Here is an excerpt from an article written by Brian Libby for BNET, the CBS Interactive Business Network. To read the complete interview, check out other articles, and/or obtain a free subscription to one or more of the BNET newsletters, please click here.
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Got a key position to fill? Hiring good employees is the foundation of any successful business. But selecting the right ones is hard work, and the interview process is often the most important step in the process. Here’s how to figure out if the candidate sitting across from you is likely to become your next Employee of the Month.
A clean, well-lighted place: Windowless conference rooms don’t foster honest dialogue. Consider meeting in your own office or at an off-site coffee shop.
Multiple interviewers: Several members of your team should meet key hires. The more perspective you get on the candidate, the smarter your decision will be.
Note-taking materials: It could be a pen and paper or a laptop and digital recorder, but don’t rely on memory alone to track responses.
A plan: Know the order in which you’ll proceed with questions and how they’ll be divided up among team members.
Do Your Homework Beforehand
Goal: Minimize the back-story and maximize the time you spend with the candidate.
Going into an interview, each interviewer should have already studied a dossier on the person they’re about to meet face to face. At the very least, become familiar enough with his or her resume, cover letter, or other submitted materials so you don’t waste the first half of the interview re-learning basic biographical information.
Make sure you have the information you need to get a sense of what each candidate is all about—and what they might bring to the position—before you conduct the actual interview. Google, a company that prides itself on its creative approach to the hiring process, uses tailored questionnaires that candidates answer online. Given that it’s a tech company, many of the questions are, well, technical. One candidate was asked to design a system that would produce a report of the top 1 million Google search requests—using only custom-written applications and free open-source software. Other Google questions seek out extracurricular experience: answers have included accounts of climbing mountains and writing novels. “If we find individuals who have done interesting things, they seem to make a better connection with the community here,” says Google staffing director Arnnon Geshuri.
Increasingly, blogs and websites like MySpace and Facebook are making it easy to learn a wealth of personal information about people, even though those sites were not posted with you in mind—and may have no bearing whatsoever on a candidate’s job fitness. “We regard that as a personal thing, and we don’t seek it out,” says General Electric recruitment manager Steve Canale. “But I tell my children, ‘Don’t put anything out there you don’t want everybody to be able to see.’” Candidates who learn that their personal websites have been weighed along with their resume may be angered by the invasion of privacy and the irrelevance to the job. An honorable rule of thumb is to ask in advance if the candidate has any online presence they’d like you to check out.
Danger! Danger! Danger!
Keeping It Legal
The interview process is subject to numerous employment laws designed to protect applicants’ privacy and ensure them a fair shot in the selection process. Employers cannot ask questions about religion, national origin, age, height, weight, marital status, disability, or gender unless they represent genuine qualifications essential to the operation of the business. (For example: a church can ask potential ministers about their religious background; a contracting firm can ask if candidates are physically able to perform certain tasks.)
No one should be required to provide personal information, and some in the employment field recommend keeping the interview process tied strictly to job relevance. If asking about off-hours pursuits, say so in an open-ended way, such as, “We’re seeking well-rounded, passionate people. Is that how you’d characterize yourself?”
Beware the Three-minute Judgment
Goal: Choose the best person for the job—not your new best friend.
It’s human nature to base your opinion about a candidate on the gut feeling you develop during the first few minutes of the interview. To some extent, that tendency can be harnessed as a kind of intrinsic sixth sense. But have faith in the process as a whole. Many of the best employees might not make a great first impression, but their talent reveals itself more and more over time.
“When I’ve done training for interviewing, I’ve noticed that people fantasize about the concept of having a buzzer under the desk that you could push to say, ‘No thank you,’” says industrial psychologist Charles Handler of Rocket-Hire.com, a firm that advises companies on their hiring processes. “But you need to think, before you hit that imaginary buzzer, why do you want to hit it? You have to suspend judgment and think about collecting data that will help you make a good decision in the end.”
Handler adds that for the most part, people want to hire people like themselves. “The key is reducing subjectivity and making the process more job related,” he says. Remember: you want to create a team with a true diversity of personalities, perspectives, and talents. That’s crucial to keep in mind when biographical details related to hobbies, cultural tastes, and other outside pursuits come up. If you’re too easily swayed by your shared passion for Harry Potter books or old David Bowie albums, you’re not going to focus properly on concrete, practical information about aptitude and suitability. For a more detailed discussion of how not to conduct a job interview, read about the “10 Mistakes Managers Make During Job Interviews.” [Click here.]
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To read the complete interview, check out other articles, and/or obtain a free subscription to one or more of the BNET newsletters, please click here.