ExecSearch International - Australia

ExecSearch International - Australia

Executive Search [+] Enhanced Performance


Ins and Outs of Interviewing

 - or "How to not look stupid when you're the interviewer!"

Dr. Duff Watkins
Director, ExecSearch International - Australia, Consultants to Boards and Management

Interviewing is like sex:

Everybody thinks they're naturally gifted at it and hates to be told differently.

But when interviewing, as in sex, some perform better than others.

So how can you improve upon your natural endowments when it comes to interviewing? Practice, practice, practice!

Here's what to practice:

Equip yourself

In interviewing it helps to be well equipped. This means:

"Equip yourself" means "don't wing it!" There is always room for spontaneity at interviews but spontaneity has meaning only when it occurs in well delineated parameters. You allow for spontaneity within the interview by equipping yourself before the interview.

Even professional interviewers fail to equip themselves. For example, I once endured 7 interviews in pursuit of a job, which I eventually won. Several weeks later, without training, supervision or preparation, I was thrust into the role of interviewer. Ironically, my employer at the time was a large recruitment company, supposedly staffed by highly skilled interviewers. The point is: the quickest way to look stupid as an interviewer is to not prepare.

That’s because what makes an interviewer expert is not how long they've been interviewing, but how well equipped they are to hold an interview.

Identify the "Takeaway"

A "takeaway" is what you as the interviewer extract from the interview, ie, what you really need/want to know.  The "takeaway" is that particular piece of crucial information with which you wish to leave the room.  Identify the "takeaway" before entering the interview.

In a job interview, for example, your takeaway may be the answer to these questions: can the person do the job? will I short-list them? can I afford them? etc.

Your "takeaway" needs to be clear, concise, and sharply defined. For example, rather than ask the question of "could this person work for me?" ask instead "do I want to work with this person?" The former question elicits information that is more useful to you and less ambiguous.

Also identify the "takeaway" for the person you are interviewing. With what piece of information do you wish them to walk out of the room?  If you wish to impress upon candidates that your company is a great place to work, then demonstrate it by providing accurate information that they can "takeaway."

For example, while shopping for a new car recently the dealer quickly informed me that he was the "Dealer of the Year" for his company. He then showed me the tough standards and criteria by which he won the national award. He clearly wanted me to "takeaway" the impression that it was a pleasure to do business with him. And it worked! I was impressed with the quality of his operation not because he told me, but because he showed me.

The point is: as an interviewer you may not control the impression you make upon others but you can certainly influence it by identifying the “takeaways”.

Frame the Formals

Before interviewing, construct a table or chart of the formal requirements of the position. A formal requirement is anything necessary for the role, e.g., an Accounting degree is necessary for a job as an accountant, a driver’s license is necessary for a job as a taxi driver, etc.

Place the formal requirements into an easy-to-read framework, then when interviewing, simply tick them off as you address them.

For example, say you're interviewing candidates for a sales role. When interviewing, have in front of you a simple checklist of basic but specific requirements (e.g.., education, age, sales experience, knowledge of call plans, budgeting, and reporting, etc.) to guide you.

This has several benefits for you. It ensures that:

Most importantly, by “framing the formals” in this way, you’re never at a loss for something to say.

"Framing the formals" keeps you on track and allows for spontaneity because the formal requirements frame the interview.

Seek the "Story Behind the Story"

Seeking the "story behind the story" means getting behind the facts, hunting the soft data, and laying the cards on the table at the right time. This is the time-consuming, self-disclosing part of the interviewing process. It does not occur during the first interview. Timing is important because sufficient mutual interest between the interviewer and candidate must be established first in order that the harder questions can be asked and answered.

For example, the "story behind the story" means asking such questions as: Why did the candidate really leave the last job? Why the personality conflict with the last boss? How was their salary really constructed? What tasks did they really perform on their last job? What was the office environment like?

Just as a candidate is expected to be open and disclose honestly, so too must the interviewer.

Openness Begets Openness

To paraphrase a famous psychiatrist, an interview is a conversation in which one party is slightly less nervous than the other. Solve this problem by being open.

The more self-disclosing you are the more self-disclosing will be the other person. A renowned psychologist once bragged that, when counselling his patients, he got them to reveal their innermost secrets by first revealing his innermost secrets. This works because people self-disclose more readily when the other person does too.

This is not to suggest, of course, that you blab away company secrets. It is to simply say that an honest, forthright, business discussion is much preferred to a poorly acted charade.

For example, when interviewing job candidates I start with a short, pithy, warts-and-all description of the job, company and the boss. After finishing I may ask, "still interested?" If the candidate says no, then I've just saved us both heaps of time. If the candidate says yes, we then proceed on a realistic basis in which the chances of making a good match have been significantly increased.

Sometimes, of course, candidates ask tough, hard questions to which you don't know the answers. The rule here is simple: don't fake it.

Appreciate Your Ignorance

Nobody knows it all, so don't pretend to. Trying to appear invulnerable, all-knowing, while being reluctant to reveal your ignorance is a sure-fire way to fumble an interview. The only person who unreasonably expects you to be omniscient, dominant, or flawless is you. Your efforts to appear so will work against you and stultify the interview.