Candidate interview techniques you can’t ignore

  • Post published:15/02/2012
  • Reading time:5 mins read

It’s really naive to think that assessing applicant and candidate qualifications can be done in just a few minutes. The claim that “I know when I meet the right one” is bollocks.  Don’t believe it.

You have surely heard that you only have one chance to make a good first impression. A first impression is the first thoughts a person has toward you after seeing you or listening to what you have to say. These thoughts are made during the first five seconds and the first few minutes of a conversation.

According to University of Toledo psychology professor, Dr. Frank Bernieri, first impressions are formed within 30 seconds and often make the crucial difference in a job interview or a first date. Author of Power Etiquette: What You Don’t Know Can Kill Your Career, Dana May Casperson, says that it takes only three to five seconds to make a first impression, but it can take a whole career to undo it. And finally, communication champion Bill Lampton Ph.D., says in the article “How to Make A Strong First Impression” that it takes between seven to seventeen seconds of interacting with strangers before they form an opinion of us. You get the idea.

So whether you like it or not, your brain will make the call for a first impression while you are still shaking hands with the candidate you are about to interview. You are let down the wrong path even before you realise what is happening. This leads to hiring people you should not have, but equally bad and I’m not sure if this is even worse, it leads to not hiring the people you should.

The B.S. interview is an interview where you talk too much instead of listening to the candidate and where you are fooled by the candidate’s presentation to the extent that you use the interview to confirm your first impression instead of asking even tougher and probing questions. By not probing for examples of past performance and accomplishments you measure style and not substance. Let me tell you, energy and enthusiasm is not the same as motivation.

Presentation over performance is what we know as The Four A Candidate: Articulate, Assertive, Attractive and Affable. Add to that a decent resume and we are all running around with our arms up. I know the feeling. You have interviewed for weeks and weeks and your external or internal recruiters are loosing patience with you as you have dismissed one candidate after the other. But now, finally, here is a well spoken individual who has dressed for the part, who is easy to talk to, listens well and presents a professional resume. You can’t believe your luck and instead of asking more difficult questions, you relax and use the rest of the meeting to build your case by posing relative easy questions.

Asking the right questions requires knowing first what you are looking for. So before you head for the meeting room to meet your first candidate, start preparing days ahead of your first meeting. Combine the interview techniques of behavioural interview and situational interview. If you have seen these techniques called competency based and scenario interviewing, they are all the same.

In a behavioral interview, you must decide what skills and competencies are needed in the person you want to hire and then ask questions to find out if the candidate has those skills. Instead of asking how you would behave if and if (that’s a situational technique), ask how the candidate actually behaved in a real past situation (which is behavioral / competency). You will want to know how the person handled a specific situation relevant to the competency, instead of what he or she might do in the future. You want the candidate to use the word “I” rather than “we”. The use of I is very important in this type of interview.

As the interviewer, it is your job to teach the candidate how to answer your questions properly. You have to tell them the depth of information you need. First have the candidate describe a work situation, then have them describe what specific action they took, and then explain the final result of their actions.

Situational interviewing (also called scenario) is based on a hypothetical situation you create rather than a specific past experience of the candidate. You create situations based on the job’s functions. The candidate may still pull from past experience but might as well use what he thinks is a right answer without ever having had the actual work experience.

Tom Sorensen

Tom Sorensen is an executive search veteran with over 25 years of experience recruiting in Asia, Europe, and Africa. He has worked in executive search in Thailand since 2003 and is recognized as one of the country’s top recruiters and most profiled headhunters.