16/10/10

By Chris Smith, CEO of digital recruitment specialists Opinio Group

Interviews can be just as daunting for those on the other side of the table as they are for the candidate. Most large companies can afford the luxury of an in-house HR team who specialise in everything to do with recruitment, but if you run a small and medium enterprise (SME), you will be familiar with the concept of being chief cook and bottle washer. So asking a few questions can’t be hard. Can it?

An interview is much more than a bunch of generic questions and, ultimately your selection will reflect your professional judgement, industry know-how and your eye for talent. No pressure then! Don’t worry, here are a few things to bear in mind.

#1 — Get your numbers right
If you get applications from six candidates that you think are worth interviewing, then that’s your shortlist. You might plan for six and only get four, in which case there’s no point wasting time by making up numbers. However, take the time to study the applications. Can you afford to let a star performer slip through your net?

#2 – Get personal
If you’re going to be sharing a room with your candidate, it makes sense to get to know them. The first steps are all about humanising the situation, relaxing your subject and getting them to open up. An off-topic question like: ‘Where did you grow up?’ or ‘What was your first job?’ will help stir conversation and put the candidate at ease. Reading the Hobbies & Other Interests section of their CV will give you a starting point.

#3 – Don’t try and catch them out
Think about what you need to know from your candidate and make sure you get answers, even if they are not the right ones. Too many interviewers try to be clever and ask questions to try and ‘catch-out’ bewildered candidates or show-off their ‘superior’ knowledge. Stick to your criteria and if you can’t resist a trick question, make it relatable to their role and responsibilities, but most important of all, if they do trip up, don’t belittle them.

#4 – Open up your questions
Nothing kills a conversation like a closed question. Whilst there are some questions that require simple answers, the most interesting responses come from asking a candidate about their experiences and thoughts. Questions like ‘Where do you see the industry in five years’ time?’ and ‘What achievements are you most proud of?’ will demonstrate a candidate’s ability to listen and construct an opinion.

#5 — Listen
You’ve asked the question; now do the candidate the courtesy of listening to their answer. And I mean really listen. It’s easy to let your brain skip ahead and frame the next question. However, something they say may prompt a supplementary question that you hadn’t thought of. You can’t afford to be too rigid with your interviewing

#6 — Shepherd the candidate
Candidates have a tendency to talk a lot during interviews and believe me, they will go on. Be brave enough to bring the conversation back for both of your sakes and don’t be quick to judge should they stray — it may simply be down to nerves.

#7 — Evaluate
Your gut instinct should never be ignored, but make time after each interview to make notes. You should avoid making detailed notes during the interview — you’ll stifle it.

Make sure you get what you need from the interview and don’t be afraid to let things steer off course slightly. Remember, you are representing your business or employer and if you appear to be losing control it can say a lot to a potential candidate and hinder their decision to join your organisation. Ultimately, if you don’t offer someone the job, you want them to be disappointed rather than left feeling like they’ve had a lucky escape.