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Use More Than Your Gut Feeling When Interviewing

Good Interviewing Skills Can Reduce Turnover Costs and Improve Productivity.

By Steve Schumacher

Several years ago, I worked with a company that, over the course of a year, hired three people in key positions who all failed and were fired within 90 days of being hired. They had interviewed very well, in fact they were superstars in the interview. When I talked to the managers who had done the interviewing, they all agreed that the candidates were “good people,” “real go-getters,” and “had what it takes” to do the jobs.

The managers agreed that the candidates seemed to be perfect fits for the jobs and were amazed that they failed so quickly. If you have found yourself in a similar situation, you may want to take a look at how much you’re using your “gut feeling” vs. the job requirements, when interviewing candidates.

Costs to fill an open position can be upwards of 35 percent of that position’s salary, so you want to do it right. Poor productivity, bad customer service, poor teamwork, increased overtime, and increased training costs can all be results of bad hires. Managers I’ve worked with tell me that when they have to be interviewing over and over, it keeps them from getting to the higher priority things they need to work on.

A solid interviewing process includes:

A Job Description
If you don’t have one, make one. It doesn’t have to be a bureaucratic nightmare. Get input from the people that do the job. Identify the key things they do that make them successful and prioritize them.
6-8 Behavioral Questions
Build your questions off of the job description. Ask about behaviors, not traits. They should be questions that ask the candidate to give specific examples of how they have done these things in the past. Make them open-ended questions that get the candidate to talk about their past experiences. Start the questions off with “tell me about a time when you … ”. Stay away from leading and hypothetical questions. Candidates’ responses to those are really promises that they may or may not keep.

Awareness of Illegal Questions
It is not only inappropriate, but it is illegal to ask questions about age, sex, marital status and religion. Get some professional HR or legal guidance for all of your interviewers to keep your company out of lawsuits.

Explanation of the
Interview Process
Most candidates, when coming into an interview, will expect traditional questions. They will be prepared to respond to questions about their strengths/weaknesses, and where they want to be in five years. They won’t be expecting behavioral questions that ask them to come up with specific examples from their past. Tell the candidates up front what kind of responses you would like.

Good Note-taking
Take plenty of notes during the interview. It can be a challenge to stay engaged with the candidate and take good notes at the same time, so consider having two interviewers asking questions. Use the S.T.A.R. method when taking notes. That’s what you want the candidate to tell you. A Situation they were in, what Tasks they needed to accomplish, the Actions they took, and the Result of those actions. Keep probing until you get S.T.A.R. Don’t write notes on the resume.

Objective Evaluation
After each interview, evaluate the candidate’s responses using an objective scale. Use the scale for each question. This will help you be objective when interviewing a lot of candidates. Before you add up the scores, take the time to consider any intangibles. Were they prepared for the interview? Did they ask good questions? Was there an unexplained gap in employment? Here’s an example of the scale:

1 - Needs Development.
2 - Needs Some Development.
3 - Competent.
4 - Very Effective.
5 - Highly Effective.
Multiple Interviews and Multiple Interviewers
If you have two interviewers in each interview, calibrate your ratings after the candidate leaves. Do it right away so you don’t forget anything. Use the first set of ratings to determine if a candidate should be brought back for a second interview. Ask different questions in the second interview. Before you make your hiring decision, have all the interviewers discuss their ratings and come to a consensus on how well each candidate responded to the questions.

Interviewing Training
Make sure that everyone who is involved in your interviewing process gets the skills they need to make them successful interviewers. Don’t assume that they know how to interview well. Use role-playing in the training so the participants can get first-hand experience at asking behavioral questions and using S.T.A.R. when taking notes.