The job interview process is a challenge for both the interviewer and the candidate because interviewing is not well understood by either party. On one hand, the interviewer knows that several preselected qualified candidates have to be interviewed in order to anticipate and decide which one will perform best for the organization in the future. On the other hand, the candidate knows he is onstage and has to be at his best in every respect because he is in a tough competition for a single opening. A good interviewer should review the candidate based on four different aspects: communication skills, competency via specific skills, organizational fit, and motivation. Those are the most crucial areas, even if there are of course several other relevant aspects to explore.
When exploring the candidate’s communications skills, I always start with the request, “Tell me about yourself.” The request serves as an opener for me, the interviewer, in an attempt to get a first impression of the candidate as a way of assessing communication skills. It is a baseline reading against which I will compare the rest of the interview questions. If answered well, all future answers will be viewed through a positive prism. But if the answer to that first question is not viewed favorably, the candidate will have a difficult time convincing me to reverse my opinion.
A good answer should:
- Be intriguing and memorable.
- Include an example of an impressive accomplishment.
- Be responsive, informative, brief, and succinct.
- Engage the interviewer via a question in turn about the interviewer’s own priorities or challenges.
A poor answer is:
- Lengthy and recites chronologically the candidate’s career.
- Unfocused or rambling.
- Challenging to the interviewer because of regional or foreign accent or speech impediments.
When trying to assess the candidate’s competency for certain specific skills crucial to the job, I request an answer to following: “Tell me about one of your major accomplishments and its outcome.” By that, I can test the candidate’s specific competency in an area where in my mind he has to show experience and strength. I’m looking for hard skills and wanting to hear how they were deployed in the past.
A good answer should:
- Show the candidate’s ability to recite an example that gives a brief background overview.
- Include a specific example that highlights a required skill and that resulted in a successful outcome.
- Tell the actions the candidate took.
- Be cited as recognized by others—such as supervisors, peers, and customers—for credibility.
A poor answer is:
- General and nonimpressive.
- Not focused on specific skills.
- Lacking in a specific example of accomplishment achieved via the skill.
- Blatantly self-praising but without evidence.
Then comes my follow-up: “Tell me about a specific, work-related problem and how you went about resolving it.” Here I am drilling down to details and anticipating hearing the step-by-step approach the candidate took to resolve the problem.
The next area I explore is the candidate’s cultural fit into our organization. Cultural fit could be subjective and influenced by prejudice. It is heavily influenced by the top leadership. It includes such elements as values, attitudes, office language, tone of communication, the team or individual decision-making process, and daily work practices, often made up of unspoken and unwritten rules of behavior.
Via this question I’m looking to ascertain whether the candidate will blend in naturally and become a welcome contributor to the team. I’m also paying attention to the applicant’s past behavior. Here are a few questions as examples. “What do you know about our company?” That one tests whether the candidate has done his homework and is well prepared or really interested. “What is your management style?” Here I’m listening to hear whether he says only the obvious and whether he’ll be able to adapt to the company’s needs. I am looking for maturity, competency, and how he handles relationships with others.
The last area I explore is motivation. Typical questions would be, “Why are you interested in this position?” Then I watch to see whether he talks about self or company needs, whether he understands challenges, how he envisions contribution to organization, whether he clearly demonstrates passion and excitement, and whether he’s just plain likable. Other questions whose answers reveal motivation might be: “Why do you want to leave [or did you leave] this position? What would be your perfect job? What would you do in the first 90 days after being hired? What are your interests outside work? People who do a lot outside work are also motivated at work.
Interviewing is a combination of art and science. And making the mistake of hiring bad people is very costly.
by Alex Freund