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Most hiring managers know technical knowledge and experience are important to job performance, but they are not enough. People who know the right thing to do in difficult situations or have innovative ideas will not be successful if they can’t communicate clearly, effectively resolve differences or inspire and motivate others to go the extra mile to accomplish a difficult task. Without these “soft skills,” it’s unlikely even the smartest and most experienced person will get much done.

The problem is that soft skills are difficult to identify on a resume or in an interview. A recent Wall Street Journal article described the effort many organizations are making in pursuit of the ideal employee. Unfortunately, hiring consultants and extensive testing can be time consuming and expensive. In addition, although these approaches can add value, they should not be seen as a substitute for the hiring manager and what he or she can learned in an effective interview.

Two simple, practical steps can help a hiring manager more accurately identify candidates who are a good cultural fit and have the leadership and team skills required for success.

Use A Systematic Interview Processes

It may be surprising to know that many interviewers use a process that is unlikely to produce much useful information.

The unstructured interview is a casual, loosely organized interview. No attempt is made to define the job/personal dimensions. The interviewer’s tactics are decided on the spur of the moment. The outcome of the interview is so unpredictable that tossing a coin can sometimes work as well.

The highly structured interview is one in which the interviewer has a list of specific questions to ask in a prescribed order of all candidates. This often provides little more information than can be obtained with a printed questionnaire.

The systematic interview, a combination of the unstructured and structured interviews, has two essential characteristics: systematic planning and a proficient interviewer. The systematic interview incorporates the flexibility of the unstructured interview with the preparation and consistency of the structured interview to yield the best results. This approach has the potential to provide much more useful information about the candidate.

Ask Three Types of Questions

The purpose of interview questions is to test assumptions that you have formed about the applicant’s ability to perform the job successfully, based on his or her application and resume. There are three basic types of interview questions:

1. Informational questions – questions that seek information from the applicant:

  • How much travel are you willing to do in this job?
  • What was the most helpful interpersonal skill you learned in your last job/in school?
  • Why are you interested in this position?

2. Behavioral questions – questions that ask for examples of past behavior in specific situations:

  • Tell me about a time when you needed to juggle multiple priorities. How did you handle it?
  • Give me an example of a difficult customer situation you handled successfully.
  • Tell me about a time when you managed a complex project—how did you bring people together as a team?

3. Situational questions – questions that pose hypothetical situations and ask the applicant how he or she would respond:

  • Suppose you woke up late and would not be able to make it to work on time. How would you handle this situation?

Although there are many dynamics that increase the complexity and variability of the interview process, there are three key principles that can help guide the process. These three principles are particularly helpful in preparing questions for interviews and to guide your follow-up to what the candidate says during the interview.

    1. Past behavior is the best predictor of future behavior.

Research shows people will act consistently over time. For example, a person who has had little patience dealing with customers in the past is likely to have little patience dealing with customers in the future!

    1. Count on the consistency of behavior.

Research also shows people will act consistently across situations. For example, people whose résumés have typographical errors, or who are late for the interview, are likely to have the same kind of issues on the job.

    1. It is easier to predict failure than success.

Because there are many variables that can contribute to a person’s success on the job, it is easier to predict if a person will fail by identifying a deficiency in a competency necessary to perform the job.

Tests and assessments do provide useful information about a candidate. They should, however, be used in conjunction with an effective interview process. Using a systematic interview process and asking a variety of robust questions can increase your ability to consistently select the people who are a good fit with the job requirements and the company culture. It helps ensure the focus of the interview is on the qualities that are critical for success and enhance your ability to identify these qualities during the interview.