How good are you at assessing a candidate’s skills accurately in a job interview? You may be thinking, “Interviewing is just sitting down to a conversation--why would I need to prepare for that? I know what I want, and I’m a good judge of character.” Yet most of us have experienced the disappointment of a poor hiring decision—whether the due to lack of technical competence, cultural fit, or ability to work with the team. Significant preparation is required for an interview to assess the candidate thoroughly.
If you have done your homework of writing a thorough job description, use the interview to allow a candidate to discuss their applicable skills and raise questions of their own. (And if you haven’t, stop here and read my previous columns about strategic hiring and job descriptions.)
Start with an open-ended warm-up question like “Tell me about yourself and why you’re interested in this job.” This provides a first glimpse of how they present themselves, plus it gives a nervous candidate the chance to get their prepared spiel out so they can relax!
Then use questions that ask for a specific example of a competency you are looking for. In the HR world, this is called ‘competency based interviewing’. First, think of which competencies are important to you--problem solving, communication, adaptability, delegation, to name a few. Then ask for an example. “Tell me about a time you identified and solved a problem on your own.” Ask follow-up questions to probe their answer: “What did you learn? What would you do differently next time? What did not work well?” Usually during these types of questions, the candidate shares their strengths and weaknesses in a more genuine way than if you had asked directly.
You may have obvious questions about prior jobs that you can sprinkle in throughout, and you may also discuss the logistical details of this position.
Always leave ample time for the candidate’s questions. You want to recruit someone that knows what they are getting into. Besides, encouraging them to ask questions is another way to assess their thinking. If a candidate doesn’t have any questions, I get concerned. Are they unassertive or uninterested?
Finally, consider a skills test to help you assess the technical competency required for the position. Use a 5-question math test for a scale clerk who needs to be able to subtract tare from gross weight. Ask a production employee to hook up a piece of equipment. Ask a financial analyst to perform a simple task in spreadsheet or accounting software. Through this, you observe both whether they have the specific expertise and how flustered they get under pressure.
A successful interview can be a relaxed conversation, but it’s a conversation for which you should prepare. Precise questions, allowance of ample time for response and candidate questions, testing of specific competencies—these will help you assess the skills you require.