Pre-Game Routine: How to Prepare to Interview a Job Applicant

Interviewing an applicant is not necessarily a complex or difficult task, but like many things, it does require preparation and focus. The risk, when you do not prepare appropriately, is that you will MISS OUT on a truly game-changing professional that may have made a big difference in your operations. Business today is quite competitive and it takes a talented team to win in most companies, can you really afford to make the wrong hiring decisions?

The first step is to prepare well.

For me, I like to start with the basics- a candidate’s resume. I ask them to provide me their most recently updated resume and I review it thoroughly, making notes on the document as well as on a separate sheet of paper to be sure that I ask my questions in a logical flow and do not leave anything out. I also think about the top 6 or so questions that my client will logically want to know about the person I’m considering. What is your current status (are you working, unemployed, etc. ) What is prompting your search? Why are you looking to make a change? (essentially, what about your current situation is broken and what are you looking to do now?) What are your top qualifications, what do you do the best/ what sets you apart from others in your field?

Now that you have the questions that you really want answered, think about the red flags or gaps in employment that you need to address as well. In the interview, just listen to the candidate’s explanations…Why did the candidate leave his or her prior employment(s)? LISTEN to learn whether there’s a pattern in the answers i.e Is the candidate perpetually being “done wrong” and never accepting responsibility for his/her actions? Is the candidate job hopping for “greener grass”? Does the candidate seem to have a legitimate reason for making a change? Make notes to ask their professional references, later in the process.

In the interview, you set the tone. I take the approach of being professional yet friendly and authentic. I am myself and that seems to help people feel comfortable to open up and be themselves as well. Honestly, I gather more information that way that helps me to ascertain who would really “fit” my clients the best- and I’m not very good at being fake and uber-corporatey (feel free to borrow my new phrase) anyhow, so the alternative isn’t appealing. I ask open-ended questions and really “seek first to understand”. If the candidate says something I don’t understand (an acronym, a particular term or phrase, etc) I will interrupt and ask for clarification. Sometimes, a candidate will over-talk and I tactfully interrupt to let them know that I have the information I need- and I then re-direct the interview with the next question that I need answered.

At any point in the interview I may realize that this candidate is actually not a fit for the job that I am recruiting for. If that happens, I will just tell the candidate that based on what they have shared thus far I do not think that they are a true fit for the position my client described. Most people, though somewhat disappointed, understand and are glad that their time was not wasted with weeks of uncertainty. They are now free to pursue a job that is actually a real possibility for them. The key in almost everything I do is to try (emphasis on the word “try”) to treat people the same way I’d like to be treated. So, if someone were telling me that I did not make the cut to proceed to the next step in an interview process, I’d appreciate their honesty but it sure would be easier to take that news if they said it sincerely and nicely.

So, prepare beforehand, welcome them genuinely and then conduct the interview logically with your focus on listening to truly understand. At the conclusion you will need to be sure to thank the interviewee and share with them what they can expect from this point forward. This last step is critical- whatever you say the candidate has every right to hold you to- so say what you intend to do and stick to it. Be careful not to make promises you can’t keep.

In closing, remember that you are dealing with a real live human being- not just a warm body. Smile (even on phone interviews) and genuinely thank them for their time. As incredibly simple as these steps seem, if you follow them and infuse your interviews with a little more thought and a lot more of your personality, you will be amazed at the overwhelmingly positive (and appreciation) you receive from the candidates you interview. Hiring isn’t rocket science but it does take skill and a lot of preparation to do well. The rewards for being great at it are well, very rewarding!

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