How to Get the Most Out of a Candidate in Their Interview

Kate Conroy
March 27, 2023

When you interview candidates, do you feel like you are getting the best out of them? Or after the interview, do you feel like you haven’t learned anything about them at all? Providing structure to your interview process gets the most out of your candidates. Additionally, you reduce your time to fill open roles and make hiring decisions to set your organization up for long-term success.

Be Open

Have you ever experienced a job interview that felt like an interrogation? When you treat an interview this way, you leave the candidate with a negative impression. Approach every candidate as the potential new hire on your team. Help them to feel comfortable and confident, and they’ll leave the interview feeling excited about the company and the role. 

Create an open environment by building rapport. As the interview begins, tell the candidate a bit about your role and the company. This creates a comfortable environment where you freely exchange information, rather than a transactional interview where the candidate is the only person providing information. By building rapport, you start the interview off on the right foot, and the entire interview feels like a conversation, rather than an interrogation.

Utilize Behavioral Interviewing Techniques

Tell me about a time when you had a really great interview.  At least one experience probably came to mind.

Behavioral interviews are structured just like this. Ask the candidate a question about something they have done in the past. The question is easy to answer. The candidate just has to tell a story.

Candidates often know the right answer to any interview question. But knowing and doing are two different things. Since the theory behind behavioral interviewing is the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior, you ask questions that allow candidates to speak about their past behavior.  Behavioral interviewing avoids hypothetical or philosophical questions.   

An example of a hypothetical question is, “Tell me how you would handle conflict in the workplace?” Most candidates will tell you how to appropriately manage conflict. Sharing how they actively put these principles into action is more difficult. Addressing the same skill set with a behavioral question looks like, “Tell me about a time that you had to hold a member of your team accountable.” You’ve provided the candidate the opportunity to speak to a real life experience which leads to a higher quality answer. 

If a candidate gives a hypothetical answer, redirect them to a behavioral answer. It’s as simple as responding with, “Thank you, would you be able to give me a specific example of when you put that philosophy into action?” 

You expect candidates to be prepared for their interviews, so you should be prepared as well. Create a list of questions in advance. Not all candidates will have the experience to answer all behavioral questions, so have a few questions in the bank to target the same skill set. In effective behavioral interviewing, a candidate’s inability to answer one question is not considered elimination criteria.  If a candidate struggles with a particular question, ask them a different question and still allow them to put their best foot forward.

For example, when assessing a candidate’s ability to give critical feedback, ask “Tell me about a time when you provided critical feedback to a more junior employee.” It’s possible the candidate hasn’t had the experience of working directly with more junior team members, but has provided critical feedback. Offer another opportunity to speak to this skill set by asking “Tell me about a time when you identified an inefficient process and suggested a new solution.”

Talk Less, Listen More 

In an interview, let the candidate have the spotlight. Guide them to a behavioral answer and then let them shine. The more they are able to speak about their experience, the more data you have to make a judgment about whether they are a good fit or not. The more you learn about the candidate through the course of the interview, the more confident you will feel in your hiring decision.

Provide feedback and encouragement, but be careful not to make the conversation about you. It can be a little challenging for naturally social interviewers to hold back from sharing their own experiences, as this feels like a natural way to build rapport. However, in this context, it dilutes the value you receive from the conversation. Be sure to listen to gather information, rather than listening to respond. 

Provide Feedback 

Incorporate providing feedback into the interview process. Feedback should be framed positively, or can be a request to provide a little more detail:

  • If the candidate doesn’t give a full answer or you need more information, say “thank you for sharing that, could you please provide a little more detail about this…”
  • If the candidate gave a really great answer, you could provide feedback like, “thank you for sharing that, that seemed like a very challenging situation and I admire the way that you handled it.”

Be aware of your nonverbal feedback as well. Smile and nod when the candidate is speaking. Try to maintain eye contact as much as possible and maintain an open posture. This body language signals to a candidate you are engaged in the conversation and listening to them. 

Determine if and when you’ll provide feedback to candidates who are not moving forward. Feedback can range from a general message that they are not the candidate of choice to more specific feedback about their skills gap. Be consistent in your philosophy. Feedback should be even-handed and job specific. 

Seek Advice From a Seasoned HR Consultant 

Developing a strategic interview process is an investment, financially and in terms of time and effort. Finding a hire who is a fit for your business is essential to ensuring business continuity and success. If you need help developing and implementing a recruitment process that sets your business up for long-term success, contact us to start the conversation!

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