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How to Conduct Job Interviews and Choose the Right Candidate

Learning how to conduct a job interview and choose the right candidate seems like something that should be natural for anyone who owns a business or has managerial or operational authority. Yet, determining which applicant will be the best fit for your work environment is no easy task. The job interview process is just as much about you getting to know the candidate as it is the candidate getting to know you. This article is dedicated to how a job interview should be conducted and choosing the most qualified talent. You will learn how to prepare in advance to conduct the job interview process, phone interviews, the actual job interview process, some of the best interview questions to ask (and some you should avoid), body language of the candidate, and moving on to the next steps after you’ve identified which applicant would make a great employee.

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How Hiring Managers Should Prepare in Advance for the Job Interview Process

Preparing in advance for the job interview process starts with reviewing the job description. Taking a few moments to review the job description ensures that you, as the hiring manager, are prepared to ask the right job interview questions. It will also help you keep the interview process on track. A well-written job description also provides you with hiring criteria and helps the applicants understand what the work environment will be like if they receive a job offer.

Next, hiring managers should review the job candidate’s resume, cover letter, and anything else submitted during the application process. Take note of any areas that you think require any sort of explanation or clarification such as a gap in their employment history, a job title you don’t quite understand, or something that causes you a bit of concern.

Set up a structure for the job interview process. While job interviews are generally between 30 and 45 minutes in length, you don’t necessarily need to schedule every minute of an in-person interview. However, creating a general schedule comprised of the order in which you plan to conduct the interview can be helpful in keeping yourself on track. Cover each area that you want to ensure that you cover during the course of the interview. If you noted anything that you wanted to clarify from the job candidate’s application material’s put it into your interview structure at an appropriate point. Creating a structure in this manner helps you focus on the applicant during the job interview and relax more. You’re less likely to worry that you will forget about a key area you wanted to discuss.

Choose the right job interview questions. We’ll discuss interview questions in more depth, but for now, we’ll touch on just a couple of points. The job interview questions you choose should be relevant to the job opening as well as to the applicant’s background and experience. With that being said, you must also follow federal and state laws and avoid asking questions that are illegal. Ask both open ended questions that require more than just a yes or no answer as well as close ended questions that only require a yes or no answer. This will help you get to know the applicant better as well as how they think.

Pick a location to conduct the interview. The location should be private and somewhere that you will not be interrupted. The space should be large enough to hold everyone in the event that you will be joined by others during the interview process. There should be enough chairs as well as a table. If you’re conducting the interview in your office, clear your desk of any files. At the very least, turn them over to ensure that private matters are indeed kept private, but a clear desk is best. Mute your cell phone and ensure that your desk phone will have all calls forwarded straight to voicemail during the time that you’re conducting the interview.

Screening Candidates Through a Phone Interview

A phone interview is a tool for screening candidates to determine which ones you’d like to invite to an in-person interview. Ideally, you’d select phone interview candidates after reviewing their resumes and cover letters. You reach out to phone interview candidates to schedule a date and time to speak with them on a phone. A phone interview is a great tool, but you must use it carefully and be mindful of unconscious bias that can appear in how you frame any follow-up questions you may have for the candidates. You do not want to act or appear to act in a way that is discriminatory.

Generally, a phone interview is used to discuss qualifications, experience, and work environment. Some phone interviews even discuss salary. One drawback, though, is that you have absolutely no way to see the candidate’s body language. The goal is to identify the talent you’d like to invite for in-person interviews. Some questions you can consider asking include:
  • Why are you looking to leave your current position? The purpose of this question is to understand why they are leaving. You must understand their desire to leave to know whether they will fit in well in your work environment. The answer could be mundane and honest: they just wanted a change or they’ve always wanted to work in the capacity your company offers. Then again, they could say something that alarms you.
  • What is your current and expected salary? Although many companies save the talk of salary until the job offer, you can gain valuable information during the phone interview. You could learn that they already make more than what your company pays for the position and so you know that you won’t be able to move forward with them. The information could tell you how experienced they are in their role. Generally, the more money someone makes in their position, the more experience and talent they have. It could also tell you whether your company is offering enough to attract and keep top talent. They may not want to answer this question, either.
  • How many years of experience do you have as ________________? Understanding their experience level is crucial. If they do answer the question about salary, you’ll be able to better understand where your company stacks up.
  • Describe your educational background and experience. Be open to the fact that not all great candidates may necessarily go to the top colleges or go to college at all.
Also, make sure you that you talk less and listen more. Pay attention to how they speak. Try not to judge someone based solely on the sound of their voice. Even if they sound “low energy,” if they are experienced and have no gaps in their employment, they could still very well be self-motivated and driven. Be very mindful of unconscious bias. If they don’t seem sure about what role they want, that could be a red flag or they could just be an entry level worker. Depending on the position you’re hiring for, you’ll need to trust your best judgment.

After you’ve reviewed all of your notes, it’s time to call the candidates you’d like to schedule for formal, in-person job interviews.

The In-Person Job Interview Process

It’s important to use the job interview process to understand the experience of the candidate as well as to ascertain whether they would be a good fit (as well as happy) in the work environment. However, this interview is also a time when the applicant is also learning more about your company and position. In short, the job interview is a two-way street.

Do everything in your power to start the job interview on time. The applicant took time out of their schedule, and maybe even requested time off from their current position, to meet with you. Be respectful of their time. We recognize that sometimes interview schedules fall behind because of other applicants, but we encourage you to do everything possible to keep on schedule.

During the interview process, stick to the topics that matter. Doing so will help you stay on schedule. This also highlights the importance of creating a structure for how the interview should progress. Try to avoid generalizations such as, “Tell me about a challenging time,” and instead make it specifically relate to something on their resume, “During your time at XYZ Corporation while you were an account manager you handled 57 accounts. Tell me about a challenging time where you developed a workflow that helped keep all of your accounts organized.”

Discuss the required skills for the open position. If you know that you need someone who is an expert in using a specific software, make sure you understand what “expert” means. And then ask about it. Granted, this is a self-assessment particularly if the candidate didn’t list any certifications or certificates of training for the software on their resume or other application materials. However, they should be able to give you enough information about their use and abilities for you to determine if they know how to actually use the software.

Let the candidate talk as well as ask questions. Remember that they must learn about your company just as you must learn about them. The best way for them to learn more about the position as well as the company is to ask questions. And the best way for you to learn more about them? Let them talk.

When it is time to wind down the interview, thank the candidate for their time and describe the next steps. Let them know when they can expect to hear back from you as well as how they will hear back. No one likes to be left waiting.

Finally, take some time to review your notes and think about each interview taking into account all of the answers to interview questions and body language before decide to extend a job offer.

Best Sample Job Interview Questions to Ask (and Illegal Job Interview Questions to Avoid)

Of course, job interview questions work best when they are centered around helping you learn more about whether the applicant is the talent you need. Yet, it’s also important to determine whether the applicant is a good fit for the work environment at the personal level. Below you’ll find some of the best job interview questions to ask.
  • Tell me about yourself. While it seems generic, the purpose of this statement is to learn more about the candidate to determine how they would fit into the work environment. You’re not necessarily looking for a lot of personal information, but candidates could very well mix in some personal interests along with their professional experience and education, and that’s okay! Just keep in mind that you cannot discriminate against them based on certain factors that may come up when they answer, such as their background, their private life, and whether they have children or not.
  • Why should we hire you? This on-the-spot question asks the candidate to summarize their best qualifications regarding the open position as well as allowing you to see how well they perform under pressure.
  • What is your biggest weakness? This is often a difficult question for candidates to answer. Some end up telling hiring managers about some terrible situations that resulted in them getting in terrible trouble at work, showing that they are not the best candidate for the job. Others understand that the purpose of the question is to highlight a weaker skill that the candidate continues to work on to improve.
  • What is your biggest strength? This question should be used by the candidate to answer how well-qualified the candidate is for the position. The candidate should use this question in a way to set themselves apart.
  • Why are you leaving your current job? Listen to whether the candidate gives you facts or plays the blame game. Do they just want a place they can grow? Do they want to work in a new capacity? Or are they blaming everyone at Company X for all of their troubles? If the blame game is played, that’s a giant red flag.
  • Why are you interested in this job / company? The answer to this question will let you know whether the candidate did any sort of research on the company prior to the interview. Did they look at your website? Have they read your mission statement? Is this just 1 of 50 positions they applied for or are they really interested in your company?
  • Describe a difficult work problem in a previous job and how you solved it. It’s important to know that the candidate can handle stress, work as a team player, take responsibility, and initiate to solve problems. Watch for signs of blaming other team members. It’s one thing to discuss how an issue began and to clarify points. It’s another thing altogether to blame.
  • Tell us about your future goals. It’s important to know with all of the resources that you’re investing that the talent you hire plans to stick around, even if they are looking to grow within your company.
That’s only a small sampling of some of the most commonly asked questions. You can make up your own job interview questions or you can look around online to find good questions. However, it is important that your interview questions comply with both state and federal law. Illegal interview questions include questions about the applicant’s age, medical history or medical information, their height or their weight, their gender or sex, their actual or perceived religion, their actual or perceived citizenship, disability, their marital status, their family status, or whether they are pregnant. Even during casual conversation, these questions can come up during the interview process. And they are still illegal.

If you have doubts or concerns because a candidate raises an issue such as the need for a flexible schedule because of an ongoing medical issue and you aren’t sure what to do, you would not address the medical issue or ask questions about it. You would address whether your company offers flexible scheduling only. Your HR department or your legal counsel should be able to help prepare you for the most common instances you’re likely to run into during job interviews because they can and do happen.

Body Language of Job Candidates

During a job interview, candidates don’t just give verbal answers. They also give answers through body language. It’s something we all do, and most of us don’t realize we do it. While learning to understand body language during a job interview is a useful tool, it is important to keep in mind a couple of caveats.
 
  1. Different cultural backgrounds have different rules. While we Americans are big fans of eye contact, other cultures do not see it as a sign of respect and paying attention. It’s a challenge or a sign of disrespect. So, body language won’t always rule the day. It’s important to also have a general understanding of culture.
  2. If the room is too cold or too hot, it can be hard to read body language. Smaller people may inadvertently cross their arms and legs if the room is cold. With body language, this indicates that someone is closed off. But, it also means they’re cold. If it’s hot, it can lead to fidgeting around. And fidgeting too much is also a sign of nervousness.

So, while body language can be useful, please only consider it as part of the entire picture. Do not rely on it alone, especially if you’re not a body language expert.
 
  • Consider how they sit. Are they sitting up straight and tall or are they slouching? This could help you determine whether they want to be there. If their shoulders are pulled back, it is a sign that they are confident and assertive.
  • The handshake. A firm handshake is great. Don’t put too much stock into whether their palm is moist. Some people just can’t help the fact that they have sweaty palms. If they give you the handshake with a death grip, they may not know any better depending on experienced they are. Again, depending on experience, if they cover your hand with their free hand, it is generally a sign of domination. However, for some people, it is a genuine sign of pleasure or affection.
  • Crossed arms. Generally, crossed arms could indicated nerves, self-protection, or that they are closed off. Again, though, the room could also be cold.
  • Crossing and recrossing the legs. This is fidgeting. It is often a sign of nervousness. It could also be that the room is cold.
  • Not smiling. If the candidate isn’t smiling, it could be a sign that they aren’t happy to be there. They could also be nervous.
  • Shrugging. Shrugging the shoulders is a sign of indifference and is often a sign that someone is lying during a job interview.
  • Leaning back in the chair. During an interview, if a job candidate leans back in the chair after you ask a question, they are creating space. They are not engaged in what’s happening.
After the Job Interviews Are Complete

When the job interviews are complete, it’s time to select the talented candidate and send the job offer. You may provide the job offer over the phone and follow up via email or through postal mail. After the candidate has accepted, you should then notify the other applicants that you’ve chosen a candidate and thank them for their application as well as their time. Keep their materials on file and research out to them if another opening becomes available within the next few months for which they might be a good fit! Doing so can help keep your recruiting costs down.