Imagine interviews on a continuum from structured at the one end to unstructured at the other end. A fully unstructured interview might be a chat, or perhaps an interviewer simply giving the floor to the candidate and asking them to explain why they should be hired.
I have to say that in my experience, an unstructured interview can lead to many problems later along the line. It might seem like the easy option at the time, but it will almost certainly come back to burn you. If as the employer doing the hiring, you want the best from the process, you need to do your homework and design a structured interview which will allow you to find the best candidates.
So unless you are great on the fly and a master improviser, this will need a bit of thought.
Top three reasons why you should plan the interview:
- Most candidates will come prepared and will have spent time in advance. It is courteous to seem like you are also prepared for that meeting.
- Unless you work for a company that sells itself of its brand alone (of which there aren’t many), you will need to work a bit harder to encourage the best candidates to come and work with you.
- Unless you know what you want to know in advance, how can you be sure that you have come out of that interview with all of the answers?
Hopefully I have convinced you that you should plan the interview. If not this is probably the point to stop reading, as I am going to explain how you go about preparing a structured interview.
Who and what are you looking for?
First things first, have a think about the role, what sort of personality you would like to recruit, what hard and soft skills they will need, any educational requirements, and any specific experiences. In your mind it is worthwhile imagining what the ideal candidate would be like; albeit bearing in mind that you may need to flexible if they don’t exist in the real word.
You may even jot this down into a quick grid under the key headings with an ‘essential’ and ‘desirable’ notation. The aim of course is to try and only interview candidates who you think will hit all of the essential requirements. With that in mind, if you can think about all of this upfront you can create a job profile which is thorough and should encourage candidates that are a good fit to apply.
How can you get the information you need?
Once you have your grid, take some time to consider how you will find out the answer to all of the questions you have. It might be that you will use competency based questions to examine some of the soft skills, and direct questioning to understand the hard skills. Perhaps there are sections of the CV which you would like the candidate to explain, such as their educational background.
Remember you are not trying to trick or catch candidates out. You want to give them an opportunity to succeed whilst making the process appropriately challenging. Therefore mix things up, perhaps consider a roleplay, a presentation, or a written test. You should involve a number of individuals in the interview process as they will all have a slightly different perspective.
More on that in point 4.
Don’t be scared to detour
We told you this is a structured interview, but we must recognise that every candidate is different, and every interview will be different. Sticking rigidly to your structured plan may restrict you from following the natural flow of the interview and gathering all of the rich information you are looking for. If you get led in a slightly different direction, or you have a follow up question which is not on your list, it is fine to ask it. Once you have satisfied that line of thought, return to the original structure.
It is important to involve more than one person in the interview process. After the interview, aim to get everyone together within 24 hours to discuss the candidates. Each person should have an opportunity to explain their perceptions and impressions of each candidate. Of course this is a subjective process, but the discussion can bring about useful input that you may not have picked up on or considered.
There is no right way
Being the interviewer can be as daunting as being the interviewee. This often leads to the interviewer thinking it would be preferable to have an informal chat with the candidate. However this is unlikely to allow the best decision to be made, and for the right candidate to flourish. It also makes it incredibly difficult to compare candidates. As tempting as it may be when you are busy to ‘wing it’, I promise you that giving some time, thought, and planning to the interview process will pay dividends.
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