Essential Interview Tips for Employers
In today's tight labor market, preparation for the interview process can be especially crucial for employers and hiring teams. The process of interviewing candidates not only drives the search for a great new hire, but it also offers an opportunity for you to portray your business as a coveted "employer of choice."
Effective interview tips for employers focus on a wide range of factors. These can include:
- Adequate preparation beforehand
- Finding ways to engage the candidate on a personal level
- Standardizing the interview approach for all candidates
- Asking open-ended questions
- Watching out for job interview "red flags"
Focusing on effective interview strategies may tilt the odds in your favor of finding qualified candidates for your open position.
Top interview tips for employers
Regardless of how good you are at talking off-the-cuff, a job interview isn't the place for a spontaneous conversation. Hiring teams or managers who "wing it" during an interview can come across as ill-prepared or not valuing the position. Remember, the job candidate evaluates you and your company just as you're evaluating them.
"Hiring managers should prepare their interview questions in advance," says Paychex HR coach Amanda Gee. "These questions should be related to what the individual will encounter in the position, their job duties, and the skills necessary to perform the job successfully. Also, be prepared to ask probing questions to gain clarification. Determine beforehand what constitutes an acceptable and unacceptable answer for each of your interview questions. This will assist you in your evaluation of the candidates and their responses."
One time-tested interview approach is known as STAR, which aims to spark a meaningful discussion regarding an applicant's past experiences (more information below).
It is important to verify information provided on a candidate's application or resume as part of an interview, but employers may be better served preparing interview questions that shed light and insight beyond the applicant's professional persona as presented on paper.
Interviewing techniques for employers
The STAR model of interview question design encompasses:
- Situation: Ask the candidate to describe a situation where they used a key behavior or competency.
- Task: Invite the applicant to articulate the specific task(s) they had to achieve within the stated situation.
- Action: Ask the candidate to clearly convey actions they took in the face of the situation and task at hand.
- Result: Finally, ask the individual to define the results or outcomes triggered by their actions within the broader context they previously outlined.
Asking questions that require only a "yes or no" answer is often of little value to employers. With STAR and other methods, the goal is getting the candidate to share relevant information that helps employers in making their hiring decision. It's often an effective way to engage with the applicant and get beneath the surface to learn more about their abilities and experience.
Interview questions for job candidates
To elicit the elements and insights derived from using the STAR approach of behavioral interviewing, prepare a series of questions that build on behavioral interview question models that start with:
- Tell me about a time...
- Give me an example of when...
- Walk me through...
- Describe for me...
- How have you managed, addressed, or reacted to...
Questions constructed around each of these models offer the potential for answers that say a lot about a candidate's personality and interpersonal style. They can also spark a meaningful discussion that leads to the interviewer's deeper understanding of past situations, tasks, actions, and results the applicant has experienced.
Beware of questions not to ask
Certain interview questions are prohibited by state regulations and by the laws enforced by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Such interview questions could potentially make your company liable in an employment discrimination lawsuit. Avoid questions, including but not limited to those below, that touch upon:
- An individual's race, ethnicity, religion, or gender
- A candidate's citizenship status or place of birth
- Any physical or mental disability
- Marital status
- Whether a candidate is pregnant
- Prior salary history
Interview questions for emotional intelligence
Increasingly, hiring managers are seeking candidates who score high in the area of emotional intelligence – their ability to identify emotions within themselves and others along with controlling and adequately managing emotions. These skills are often considered essential to working well with fellow employees and/or interacting with customers, suppliers, and others.
Examples of questions related to emotional intelligence that you may want to consider asking include:
- How do you handle a day when everything seems to go wrong?
- How comfortable are you asking for help at work?
- How well do you cope with stress and pressure?
- What's your method for handling conflict with a co-worker?
The answers you receive can potentially tell you a great deal about how well an individual will fit into your company culture. For example, when asked about handling a day when everything seemed to go wrong, those with above-average emotional intelligence will likely describe how they found effective solutions to problems or reframed those problems in an effort to feel less overwhelmed. In other words, they seek out ways to manage their reactions to issues, rather than dwelling in negative thinking.
Set the candidate at ease
A job interview can be stressful. Setting candidates at ease — something as simple as offering them a glass of water — could help them be more comfortable and open about themselves, which in turn can lead to a more fruitful interview.
As you get started, offer a brief introduction of what you want to achieve, give an indication of the proposed length of the interview, and let them know if there will be time afterward for their questions.
Setting the scene as described above is a way to build rapport with your potential employee, sets the tone for the forthcoming interview, and has the potential to uncover a candidate's most heartfelt responses. The result is a more authentic view of the candidate's personality, rather than a situation where he or she feels on edge, and tries to give the answers they think you want to hear.
Ask follow-up questions
As noted, open-ended questions offer the potential for insights into how a candidate thinks. Pay close attention to the candidate's initial answers to these questions, but don't leave it at that. Ask follow-up questions that attempt to dig deeper into what the candidate has told you. This is the best opportunity to get an authentic, unrehearsed answer to your question.
For example, a sample interview question might be: Tell me how you handled an unhappy customer at your last job. The answer you get can offer a glimpse into the type of employee the candidate will be, but you can also gain an even deeper understanding by asking follow-up questions, such as, "How did the approach you chose resolve the situation?" or "What happened after this experience, in terms of customer service and subsequent customer interactions?"
Use the same criteria for each candidate
Apply the same process and ask the same questions during each job interview. This approach enables you to gather information in a uniform manner and can make the next step — evaluating how well each person does — that much easier. It can also help minimize unintended or unconscious bias, as well as other negative factors that may creep into the interview process.
In other words, there's no more accurate method for evaluating the responses of different candidates than by comparing the answers they give to the same interview questions.
Keep detailed notes
Let's say you have multiple applicants scheduled for interviews for the same position. In such an instance, it can be difficult to remember who answered what question in a particular way, differences between different candidates' body language while talking, and other factors. There's simply too much information to process and recall in an accurate way.
That's why you should never evaluate how each interview went just on your memory alone. Take notes during the interview (politely explain to the candidate that you'll be doing so), but try to keep these notes to a minimum — whatever's needed to identify key facts and jog your memory later. All notes should be job related and not incorporate information related to an applicant’s membership in a protected class under federal, state or local laws. Your main focus should always be on what's happening in the moment and the quality of your interactions with the applicant.
Matt Keup, Paychex HR services area manager, suggests the use of a "scorecard," based on how the candidates perform during the interview.
"A scorecard gives you a dataset that can differentiate the candidates in an empirical manner," Keup says. "Fill out the scorecard for each candidate immediately after the interview. Sometimes there are clear front runners, and sometimes there are multiple candidates that you like. A scorecard can be of most help when you have multiple promising candidates for a single open position."
Watch for non-verbal behavior
A candidate's body language is often as informative as the verbal responses they give to your questions. Throughout the interview, keep an eye on their body language, how they sit, what gestures they make, and their tone of voice in responding to questions. These observations can contribute to a more complete understanding of the candidate's potential.
For example, a person who slouches in their chair may send a certain message, relating to insufficient self-confidence or less-than-desirable respect for the interview process. By contrast, a candidate with proper posture and a clearly attentive manner suggests an individual who has a more professional outlook and may be better suited for your workplace environment. But be aware that a candidate’s “body language” may be due to a protected medical condition or disability, so while non-verbal cues can be helpful in an interview setting it may be risky to make assumptions or attach specific meaning to behaviors as nuanced as eye contact or body language.
Beware of interviewer errors
While we all may be prone to making snap impressions of someone we meet for the first time, it's best to curb that impulse during a job interview. Left unchecked, a first impression (good or bad) can cloud everything that happens afterward. Stick to the prepared questions and leave your snap impressions out of the equation.
Similarly, beware of the so-called "halo effect." This happens when a candidate's strong point (such as a prestigious academic degree or a high-profile former position) colors the interviewer's experience. Any single factor shouldn't influence the entirety of the conversation.
Do your best to approach every candidate interview with an open mind.
Be on the lookout for candidate red flags
A diligent business owner or hiring manager should be on the lookout for individuals who don't merit serious consideration. Here are some common red flags to watch for:
A professional resume (and/or cover letter) with clumsy syntax or typos can indicate a person who pays little attention to detail. Depending on the job qualifications, you likely want an employee you can trust to inspect and revise their own work before sending it on to others.
Problems with communication
Virtually every job position requires interaction with supervisors and other team members. Among the most valuable interview best practices tips for employer is paying close attention to how a candidate speaks, in addition to what they say.
Some people will be anxious during the interview and talk too much. As noted above, this could be due to nervousness, but it could also be a sign of poor listening skills. They may also talk a lot in an attempt to distract you from certain areas of discussion. In either case, this trait may not bode well for working as part of a team.
An answer for everything
In a similar vein, a job candidate who glibly responds to every question can raise another type of red flag. No one's perfect, and someone who attempts to come across that way isn't being entirely honest. A desirable job-seeker is one who's willing to say, "I don't know" once in a while (though not too often).
Boasts about job offers
In an attempt to come off as being in high demand, some job candidates may freely boast about other job offers they may have. This can send the signal they're willing to play one employer off another to get more money or job perks. Not only might this say something about a possible lack of loyalty, but it may also suggest that they will be thinking about what else is available in the job market in the near future.
What's in it for me?
So-called "stepping-stone candidates" focus on salary and job benefits at the expense of inquiring about aspects of the open position. These individuals may be more interested in using your job opening to get a different position elsewhere. Clearly, this red flag shouldn't be ignored by an employer.
Conclude the interview on a positive note
Among the best interview tips for employers is the simple reminder: End the experience on a positive, upbeat note. Allow 10-15 minutes near the end of the interview for the candidate's questions. You can learn a lot by the types of questions an interviewee asks (if, for instance, they're heavily salary-focused, that could be another red flag).
Finally, thank candidates for their time, offer some idea of when they'll be contacted about a decision or subsequent interviews, and show them out. Your friendly demeanor goes a long way toward making the interview a positive experience for everyone involved.
Remember, a job interview isn't just a situation where the job candidate makes the best case for themselves. It's also an opportunity for you to "sell" your company and make the open position that much more attractive. This can help build enthusiasm for the position and ensure that the entire experience is fruitful and satisfying for everyone involved.
Some state and local laws prohibit criminal background checks until after an offer of employment is made. Once you've found the right candidate, you may want to consider the next step of conducting a background check to make sure everything you learned about the potential new hire checks out.