Its so surprising that the internet is full of tips and tricks and rules on how to prepare for an interview for the interviewee but few for the interviewer. That is a little presumptuous, don’t you think? Why doesn’t anybody talk about it?
I have been attending interviews for the past few days. A few months before, I was interviewing people. While I was introspecting about my experiences from being on both sides of the table, I noticed some unmistakable patterns. I am sharing a few insights from my experiences of giving and taking interviews.
Good interviews share a few things in common in addition to the fact that both parties come out feeling good and/or learning something new about themselves.
A good interview can be a very meaningful and fulfilling interaction with a stranger which is very rare in our everyday lives.
What triggered this was a particularly bad interview followed by an excellent one. When I call it bad or excellent it has got nothing to do with the outcome. It was the way it was conducted.
Do your homework
Read the candidates resume. Multiple times. Make notes. Google the organizations where they have worked before. Study their previous work and be prepared with contextual questions.
Don’t go kicking the tin can as you go along. The candidates can see through that and don’t expect them to respect you or your organization.
Be Extra Nice
You are talking to a human being. A person sitting on the other side of the table is probably taking the biggest risk of their lives or trying to get themselves out out of a bad situation or both. Imagine the worst case scenario. Probably they had a bad day or a few bad days and all they want is someone to listen to their story or someone to provide a direction. You are probably taking to a person on the edge of despair. Show some empathy.
Be mindful and gentle. Give them the benefit of doubt. Be extra nice. Treat them like a guest. Make them feel comfortable. Offer them a glass of water or coffee. Smile. Don’t be a bossman/woman. Bad attitude is a turn off for both sides. Above all, make them drop their defence in the first few minutes. Irrespective of how they present themselves outwardly, all they want to do is make a good impression. So, smile and make them feel warm and welcome, even if they did not make a good first impression. Give them some space to be their natural selves.
Just be human. And smile for god’s sake. Please don’t keep staring at your laptop all the time while they are talking to you. I know you are taking notes, but it feels like an interrogation. Spend 10 minutes after the interview to quickly jot things down. If you follow a consistent method of inquiry, it becomes easy to remember the points.
Ask the right questions
Be prepared with two sets of questions. One, role and skill specific. Two, person specific. It need not be a template but its better if you asked similar questions to all the candidates. Its easier to compare notes later when you are deciding between two candidates.
And start the interview gently and sincerely. Avoid cliches like, ‘Give me your elevator pitch’. They are not selling anything. Please don’t say that they are selling themselves. That doesn’t sound right. They are not selling themselves. They are looking for a meaningful thing to do with their lives and in return hope to get paid to sustain themselves and their family. Isn’t that what you want too?
Don’t start with work and skill related inquiries. And don’t start with, “So…Tell me about yourself.” Ask something that will help you know their real motivation for applying for the role. Or the motivation for choosing the profession. Ask questions that will help you know the aptitude and the attitude of the person.
First let the person speak about their personal journey. This loosens them up for further inquiry. Then check if the person has the skills to do the job. Then check if you can build a relationship with this person. Can you have lunch with this person, everyday? Does the person have any interesting hobbies outside work? And can they speak about it with passion? Can you go out on a Friday evening for a beer with this person? Can the person’s ideologies and experiences can enrich you and the organization?
Some jobs require you to be a well behaved person even if you are not too skilled at what you do. Some jobs can accommodate a$$h01e$ as long as they extremely skilled at what they do. Just be mindful of what you and your team can handle.
Listen to their stories
Even shy people like talking about themselves if they have the right audience. Be the right audience.
Encourage them to tell their stories. Everybody has a story and wants to tell them. You just have to gently nudge them.
Take interest in their life because they came all the way just because you wanted to meet them. They came to tell you their story in their own way.
Don’t bullshit and there is no need to feel insecure or judgemental. Respect the intelligence of the candidate. They can see through you if you are being a dishonest person.
Don’t act like you know everything. You don’t know what the other person knows. Its alright to say that you don’t know, when you don’t. Don’t fake. Apologize instead of lying. They will respect you for that.
Its better to tell the truth about the organization and role upfront than to have a person in the team who feels cheated by you. Also, if you warn the candidate directly or indirectly about the shortcomings of the organization or the challenges within the organization, when they choose to join, they will be mentally prepared.
Try not to judge
You are not looking at a replaceable part. You are looking at a unique ‘person’. Unless the job requires a customer facing job, you don’t need to worry too much of the personality flaws. Just make sure that they are sociable and the rest of the team can accommodate their quirks. As long as the person is authentic, you don’t need to worry about the intricate details of their personal choices. In fact, its none of your business.
Trust your gut
Its like a first date. It need not go well, always.
We are all too used to high stakes test and we expect people to be on their best when they appear for a challenge. Experience tells that it is not possible.
Just trust your gut. No matter how hard people try to be ‘different’ in the interviews, their real personalities come through if you apply gentle pressure at the right spots. Stay far away from people who you feel are being dishonest even if they say and do all right things and seem like a perfect fit. People can fake everything. Some people are really good at it. But they can’t cheat your gut instincts.
Stay in control
Some interviews can go out of control. Don’t let the candidate hijack your agenda. Its your game and it must be your rules. Don’t be a control freak either. Its a thin line and walk it according your style and your definition of being in control.
Help them to accept the outcome
I am sorry that the candidate is not that ‘elusive unicorn ninja’ you were looking for. If you did not know already, you will never find the ‘perfect fit’.
Put yourself in that shoe. If they do not make the cut, let them not feel like a loser. Be nice. Please. Help them accept the outcome. Give meaningful and relevant feedback, if you have any, so that they can improve their chances of finding a job or seek appropriate help. Be nice. Please.
Also, If you change your mind or by a twist of fate you end up working with them in the future, you will still be able to take it from a there on a positive note.
Hire them for yourselves
Don’t hire them just for the organization. Hire them for yourselves. See it as a great opportunity to expand your own understanding of the world while getting paid for it. Even if they seem smarter than you. Even if they make you a little uncomfortable. Its alright you know. People respond to earnestness, sincerity, honesty and politeness very well and will respect you for that. For the rest of their lives.
Don’t see this as an opportunity to validate your own worth or as a hindrance in your busy schedule. It as an opportunity to help a fellow human being and accumulate good karma.
Disagree with something? Have I forgotten something? Do you like something? Don’t be shy to write a couple of lines.