Right from the beginning of the hiring process, work out who you are looking for. Too many managers don’t take the time to do so. This stops them from being able to decide who to hire, because they don’t know if an applicant matches their needs.
Define your ideal applicant: their skills, their qualities, the knowledge they should possess. Also think about how experienced you need them to be for the tasks and responsibilities of the role.
Be realistic and challenge your assumptions. Do you really need applicants to have a degree? Do you really need five or ten years of experience in the role or your industry? Every requirement you place in your job description is a hurdle someone needs to jump over.
Interviews allow you to gather data points on applicants, to help you make a data-driven decision on who to hire. They also let you validate information applicants have already provided. Make every question count - don't waste the interviewee's time or your own time.
I’m going to save you some time if you’re planning to ask: “so why do you want the job?” The answer is money. It is always money. That is literally the point of why most people do most things work-related. I get that it feels like a nice, softball, opening question, but you learn very little from it. Same with: “so tell me about yourself”.
Here’s a better flow of questions, where you can learn about an interviewee.
• Start by asking the interviewee to name a hobby/sport/activity that they participate in, and they are passionate about.
• Then ask them to explain why they enjoy doing it and what they think doing the activity has taught them.
• Finally, ask them what they think that they will apply from participating in the hobby/sport/activity to the job they are interviewing for.
You are looking to gather information on what the interviewee has done before, and assessing if they have thought about the role and how they can bring their past experiences to bear.
I would also recommend asking scenario-based questions. Ask interviewees to tell you about specific situations in which they have undertaken tasks or applied certain skills. For example, “tell me about a time when you have had to deal with a difficult customer”.
Interviews also let you validate and understand information applicants provided at the application stage. You can build on information that interviewees provided for the scenarios: "You have knowledge of state health and safety laws. Tell me how you gained this and how you applied it in your previous roles".
Encourage interviewees to respond using the STAR method:
Letting the interviewee respond, then asking clarifying questions creates a more conversational approach than just asking hypothetical questions, and you learn more, because the interviewee will draw on their own personal experiences.
Interviews are weird and stressful. You will learn more from applicants if you get them to relax and open up, and help them to navigate the process. Tell interviewees in advance how the interview will work, who will attend, and what you expect from them. At the interview, put interviewees at ease by being personable and informal. Encourage applicants to ask clarifying questions if they don’t understand a question or scenario.
If you are interviewing via Zoom or Teams, make sure that all interviewers have their cameras turned on and tell applicants what to do if the connection freezes or they encounter issues. I get nervous interviewing people, so if this happens to you then tell applicants this, it helps to relax them.
Tell interviewees that you will be asking scenario-based questions and expecting answers using the STAR method prior to the interview.
I’m going to be controversial: you can even tell interviewees the scenarios you are going to ask them about in advance of the interview. Why is this a good idea? Because it is a good test of the ability of applicants to follow instructions and prepare. Even if you know the scenarios, it is still not easy to answers scenario-based questions, but you can definitely spot interviewees who have not applied any prior thought or effort to the task.
Assess interviewees based on a pre-determined rating scale, with a clear sense of what great, OK, and poor answers look like.
Take the customer service scenario question I outlined earlier. A poor answer would be one where the interviewee did not actually help a customer or could not really explain how they tried to do so.
For an OK answer, the interviewee would demonstrate a limited number of appropriate qualities and skills needed to successfully address the customer’s issue.
For a great answer, the interviewee helped the customer, explaining the steps they followed and demonstrating empathy for the customer’s complaint, patience to listen to their concerns, creativity and subject matter expertise to address their needs.
This assessment criteria should be the basis of making your hiring decision. Please don’t inject biases into your hiring. A strong handshake, lots of eye contact, whether someone interviews in a three piece suit - are these really good indicators of how someone will perform in your role? Probably not.
Also, lists like this normally have a view on I vs WE answers - eg interviewees answering: "I did this..." versus "we did this..." It really doesn't matter. Yes, ideally you are trying to drill into what the interviewee did themselves, personally, in a situation or scenario, so you want them to say: "I did this..." Make sure you advise interviewees that this is what you are looking for. But it is more important that the interviewee lays out the skills, qualities, and knowledge that addressed the scenario, than whether they use I or WE.
Develop a simple form for all interviewers to fill in for each interviewee. Essentially, this needs to capture score per question and the factors that justify this score. Each interviewer should complete this as the interview is taking place, with interviewers granted a short time after the interview to reflect on their scores.
One person should be responsible for collating all the scores and ranking the applicants. When the scores have been reconciled, pull together all the interviewers to agree that they agree with the scores and the preferred hire.
Do this quickly, don’t leave applicants waiting. I get that people don’t prioritize conducting interviews, they can feel like a time drag. But the best applicants will not wait. So make a decision quickly. Don’t let the decision slide, don’t fall victim to the temptation of: “well, I’ll just have them talk to one more person…” Trust your process.
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