Interviewing a potential employee can be challenging. You want to ensure that you’re asking the right questions and that you’re able to glean the answers you need in order to make a sound hiring decision. In this podcast, Senior HR Business Partner Nancy Saperstone discusses how to interview successfully.
John Maher: Hi. I’m John Maher. I’m here today with Nancy Saperstone, Senior HR Business Partner at Insight Performance, a human resources consulting firm in Massachusetts and today we’re talking about how to interview prospective employees. Welcome Nancy.
Nancy Saperstone: Thank you for having me.
How an Interview Plays a Role in Recruiting
John: Sure. Nancy in a competitive job market, it’s hard to find the right candidate. How does the interview play a part in the recruitment process?
Nancy: The interview is going to play a really important part because that’s the time that you really get to talk to the candidate and determine if they’re going to be a right fit for your company and also a right fit for the job to work with the manager. It’s really a key aspect of the recruiting process.
John: Tell me a little bit about the general structure of an interview and how it’s set up.
Nancy: Yes. Typically, by the time they’re coming into your company, you’ve done some kind of pre-screening whether it’s over the phone or just by doing a resume review. You want to make sure that you’re using the time that they’re coming into your company wisely. What I do is start with an opening, making the person comfortable. Welcoming them in, and then a lot of times what I’ll do just to warm up and get them talking is to walk through the resume, but in a short period of time. You don’t want to spend your whole time just walking through the resume because it’s right there.
John: Pouring over every line or something.
Nancy: Right. It just gets too tedious and the candidate we’ll get bogged down into reading something that’s right there in front of you. That’s kind of a waste of your time. Then you really want to move quickly off that and get into this information gathering portion of the interview. We kind of talk about in the recruiting world that there’s an 80/20 rule where you want to get the candidate talking 80% of the time. You shouldn’t, as the interviewer, be doing more than 20% of the talking. It’s really time for the candidate to be talking [and] for you to be able to ask some questions that you’re going to be able to evaluate if they are going to be a right fit for the company.
John: Right. They might have some questions for you as well, like “Tell me more about the position or more about the company,” that sort of thing. That’s okay for them to ask those questions and for you to respond, but you want to try to push it back on them and get them to talk more.
Nancy: Exactly, you don’t want them to be controlling the interview. You want to be able to keep control of the interview, but then give them time at the end to ask their questions and let them know where the recruiting process is so that you’re going to be making a decision in a week or two weeks or whatever it may be, and make sure that you get some closure on the interview as well.
John: Okay. I’ve heard a little bit about behavioral interviewing. Can you tell me more about that?
Nancy: Yes. Behavioral interviewing is a specific way to ask questions that allows the interviewer to kind of make a prediction on how they’re going to perform in the future. It’s based on this idea that past performances are predictor for future performance. Essentially, history repeats itself. Rather than asking what would you do in this situation, you ask candidates questions more about how they acted previously in a different job, in their last job, or it could even be in a school setting or in a couple jobs ago. But you want to find out specific actions that they did, specific projects that they worked on, how they worked on those projects, what their thought process was and how they behaved in those previous situations.
John: What are some sample behavioral interview questions that you might ask of a candidate that would get that information out of them?
Nancy: Yes. Behavioral interview questions typically start with, what did you do versus what would you do. Some sample questions could be, “Describe a project that you worked on,” or “Tell me about the accomplishment you are most proud of in your current role.” “Describe a problem you had to solve and how you went about solving it,” or you could ask the candidate, “Give me some examples of how your role has grown over the last couple of years,” or if you know it’s more of a relationship job, you could ask them, “Tell me about an important relationship that you’ve had to develop and how you maintained that relationship.” You’re really asking for specific examples about what they have done in the past.
Listening to the Candidate During the Interview
John: Okay. Then you’re getting them to talk. They’re telling you about their history of what they have done in those situations. How important then is really listening to the candidate during the interview?
Nancy: Yes. I think when you’re using a behavioral interviewing technique, you really need to actively listen, because you want to follow up everything that they say with a probing question and get a little bit more detail and really drill down into what they did and the example that they’re giving you. [This helps you to] really understand how they thought about what they did, how they went about it and think about how that’s going to fit with your culture and if that’s going to be something that they’re going to be able to perform at your company, or is it not in line with what you would want somebody to do. You really need to probe and actively listen to make those decisions.
John: Not just ask the questions that you have on the sheet in front of you, but really be listening to what they’re saying and be responding to that and make it a conversation.
Nancy: Exactly. A lot of times with a behavioral interview question, you can ask them one question and then you know five, six, seven probing questions following up on that and it could be a 10- [or] 15-minute answer. You may only have two or three really good, solid questions and then you’re doing a couple follow-up questions.
What You Legally Can and Can’t Ask During an Interview
John: Okay. From a legal standpoint, are there some things that an interviewer needs to be aware of in terms of what they can ask or what they can’t ask?
Nancy: Yes. It’s really important that you train your hiring managers the legal do’s and don’ts of hiring and interviewing because a lot of times, hiring managers want to get into a personal conversation with their candidates because they want to know if they’re a right fit, but we need to be really wary in terms of the EEOC Guidelines and make sure that we’re not overstepping certain laws and asking for information that could put the company at risk. There are definitely a lot of legal don’ts with interviewing that managers should be trained on.
John: Okay. All right. That’s really great information, Nancy. Thanks again for speaking with me today.
Nancy: Thank you.
John: For more information, visit insightperformance.com or call (781) 326-8201.