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Time for a Refresher?

How to Interview like a Pro — Six Tips to Improve Your Interviewing Skills

Two hiring managers interview an executive across a long table

Interviewing and hiring is an important part of being a manager. Successful managers know how to conduct interviews that assess the candidates' technical skills as well as their potential fit with the organization and its culture.

Whether you are new to hiring or a pro, you can always improve. The Alexander Group and our sister firm Alex & Red have been interviewing executives for nearly four decades. Following are some tried and true tips we follow to get the most from each candidate we interview:

1. Be Prepared

You will get out of an interview what you put into it. We see a lot of managers who assume that because they have hired hundreds of people, they don't need to prepare. It is important to familiarize yourself with the candidate's resume and determine which areas of their background merit discussion. It is also helpful to review their LinkedIn profile to gain additional information, including mutual connections, interests and the groups with whom they are affiliated. Being prepared also reflects well on you: An interview is a two-way conversation, and your star candidate may be sitting across from you evaluating you and your organization for fit as well.

Create a list of target questions that relate to the responsibilities of the position. There are always obvious questions that need to be addressed: career experience and why they are interested in the position; however, it is also important to create a tailored list of questions relevant to each candidate — no two candidates are the same. In a prior blog, Managing Director Jane Howze discusses her top four interview questions to get to the heart of the matter. These all might seem obvious, however preparing questions and understanding each candidate's background allows for a more efficient interview.

2. Behavioral Interview Questions or Not

Behavioral interview questions have become increasingly popular. This style of interviewing can allow interviewers to compare candidates' previous career experiences to possible future ones. However, there is an increasing disagreement whether behavioral questions yield better hiring decisions or not. If your company does use behavioral interviewing it is important to tailor questions to fit the position. It is also best to avoid vague questions such as, "How would you handle conflict?" and instead ask, "Describe a time you encountered a conflict with a challenging colleague or supervisor?"

3. Establish Rapport and Set the Tone

At the beginning of the interview, it is important to establish a rapport and break the ice. Face it, even if candidates have interviewed hundreds of times, it can still cause jitters. We believe managers get more nuanced and transparent answers if the candidate is relaxed. Casual conversation about hometown, sports, common interests or connections gives the interviewer a sense of how well the person is able to communicate and helps establish his or her chemistry fit. In the Collins Best Practices series, Hiring People, author Kathy Shwiff recommends choosing a comfortable location to sit and to not place a barrier like a desk between the interviewer and candidate. This creates a less hierarchal environment.

Provide a brief description of the company, the position challenges and opportunities and the type of manager sought. This sets the tone and parameters of the interview and provides the candidate with an overview of the areas of his or her background that you will want to explore. As the employer, it is important to present your organization in the most positive light. Even if you determine the candidate is not right for the position, you want the candidate to be impressed with both the organization and you as a hiring manager. Every hiring manager in every interview is selling their organization and her- or himself. A survey conducted by LinkedIn indicates that 83 percent of candidates will change their mind about a role based on a negative interview experience; 87 percent of candidate say a positive interview can overcome doubts about an opportunity. Candidates should leave the interview feeling excited and intrigued by opportunity and impressed with the interviewer.

At the conclusion of the interview, plan for a minimum of 15 minutes for questions. It allows the candidate to ensure they fully understand the position and expectations of the role.

4. Red Flags

Pay attention to red flags that can come up during the interview process. Small, seemingly minor issues with a candidate can signal major issues as an employee. An initial red flag is if candidate has not prepared fully on the parameters of the position. Can the candidate provide clear examples of their experience and concisely describe their career progression? If the candidate is omitting information, it could be a sign they are not being truthful about their career. Additional red flags include timeliness, excessive talking and disparaging previous employers or colleagues. Being 30 minutes early to an interview is almost as bad as being 15 minutes late. Also, a candidate who talks over 75 percent of the interview or interrupts may indicate of a lack of emotional intelligence required of a successful manager.

5. Take Notes

Plan to take notes or record the interview. There are numerous voice-recording apps accessible on your smartphone. The notes or recordings are a reference to compare each of the candidates and discuss with colleagues and senior leadership. At the end of the interview, note the candidate's strengths, weaknesses, and next steps. If there are numerous candidates, also make a note of something about the candidate that will jog your memory — connections held in common, standout work experience or generic appearance comments such a "red glasses".

6. Close the Loop

At the conclusion of the interview, discuss possible next steps, or provide a timeline for the hiring process and when the candidate can expect feedback. Although rejecting candidates is no picnic, it is important. We have all been in the position where a “no” answer would be preferable to silence. Most candidates value honest communication even if they are not selected for the position. Thank the candidate for their interest and, if possible, provide specific feedback why they were not selected. Treat candidates the way you would want to be treated. It will always come back to you.

Article updated on February 18, 2020.

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