published March 14, 2020

How Can You Hire the Best Applicants? (Not Just Ones with Good Interview Skills)

EmploymentCrossing’s Top 10 Most Popular Employer Articles of 2019

For an organization with a job opening, this creates a new problem:

How do you know you’re hiring the best applicant, not just someone with strong interview skills?

Sure, you can take them at face value. You can review their resume and call their references. Those are ways to verify their skills, but how can you compare applicants in a way that truly helps you make the best decision for your company?

Without a doubt, it’s an important decision. If you choose a candidate with strong interview skills but weak job skills, that person might not last long.

In this article, we present some unique strategies to help you compare applicants during the interview process so you offer the job to the best person. You will not read about things like how you should rewrite your job description to attract better applicants, which job interview questions you should ask, or other strategies you know about and already use.

Instead, we’ll focus on actionable steps you can take to measure your applicants and their talent.

Think about the following techniques in a way that specifically applies to your job opening:

Get Your Team Involved

You can learn a lot about people by how they treat others. So, get part of your team involved. Ask someone from the department with the job opening, someone who won’t be part of the interview, to bring them from the waiting area to the interview area and to talk to them a little. Maybe ask them to first give a quick tour of the department, if it isn’t a secured area, before bringing them to the designated interview area.

After the interview, speak with the receptionist and the person who brought them in to find out how the applicant behaved.

Was the applicant friendly and professional? Keep in mind some people aren’t great at interviews and may not be comfortable meeting new people. If the applicant seemed introverted, that may be fine if the job opening doesn’t require them to be extroverted, as long as they treated your team members with respect and professionalism.

You can also make it part of the interview process to have applicants sit with someone from the department. This doesn’t have to take much time, but it should be enough time for applicants to get a sense of the job and ask questions. After they leave, ask the team member how it went.

Was the applicant attentive? Did they engage with them? Were they friendly and professional? Did they ask questions?

If you’re hiring for a remote position, you can adapt these methods. You can have a team member sit in during the interview and ask questions, or you can have them meet with applicants separately. Do not make this part optional for applicants.

Whether your team is remote because of health and safety concerns related to COVID-19, regularly has remote days, or works remotely on a full-time basis, it is important to ensure those who are new to the team can work well remotely with the rest of the team. Meet with your team members after the interview to find out what they think about the applicant.

Use Job-Specific Problems to Test the Applicants

At the beginning of this article, we mentioned a concept we all grew up with: some people are good test-takers. Others are poor test-takers, but they know how to put knowledge to work. The same applies to interviews.

Some applicants are great in an interview and some aren’t. The ones who aren’t might be better at putting knowledge into action than people who say all the right things during an interview.

So how can you, as an organization, figure out whether someone can apply their knowledge? Have candidates solve job-specific problems to test their skills.

To make this successful, ask applicants questions directly related to the job opening.

You wouldn’t ask an account manager to create a mockup of a landing page, and you wouldn’t ask a full stack developer to write landing page copy.

Avoid asking generic questions during the interview. It’s fine to ask applicants about difficult problems they solved in their current or previous role, but that may not reveal whether they are the best candidate for the job. And how would you know they’re telling the truth? Some people can be very creative.

There are two main concerns you should consider job-specific assignments to test applicants:


1. Whether to assign a deadline for candidates to submit their work.

As an organization, time is money. You don’t want to leave a role empty for long. It might tempt you to give a candidate a deadline for their proposed solution so you can find the best candidate quickly.

However, consider not assigning a deadline because this helps you weed out perfectionists from self-starters. And your company needs self-starters.

You benefit more from efficiency than absolute perfection. So instead of a deadline, leave it open so you learn which applicants get to a solution quickly.

2. Applicants worried you’ll use their ideas without paying them.

If you hire remote workers often, this is a very real concern for them, especially applicants who have years of experience but are new to remote work. This highlights the importance of something we mentioned earlier in this section. You are not asking for a full-page write-up, a complete working database, or a fleshed-out sales script.

You should not give them an actual product or service you sell as their test assignment. Ask for something partial that highlights their abilities and let them know you’re open to the applicant applying a watermark to the project for their comfort and protection.

The watermark needs to exist in such a way that you can still assess their skills, but allowing them to use one shows you understand their concerns. Present this opportunity so they understand you are more interested in their skills and less interested in their ability to answer common job interview questions.

Take Your Most Promising Applicants Out to Lunch with the Team

Ultimately, the person chosen to fill a job opening must be a good fit for your team. If you’ve narrowed it down to one or two applicants and you’re not sure who is the best fit, get them around the team in a non-work environment. Take them out to lunch with the team.

This approach allows you to watch how each applicant interacts with the team on a personal level. And it’s less stressful for the applicant.

Once back in the workplace, ask some of your most trusted team members what they thought of each applicant. Take their feedback into consideration before you make a final decision and a job offer.

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