Interviews are crucial to hiring, but the opportunity is often missed. Your goals? Minimize errors, ensure fairness and efficiency, and put your company's best foot forward. Let's look at a few ways to optimize the process and avoid common pitfalls.
Before the Interview
- Create an outline. Give some careful thought to the job you are hiring for and write an up-to-date job description listing the job's purpose and functional and soft skill requirements.
- Write your questions. From your list of required skills, develop prompts that ask applicants to describe their relevant experiences. Asking all applicants the same questions is more effective and reduces bias in your interviews. We’ve pulled together a comprehensive list of questions you can use for reference.
- Decide how you’ll score candidates’ responses. Start with at least three scoring categories for each skill you interview for and define what each mean: Below Requirements, Meets Requirements, and Exceeds Requirements. Expand these three categories to five if you like. We’ve developed a handy template for you to work from here.
- Put together an interview panel. Choose two to three coworkers (too many, and you risk overwhelming applicants). Include people with different perspectives on the job and hiring process (like a peer, a manager, and HR).
- Consider sharing the interview questions with applicants in advance. This reduces stress and gives them a chance to prepare relevant, coherent examples, so you know what they're capable of.
Brush up on the STAR response method that candidates use to frame answers. You can even use it to guide a response. Remember, you want to understand past performance of applicants, not just whether they interview well—and seeking clarifying information is ok. Here’s what to expect:
S = Situation: Applicants will set the stage by describing a situation or challenge faced
T = Task: Applicants will describe what was required
A = Action: Applicants will cover the action they took to overcome the situation or challenge
R = Result: Applicants will let you know the outcome their action produced
Push yourself to evaluate “culture adds” and not just “culture fits.” Consider candidates who bring to the table new perspectives or experiences that vary from those of your existing team. Those new perspectives (even when challenging) can significantly impact moving the business forward.
During the Interview
- Ensure interview time is uninterrupted. Employment decisions are life-changing and worthy of your undivided attention. Remember, applicants are interviewing you, too.
- Begin with introductions and what to expect. Say who is in the room, and how it will all go down. Like, “We’ll be taking notes on our conversation. We’ll spend around 20 minutes on our questions and then take 10 minutes for questions you might have for us.”.
- Gather information. Have interviewers take notes on each question and rate responses using your pre-determined categories (see above).
- Give the applicant the floor. Always set aside time for the applicant to ask questions and to offer some background on your company.
Avoid prohibited topics. Don’t ask about applicants’ race, weight, religion, citizenship, marital status, children, pregnancy, gender, and perceived disabilities. To fully familiarize yourself with what not to ask, check out the EEOC’s complete list.
Don’t just "have a chat." Unstructured interviews are less than half as predictive of future performance as structured interviews (demonstrated across industry, time, job, and place). It’s okay to go off-script once in a while, especially for clarifying information—but don't make it the whole thing. It seems friendlier, but it's more likely to result in biased decision-making (not so friendly after all).
After the Interview
- Invite the panel to a debrief. If you're at a decision-making point (i.e., rejecting or moving an applicant forward) bring the interview panel together to walk through the candidate's scores.
- Agree on some ground rules. Do this before you start debriefing to ensure you run a fair and effective process: 1) When? Are you going to debrief after each applicant or for a group of applicants? If the position is open-until-filled, you should debrief after each. If you have a close date for the role, wait to debrief and decide once everyone is done. 2) Scoring. Are you going to take an average of all ratings or review the ratings and come to a consensus? If the latter, who settles an impasse?
- Decide who to advance and who to reject. Base your decisions on the ratings of applicants from the debrief. Remember, you made an effort to measure job-related skills from the start—don’t undermine your process now.
Ensure the interview team is aware of biases. Cognitive biases can unintentionally enter the interview and decision-making process. They include:
- Anchoring and confirmation bias. This means weighing one data point too heavily (e.g., “they dress nice so they must be ok”) or ignoring evidence that conflicts with a first impression.
- Like-me bias and in-group favoritism describe favoring people we socially identify with, which often relates to legally-protected distinctions like race, gender, and religion.
- These and many other cognitive biases (there are quite a few!) can lead to an overly positive (halo effect) or negative (horn effect) impression. Knowing they exist and designing a structured hiring process is your best defense to hiring bias.