you overcome them? What resources did you use? Who provided guidance on what steps to take? What did you learn from it?”

What should I watch out for or avoid?

Don’t forget to sell. All too often, hiring managers pepper candidates with questions and forget the top candidate may have other options as well. Remember to spend some time “selling” the opportunity to the candidate. If done thoughtfully, you can determine if the strengths you are seeking line up as selling points to the candidate as well.

Don’t ask vague questions. Typical interview questions such as “What are your strengths/weaknesses? What are you most proud of achieving?” and even “Tell me about yourself” are big time wasters without stating your needs up front and providing the context needed. All candidates have many skills and achievements, but you’re only interested in talking about the ones you want and need for your particular role.

Phase 3: Conclusion

The conclusion phase of the interview should take up 5-15 minutes of the 1 hour interview. Your goal is to determine a candidate’s interest level and allow the candidate the opportunity to ask some questions as well as address any concerns or gaps that surfaced.

What are my objectives in the Conclusion?

Open this phase of the interview by asking “Now that you know a bit more about the role, what other questions do you have?” The questions you get here can be very telling. Provide some direct feedback to the candidate. If they seem like a potential fit, say what you like about the information you heard. If you have a concern or were looking for a strength that the candidate never presented, specify what that is and allow them the opportunity to address it. Doing this can clarify incorrect assumptions you may have made or uncover hidden accomplishments that separate the best talent from someone that may only have interviewed really well. Conclude by letting candidates know the timing of next steps or when you plan to make a decision on what those next steps will be.

What should I watch out for or avoid?

Don’t skip this step! This is the most overlooked part of the interview and we have found it is critical to making a good hire. The Q&A phase is difficult for both the hiring manager and the candidate. Both sides are interpreting questions and answers in different ways. A solid conclusion allows both the opportunity to clarify any miscommunication as well as fill in missing information.

In a candidate-driven market where the demand for talent oftentimes exceeds supply, understanding how to best prepare for an interview is crucial to accurately assess and then ultimately close the deal with the right candidate. By understanding the structure of an interview, goals, and what to avoid through each phase, you will gain the information you need to make an informed decision. You will also increase the chances of a long lasting and successful relationship in your place of work.

If you are interested in working with The Talance Group to advance your accounting, finance, or information technology career, contact a member of our Talance Group team! To learn more, visit us online at https://talancegroup.com.customers.tigertech.net/.

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