How to conduct an effective job interview
Surrounding oneself with capable, as well as trustworthy, people is critical to the success of any entrepreneurial activity. Proceeding to select the best candidates, however, is a complex and delicate process.
Joe Kraus, founder (among other companies) of Excite and president of Lime, once said:
“Hiring the right people takes time, the right questions and a keen eye for detail. Hiring the wrong people is expensive, detrimental to the work environment and time-consuming.”
As Kraus’ words suggest, a decisive role within the selection process is played by the interview. In this regard, it is good for you to know right now that it is not only important to know how to conduct a job interview, but it is also important to arrive properly prepared for this important appointment. Not only that, it is also crucial that you have a clear understanding of why the selection interview is so important. The next few lines will serve precisely to resolve any doubts you may have in this regard.
Select personnel: the importance of a job interview
In the early stages of the life of a startup, typically, those who found it tend to surround themselves with people they already know and trust. This approach, however, is almost never sustainable in the long run: as the startup grows, in fact, it often becomes necessary to form a working team and seek out staff with specific skills and adequate experience in the field.
The job interview represents a very important stage of the selection process because, in practical terms, it is what determines the final choice on the candidate to be placed within the company. In this regard, you have to keep in mind that, for a startup, investing in the wrong figure has even more serious consequences than for an “established” company, because resources (both in terms of money and time) are more limited.
Remember, too, that reading a candidate’s Curriculum Vitae can offer you valuable insights at the recruitment stage, but it is the moment when you come face to face with him or her in the interview that will reveal that information that can clear up any doubts.
During the selection interview, in fact, you have the opportunity to shed light on some unclear passages in the Curriculum Vitae and to verify firsthand whether what the candidate writes about the skills he or she possesses corresponds to the truth. Not only that, the interview with the candidate also allows you to learn more about some aspects of his or her character and personality and to make sure that his or her personal values are in line with those promoted by the company.
Preparing for the selection interview
As we have already pointed out, arriving properly prepared for the job interview is very important not only for applicants, but also for recruiters.
For the latter, specifically, arriving prepared for the interview means paying attention and spending time on two very specific activities: studying the candidate’s Curriculum Vitae and preparing a list of questions to be asked during the interview.
Study of the candidate’s cv
Studying the candidate’s resume allows you to get a rough idea of who you will be facing at the interview stage and, in particular, allows you to learn useful information about his or her personality (did he or she choose an original cv format? How did he or she talk about himself or herself?), his or her past work experience (has he or she worked for companies in the same industry? Has he or she previously held the precise role for which you are recruiting?) and about his or her skills (do they complement well with those of resources already on staff? Could they offer you new business opportunities in the future?).
Of course, what you find written in the CVs must then be verified in the interview. How? For example, by preparing questions for you to ask the candidate during the interview.
Preparation of questions
Before discussing the questions to be prepared before the interview with the candidate, it is useful to introduce the difference between structured and unstructured job interviews: the former involves candidates being subjected to a sequence of standard questions drafted in advance, while the latter is a type of interview without predetermined questions. Then there is a third option and that is the semi-structured interview, which involves both standardized questions and interaction based on the recruiter’s personal evaluations that emerge during the interview.
Structured interviews are generally considered to be very effective if a large number of hires need to be made in a short period of time, but they have the great “cons” of leaving no room for the recruiter’s initiative and impressions during the interview.
Okay, but what do you ask at a job interview? Avoid trivial questions (e.g., where do you see yourself in five years from now?) and try to think in more specific terms, citing and asking the candidate for real-life examples based on his or her past experiences (past behavior is considered the best predictor of future performance). Another sound advice is to think of open-ended questions that encourage discussion and that do not aim solely and exclusively to stump the candidate with puzzles or pitfalls.
Testing the candidate, however, is not wrong. You should know that there is one question particularly valued generally by recruiters: “What are you not good at?” Everyone can describe his or her strengths, but few, especially when caught off guard, can critically (and creatively) self-analyze within seconds and find an answer to this question. This question also manages to draw a very clear line between those who are humble and eager to learn and those who are not.
Finally, when preparing questions to be administered at an interview, you should keep company values in mind and think about questions whose answers may reveal whether the candidate shares the same ideals.
Preparing questions, however, is not only about structured interviews: in fact, even if you decide to use other modes of interviewing, you can prepare in advance questions to ask the candidate. As mentioned, in fact, reading the resume allows you to focus your attention on some specific passages and jot down some questions that can further elaborate on them during the interview.
How to conduct a job interview
Job interviews can be of various types: we refer not only to the aforementioned structured, unstructured or semi-structured interviews, but also to other types of interviews that differ in the way they are conducted.
Have you ever heard of casual settings meeting? This is an interview conducted in an informal setting and/or in an abnormal situation, such as a lunch, for example. In Job Auditions, on the other hand, candidates are paid to do a job in order to test them directly in the field. Accomplice also to the Covid-19 pandemic, moreover, remote interviews (via Skype or Meet) have multiplied and virtual reality interviews are also becoming more common.
Having made this necessary premise, you should know now that it can be very useful to identify a checklist of the basic steps that ideally make up the conduct of a job interview that, for convenience, we will call “standard.”
A job interview should include, first, a phase of welcoming the candidate whose purpose is to put the candidate at ease. Then, where provided, it is appropriate to introduce the recruiting team participating in the interview.
Having exhausted these two steps, which can be considered “preliminary,” it is important to listen to the candidate’s reasons for being interested in that specific job position and make him or her aware of all the tasks he or she will be expected to perform and the company’s objectives. The job interview is also an opportunity to better present the company, describing its history, vision and mission. Finally, especially in cases where the candidate has previously gone through other steps of the selection process, an additional stage, dedicated to a tour of the workplace, can be provided.
The one just enunciated, we reiterate, is an indicative sequence of steps. What you must be clear about, however, is that the job interview is by its very nature a dialogue and, therefore, represents an opportunity for both parties to make themselves better known: you, as the recruiter, must present your startup and explain what you are looking for and why, while it is up to the candidate to present himself or herself as the ideal solution to your company’s needs.
Company presentation and overview
During the course of a job interview, as highlighted earlier, it is good to have a moment when the candidate is explained the history of the company and briefly described what it does, its goals and values. Not only that: it is also important to describe (possibly in an engaging way) the characteristics of the role for which you are seeking personnel, emphasizing new projects and career prospects.
Dwell on what makes your startup special, not only at the product level but also in terms of culture and work environment.To succeed effectively, you might ask for suggestions from those who already work for you.
A number of entrepreneurs prefer to have other company figures participate in the job interviews, such as the direct manager to whom the candidate will have to report once he or she is in the company. Involving the team in the selection process has several advantages (some of which we will discuss later), and among them is precisely the possibility of better explaining the company’s culture to the candidate and more effectively assessing whether and how he might fit in.
Active listening and evaluation of responses
To conduct an effective job interview there is one quality that cannot be missed: knowing how to listen with proper attention to the candidate’s answers. These, in fact, can say a lot about him, his personal style, character and values.
During the interview take note of any passage that is significant to you and withdraw the topic at a later time if you feel it is necessary. Pay particular attention to the candidate’s attempts to evade a particular question and, if necessary, insist on the topic if you believe that what your interviewer has answered is not satisfactory.
Going back to the previous discussion about the presentation of the company and the specific role the candidate might have to play there is, then, another aspect to evaluate: if, after the overview offered, the candidate has no questions about it, it may be a sign of little interest in being part of your startup or of the fact that it might not be in line with the company values.
Conclusion of the interview
We have now reached the climax, that is, the conclusion of the selection interview. If you are here reading this in-depth study dedicated to how to conduct a job interview effectively, you probably did not know that your final assessment may be affected by some cognitive biases, that is, the recruiter’s subjective biases and factors towards the candidates, which have nothing to do with their skills.
To avoid the negative influence of bias in job interviews, of course, you need to know exactly what they are. Conventionally, four types of biases have been identified:
- Confirmation bias: when the recruiter gets a superficial impression of the candidate and carries on the interview with the goal of confirming it.
- Affective heuristics: when the final evaluation on the candidate focuses on factors such as ethnicity, cultural background, religion and other irrelevant aspects.
- Anchoring: when the recruiter’s evaluation is conditioned by a specific expectation that the recruiter has made of the candidate (the so-called “expectation anchor”).
- Intuition: when the assessment, unable to test the candidate on all areas of competence, is left to the recruiter’s intuition.
Recapitulation and post-interview evaluation
It is important for you to know that there are specific steps to minimize the negative influence of bias on selection interviews.
Taking notes during the interview, for example, allows you to recapitulate all your considerations of the candidate and thus evaluate him or her more comprehensively. Similarly, combining different forms of assessment gives you the opportunity to get a broader and more objective overview of the candidate’s competencies.
To minimize the influence of other factors on your evaluation you could identify some selection criteria focused purely on work.
Finally, involving the team in the selection process is another great way to overcome your possible biases about the candidate, whether positive or negative.
Head hunter: what it is and when it is needed
You now know how to conduct a job interview effectively, but it still may not be enough: you may, in fact, feel that you need a so-called head hunter. But what does this figure do? And, most importantly, when is it really needed?
The head hunter is in charge of searching for the best “heads” (i.e., the best talent) and proposing them to companies, entities, or institutions that need to fill certain vacant roles or find highly qualified personnel for new projects (and new roles).
The head hunter may work in the direct employ of a company but may also work on behalf of an outside head-hunting firm to which the company decides to entrust the search for personnel.
If you are considering using this figure, it is important for you to know that the head hunter is not looking for any kind of profile, but only and exclusively for highly specialized personnel, workers with years of experience, capable of holding executive and managerial positions or, more generally, high-level positions.
You could also decide to entrust a head hunting company with only one phase of the selection process (for example, the one dedicated to scouting candidates in line with the profile sought); you should know, however, that most of the time, the activity of a head hunter is aimed at so-called “passive” candidates, that is, who are not looking for work (but who have the right characteristics to fill the role for which you are looking for personnel). Ponder this decision well: you now have all the theoretical and practical tools you need to know how to find new staff for your startup.