How to prepare to the interview
January 29, 2020

Productivity

Secrets of a successful interview

By Alexander Sergeev

Every organization faces the problem of searching and selection of competent employees. You can solve this problem in different ways, but anyway, an essential element of this work is an interview, during which the employer seeks to get as much information about a candidate as possible, check his validity and assess the suitability of the applicant to perform a specific job. The applicant during the interview not only tends to get a complete (as possible) picture of the organization, future job responsibilities, and working conditions but also tries to do his best to “sell himself” to a prospective employer.

The efficiency of an interview depends on many circumstances. To conduct an interview with an applicant properly and get enough information about the person to make the right decision on his candidacy, you must first consider the following factors:

  1. general and specific requirements for the future employee;
  2. corporate standards of the interview;
  3. level of training of the interviewer, possession of various techniques of interviewing;
  4. personality and previous experience of an applicant.

Having assessed these factors, you can choose the most appropriate form of questions for the interview in advance to prepare the necessary documents (such as questionnaires or tests), and during the interview – if necessary – to flexibly adjust the course of the conversation.

The quality of the interviewer’s background is also of high importance. It’s not so easy to meet the applicant and arrange a sincere conversation politely but firmly holding the conversation thread in your hands. In addition, the interviewer should remember that people behave differently in an unfamiliar environment, so the behavior of an applicant in a stressful situation (and the interview is undoubtedly a stressful one) does not necessarily correspond to his normal behavior.

At the meeting with the applicant, the interviewer should verify the authenticity of the applicant’s documents and hold the conversation in such a way to evaluate the professional and personal qualities of the candidate. Such a sequence of solving problems is obvious: first, check the documents submitted, then – ask questions, listen to the answers, analyze them and draw conclusions. Although, of course, the interviewer decides how to start the interview focusing on the situation.

Verification of the documents provided by the candidate

First of all, make sure that the applicant has all the necessary documents:

  • passport or other identity documents;
  • employment history (except for the cases of the first employment contract and time work);
  • military documents – for those bound to military service;
  • documents on education, confirming the qualifications or specialized knowledge (when applying for a job requiring special training ).

This list of documents is defined by law, although in some cases additional documents are required.

Companies can use different solutions for storing potential employee documents, for example, Salesforce-based CRM  or SharePoint Document Management system.

It is important to thoroughly examine the documents of the applicant. The more documents the applicant provides – the better. It is desirable that he could document the facts of his biography and his qualifications. If the applicant fails to document the facts, he should indicate people who can verify this or that fact. If the applicant can’t provide the names of people to prove some facts, ask him about the building where he worked: how many floors, the stairs are wooden or concrete, how many elevators in it. It’s possible to ask him to specify the name of the director, the color of his hair. These “screening” questions must be set in such a way to make an impression that the interviewer already knows everything, he just wants to make sure if the applicant knows it.

The interviewer should study the employment records in detail and compare them with the other available data on the applicant. The practice shows that most of the “inconsistencies” in the information are found during the analysis of the employment records, medical records, and military cards. In case of any doubts, you should contact the applicant for clarification. Optionally, you can also submit a formal request on behalf of the employer in the relevant bodies and organizations (e.g. the passport office, recruitment office, school, etc.) to verify the information given in the application. If after hiring a specialist, the employer finds out that the information about the applicant or provided documents are false, the organization has the right to fire him.

After examining the documents, you can proceed to the next stage of the interview. To gather the necessary data for decision-making on important professional and personal qualities of the candidate, you should decide in advance what information is necessary to be found out from the applicant and according to this prepare the necessary questions.

Determination of the professional and personal qualities of the applicant

During the interview it is very important to allocate time properly:

  • 20 % of the time – ask questions,
  • 80 % – listen to the answers and analyze them.

Usually, the wrong ratio of time allotted for questions and answers is a sign of inexperience of the interviewer, his inability to plan the course of the interview. When the interviewer talks, he has less opportunity to obtain the necessary information, without evaluation of which it’s impossible to make the right decision.

One of the major mistakes of the interviewer – commenting on the applicant’s answers. In this case, time is spent ineffectively and such situations occur when the interviewer – voluntarily or involuntarily – not only gives the applicant to understand what is expected of him but also substitutes his values ​​and priorities. The main requirement is that the interviewer should not somehow show his attitude toward the applicant’s answers: express agreement or disagreement, approval or disapproval. It’s better to refrain from commenting, but necessarily take notes during the interview.

The following questions will help to reveal the professional and personal qualities of the applicant. But it should be borne in mind that this list is an example: select the necessary questions, focusing on the interviewee and the amount of information needed for the decision-making in each case. The offered questions are open, i.e. they assume detailed answers of the applicant, the argumentation of the position without the choice of any ready-made answers. Some of these questions have projective character: answering them, the applicant reveals his professional experience, exhibits personal and business qualities that are important for the employee.

What questions should you ask the applicant?

1. Please, tell me some words about your current job.

It is a common question for determining the further course of the interview. What will the applicant tell, how would he behave during the conversation, how reasoned will be his assessment, how will he characterize his current managers and colleagues – all this will provide the interviewer the valuable information that will help to correct the course of the conversation if necessary. This information will allow the interviewer to decide on what to pay attention to during the interview.

2. Why do you want to change your job?

The applicant’s interest in a new job means the desire to change something. It is important to find out exactly what pushes a person to changes.

3. How does your work contribute to the goals of the organization?

The answer to this question will show how fully and systematically imagines the applicant the current organization’s goals and his role in achieving them.

4. How is your normal working day organized? Do you analyze the use of your working time?

In answering these questions, the applicant will show if he has the desire to work actively, whether he knows how to plan, organize and analyze his work.

5. What difficulties you’ve encountered in your current job? What solutions have you taken to cope with the emerging challenges?

The answers to these questions will reveal such quality of the applicant as the enterprise, the ability to act properly and constructively in the complex (and, perhaps, conflict) situations.

6. What have you failed to do in your current job? Why? What did you do in order to achieve the desired result?

The answers to these questions will indicate whether the applicant is able to overcome obstacles, whether he or she is persisted in achieving his/her goals and whether they are able to take responsibility.

7. Describe a situation related to your current job, which shows your positive personal qualities.

The situation described by the applicant in response to this question characterizes the level of his self-concept. As an alternative way to know about the applicant’s self-concept, you can offer him to shade a segment equal to his own professionalism in a circle drawn on a paper.

The practice shows that nobody shades the entire circle. Answering the question of why hasn’t he shaded the entire circle, the applicant honestly tells about his weaknesses. In addition, these answers may give you an idea of the applicant’s desire for self-development and self-perfection.

8. Could you tell me please, how can you improve the results of your current job?

The answer to this question helps to assess the applicant’s ability to make decisions, his objectivity in assessing the real situation and self-criticism.

9. What do you consider your achievement in the current job?

The answer to this question will help you to determine the orientation of the applicant’s personality: on the result, on communication, on the avoidance of failures, etc.

10. How do you think, what could your supervisor tell about your current job?

The answer to this question will help to evaluate the ability of the applicant to assess himself in terms of the other person. It is very important to pay attention to how the applicant talks about a possible conflict if he tries to be objective, stating the position of “the opposing party”.

11. And what could your colleagues in the current job tell about you?

This question allows you to look at the candidate from another angle. Personal conflicts between managers and subordinates within the company are quite common, so the colleagues’ opinions of the candidate may differ. In addition, the answer to this question may show the applicant’s ability and desire to work in a team.

12. What arguments can you bring to persuade us to hire you?

Now just listen. The answer to this question provides an excellent opportunity to assess the ability of the candidate to “sell himself” in the labor market.

13. What other questions would you like to hear?

You give the applicant an opportunity to “ask himself” such questions, the answers to which can show his best qualities. It is important to note whether the demonstrated positive qualities of the applicant are important for an employee.

Interviewing styles

All the questions from the list can be asked differently by choosing different styles of interviewing. One can construct an interview as a small play in which the interviewer will play a role. It should be well understood that the choice of the role depends on the interviewer’s level of training, personal acting skills (the ability to play) and his practical experience.

A “role-play” interview can be conducted only by an experienced and confident interviewer, able to feel the situation and outplay the answers and the emotional reactions of the applicant quickly and accurately.

As examples, we can offer the following “roles” of the interviewer during the interview.

A “Know-nothing”-interviewer

The interviewer plays a role of an incompetent person: “You know, I’m far from commerce (programming, design), a philologist by education and just recruiting the staff, could you explain to me the essence of your work?”. In this case, the applicant is forced to play the role of an “expert” and explain some nuances of his work to a layman. In this situation different variants of his behavior are possible.

For example, the applicant can refuse to talk with an incompetent person and require a meeting with an expert in his field, or he can try to explain somehow the intricacies of his work. The assessment of the competence and the ability to communicate in this case depends on what position the applicant claims: if the future work involves dealing with people (e.g. manager of a trading hall), the reluctance or inability to explain the nature of his work is unlikely to positively characterize the candidate. If we are talking about highly technical positions (e.g. programmer), the rejection of an explanation or a vague story may not mean anything: perhaps the area of the specialist is so complex that it’s difficult to explain it in “simple words”. And the work itself probably doesn’t require the future employee’s skills to explain anything to a layman.

And finally, the most preferred option is when the applicant simply and clearly explains the essence of his work demonstrating his competence, ability to communicate and take the rules of the company.

Interviewer-“Specialist”

In this case, the interviewer has to play the role of a specialist, deeply versed in the professional field of the applicant. And the applicant, as a rule, doesn’t know how deep the interviewer’s knowledge of the profession is. For example, an applicant for the advertising department says: “I was engaged in the market segmentation, research, development of strategies to promote the company’s brand”. These words may be hiding both the high level of professionalism and incompetence. To understand this, you can ask the candidate such questions as: “How exactly did you do it?”, “What was your goal?”, “What results have you achieved?”.

If the interviewer is far from the applicant’s professional field and vaguely imagines what he is to do, he can ask for the applicant’s opinion on the development of this area in recent years and his assessment of the development trends. The interviewer can also ask what professional literature the applicant reads, and if he doesn’t read any, then why? The answers to these questions will show how fully the applicant imagines his profession, how deeply he is interested in the work. In any case, the final decision on compliance of the candidate must take the specialist with the necessary skills.

The interview allows you to get full information about the important professional and personal qualities of the applicant on the present state of his experience, his attitude toward values that are meaningful ​​for the organization, but does not allow to assess the level of his practical skills. Therefore, to check the applicant’s practical skills, we can offer him to perform special tests during the interview.

The tasks can have different levels of complexity, but they should be certainly developed by the appropriate professionals or, at least, agreed with them. For example, the applicant may be issued to check some documents, which can be either correctly compiled or contain errors. The number of detected or missed errors allows determining the level of the applicant’s professional knowledge for a particular position (e.g. accountant, storekeeper, shift foreman).

Stress interview expert

Another specific kind of interview is a “Stress interview”. This method has a mixed reputation among specialists. It can be used only by very experienced interviewers and only to assess the level of stress resistance of the specialist, who will have to work in an environment, where conflict situations are almost inevitable, and his ability to constructively resolve conflicts (e.g. specialist in public relations, spokesman, client manager, manager of a trading hall, etc.).

It must be considered, that stress interviews can’t replace the usual ones: in any case, you have to check the applicant’s documents and to obtain information about his experience and skills.

Before conducting such an interview, be sure to notify the applicant that his future work involves conflict situations, which he will have to resolve quickly and effectively. During the conversation itself, you should try to “unsettle” the applicant by the unexpected statements or actions: you can doubt his personal qualities, directly accuse of lying, ask unexpected and not related to the essence of the interview questions, show emotional aggression. For example: “How would you rate me as an employer?”, “When was the last time you were fired as an incompetent?” or “Multiply 39 by 17 without a calculator”. How the applicant will respond to the situation during the stress interview can give a rough idea of ​​how he will behave in a real conflict in the workplace.

You should also remember that after the interview it is necessary to apologize to the applicant and explain that it was a stress interview. If you leave the applicant in the dark about the goal of this interview, it can create an impression that this is the style of the company as a whole, and as a result, seriously hurt its image as an employer. It also happens that the person, who has successfully completed a stress interview, refuses to work in the company due to the fact that he can’t accept the company’s methods of selection of the employees, whose emotional stability is tested so severely.

It is important to remember that the main purpose of the interview is to accurately assess the applicant’s competence and his compliance with the corporate culture of the company. Considered in advance questions outline the overall structure of a conversation. The style of an interview depends on the position for which the selection is made, the level of training of the interviewer, the characteristics of the individual applicant. During the interview, the choice of questions and changing the style of the interview depends on the applicant, his reactions, responses, nuances of behavior. To conduct the interview professionally, the interviewer should not only competently prepare and ask questions but try to be an interesting conversationalist, friendly and attentive.

We hope that HR managers will use these guidelines in preparing and conducting the interviews. Competently composed “portrait of the candidate” that corresponds to the actual state of affairs will enable us to make the right decision on hiring a specialist which is necessary for a particular position. Therefore, the accuracy of the selection of the applicants for the job is one of the most important components of the overall success of the organization.

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