Ask Away: 4 Steps to Successful Interviewing

People are at the heart of every organization, but recruiting the right person for your team can be tricky. Many times, you’re making hiring decisions in a matter of hours (or less) — and the wrong choice can be devastating.

A poor hire will cost you in ways beyond the financial. There’s the money spent during the recruiting process and in wages paid to the ex-worker. But there’s also the time lost by company leaders and mentors — and the blow to morale for employees who remain.

To make better hiring decisions, you need to be prepared and purposeful during the interview process. The more successful you are at interviewing, the better you’ll be at building a great team.

Successful interviewing isn’t just about what you ask — it’s also about how you approach it. Keep these four tenets in mind when approaching the interview process, and you’ll succeed in hiring more of the right people.

Be prepared

Let’s make one thing clear: Do not look at someone’s resume for the first time while you’re also speaking to them for the first time. Changing jobs is one of life’s biggest milestones, which some people only go through a handful of times. You’re about to be part of that milestone for someone — so treat them with respect, and at least do a little legwork before they walk through the door.

Prepare by building a structure for how you want to conduct the interview. You don’t have to have a complete list of questions, but you should have a few in mind. Make sure you ask them the same way to everyone you’re interviewing for the role. This helps reduce bias and gives you points of comparison among candidates.

You should also make a list of what you want to know about each candidate by the end of the conversation. Many of these will apply to everyone, such as information about their skills, training and relevant work experience. Going a step further, you can have candidates perform exercises to test their skills as part of the interview process; just ensure directions are straightforward and clear.

Put the candidate at ease

Let’s face it: When people are coming in for an interview, they’re nervous. And there is absolutely nothing wrong with that; it’s human nature.

Interviews can be intimidating. Even if the person is in another role right now, by the time they’re talking to you, they’re already envisioning what the next chapter of their life might look like — and how you might be a part of it. You can assume this person isn’t going to be in such a high-pressure situation every time they go to work. So unless you’re hiring for a bombs specialist or crisis negotiator, try and put them at ease right off the bat.

While the role may involve some important events and intense situations, don’t use the interview process as a litmus test of the candidate’s ability to perform under pressure. This undercuts the greater goal of interviewing: assessing whether they can do the job day after day.

Start by exchanging pleasantries; don’t forget that you’re trying to win them over as much as they’re trying to appeal to you. Acknowledge that the candidate might be nervous; tell them it’s okay and that you hope they can feel at ease. Finally, tell the candidate what you expect to get out of the interview and give them context about the role before you dive in.

Encourage story time

You can learn a lot by example: Tell the candidate that you want them to tell you as many stories with examples as possible. Don’t be afraid to ask for more details. Have them tell it and then tell it again, if needed. Look for consistent patterns: Everyone will say they can do what’s asked of them, but your job is to figure out if they’ve done it before.

Remember, successful interviewing is not just about what you ask, it’s also about the way you ask it. When assessing for skills, avoid the trap of asking questions with yes or no answers. Go into interviews with the assumption that the candidate has the required skills for the role — which, if you’ve followed our first tip, will be a safe assumption — and focus on evaluating the depth of their knowledge.

For example, instead of asking, “Do you have experience with XYZ?” a better approach is to ask, “How have you applied your knowledge of XYZ, and what were the outcomes?”

Another great question when trying to understand a candidate’s skill level is, “What is the most complex challenge you’ve had to tackle with this skill?” Not only does this give you another real-life example of the candidate putting their abilities to work, it also gives you insight into what they think is their most advanced level. If the candidate gives an example of something that isn’t terribly difficult, then they might not be the right fit for the role.

I encountered this when interviewing candidates for a digital marketing role that required extensive Excel expertise. I asked, “What is the most complex challenge you’ve had to tackle with Excel?” I received answers that ranged from building a pivot table (not terribly difficult) to creating macros (much more advanced).

Remember the golden rule

And finally — even if they aren’t right for the role, remember to always treat all candidates with respect. Not only is it the right thing to do, but they could also be a potential customer someday.

After all, they might even put in a good word for you with their own circles if they feel you treated them fairly!

A 15+-year recruiting industry vet, Lisa Barrow is the owner of Kada Recruiting, a recruiting firm focused on building successful digital marketing and creative teams. Prior to founding Kada, Lisa spent nine years as the Director of Client Adoption at Monster, where she traveled the country evangelizing recruitment best practices.

The views and opinions expressed in this post are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Indeed.