Interviews are the most human, the most interesting and the least automated part of the hiring process. They are also the hardest, which is why they need planning and forethought.

How to conduct an interview

Done properly the hiring process has worked like a funnel

The first thing to acknowledge with interviews is that they don’t begin on the day someone walks into your office. Done properly the hiring process has worked like a funnel — you got a lot of applicants, you spoke to some of them, you met a handful, now you want to work out which is the best of them to hire.

This all starts with the pre-interview questions. These are the questions you ask a candidate when they apply that will help you decide whether to take them to the next stage. Make sure they offer something candidates can sensibly weigh their response to. Do you know anyone who will say “no” to the requirement must be hardworking? Neither do we.

Ever walked into an interview and known within 30 seconds that the candidate you’re meeting is never going to work out? It’s a waste of your time and theirs. An initial phone screen can prevent this from happening.

The value of assignments

Next up should be a practical test or assignment related to the job. Hiring for a customer support associate? Why not test candidates by getting them to answer some hypothetical customer queries. If you’re hiring developers there are online tools, like Codility, which can put developers through their paces so you can see exactly how they code.

  • Codility is a niche, engineers-only database. These guys are loaded with millions of engineers -- active and passive. Considering the gap between demand and supply this app is an trove of prospects and a pretty straightforward tool to use if tech job boards aren’t cutting it. You can browse and filter data, collaborate with your team and do social recruiting too.
  • Smarterer a skills testing app but different. All of its test content is crowdsourced from the individuals who take the tests.
  • SHL An established testing company that only offers science-based assessments and benchmark data.
  • Weirdly is a four-step culture assessment recruitment tool. Define your desired cultural profile, publish vacancy, watch candidates complete the quiz and select the right kind of weird.

Have a plan, don't just ask the same interview questions every time. Always prep. Go beyond the candidate’s name and the job they’re interviewing for. Get to know them a little, check their resume, look at your team’s comments and note some questions in advance.

While there are some standard questions, such as whether someone is eligible to work in your territory, these are just hygiene questions. Ask open questions that encourage discussion. Engage with their responses and follow up. If it’s boring it’s not working. No one gets much out of the going-through-the-motions interview.

Depending on the position you’re hiring for there are a number of effective interview techniques but none of them should be used exclusively:

Technical To evaluate a candidate’s ability to do the job. To fill a software engineering position it might mean a whiteboard coding test.

Behavioral This type assumes past behavior will be a predictor of future performance: “What were the steps you took to accomplish such and such task?”

Situational The hypothetical (the ones politicians refuse to answer) throws it forward: “What would you do if the work of a teammate was not up to expectations?”

Case questions (brainteasers) Used to be popular with Google, this type includes problem-solving questions that tease out how someone would work and think through a particular case: “how many traffic lights are there in LA?”

Dumb questions Meant to test someone’s ability to think on their feet. They often just test people’s patience and good humor: “What kind of animal would you like to be?”

Rob Long
Aline Lerner @alinelernerLLC

How well a candidate thinks they did significantly impacts their desire to work with you. This means that in every interview cycle, some portion of interviewees are losing interest in joining your company just because they don't think they did well, despite the fact that they actually did.

To mitigate these losses, it’s important to give positive, actionable feedback to good candidates immediately. This way they don’t have time to go through the self-flagellation gauntlet that happens after a perceived poor performance, followed by the inevitable rationalization that they totally didn’t want to work there anyway.