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Interviewing candidates is one of my favorite topics to write about. I get excited about the interview process because I get to learn interesting things about new people who I've probably never crossed paths with, and I may never again after the interview. My mindset going into the interview is always that I get to discover the origin story that shaped the person in front of me into who they are today, and that's exciting to me.
But that doesn't mean that everyone I speak with is a great fit for the role we're trying to fill. If our end goal as a company is to hire the person that's best for the role, then I need a framework in place to achieve that objective. To prepare for the first interview, I have a list of "best questions to ask an interviewee" (or candidate) as well as an interview criteria checklist, with a place for notes and highlights.
The reason I use these frameworks is that I don't like asking generic questions. I want to get a sense of who the person is, and what motivates them or drives them to do their best work. At the same time, I need to assess if they have the skills needed for the role we're looking to fill.
How to interview candidates:
What I usually do is start off with an introduction - who I am and why we’re here, and open with an icebreaker to set them at ease. My icebreakers often come from the candidate's LinkedIn or social media. Finding mutual friends, people you both follow, shared interests, or networks is a great place to start. I usually give myself 10 minutes before the interview to do a bit of digging on this topic so I have something fun to bring to the conversation.
Once we've settled into the conversation, I like to get into someone's background and proceed with semi-structured questions so that I can provide a fair and equitable experience to every candidate. I'll ask questions related to the job they're applying for, as well as questions that allow me to assess their technical knowledge or experience.
Just like any other conversation and exchange of ideas, I want it to be a two-way street. So when possible, I save time in my interview for the candidate to ask me questions about the role, the team, or the culture. After all, I want them to leave with a clear understanding of why we'd make a great fit for each other.
At the end of the conversation and depending on how the interview went, I'll have an honest and transparent discussion about the next steps and provide feedback if needed. It's important that I leave the candidate with a positive feeling, regardless of the outcome.
Utilizing interview intelligence software is also vital. The software prompts me with role-specific questions to ask the candidate which keeps me on track and focused on the most important details. Platforms like Pillar allow me to go back and share details, highlights, and specific insights with others on the team who will be interviewing the candidate next.
Interviewer preparation before the interview is key to ensuring that your time is maximized in the most effective way possible. This includes taking 15 minutes to review a candidate’s CV (resume), LinkedIn profile, portfolio, and other materials they have provided before the interview. As you’re reviewing these materials, try to identify any potential questions or topics you might want to focus on during the interview.
It's also helpful to make sure that you have a clear agenda of the time allotted for the interview. This will help ensure that you cover all topics, while also allowing enough time for the candidate to ask questions and give their own input on any given topic.
How to start an interview as the interviewer:
As we discussed briefly in the previous section when beginning an interview, it's important to set both yourself and the candidate at ease. Before diving into the more technical questions, prepare a couple of icebreakers to build rapport and kick off the conversation. This helps to relax the candidate and opens up a casual dialogue, which can then lead to more meaningful conversations. Researching any mutual connections or shared interests is often an effective way to open up the conversation.
Once you've broken the ice, introduced yourself, and explained the open role, as well as why you're hiring, you can begin to ask more role-specific questions. I like to start with an assessment of their technical skills and knowledge, then move on to certain experiences or projects that relate to the position they’re applying for.
From there, it's important to probe for specifics related to the position they're applying for. This includes asking questions that offer insight into the candidates' abilities to think critically, troubleshoot problems, and work collaboratively. Make sure to ask open-ended questions that encourage applicants to explain their thought processes and give examples of how they've applied these skills in the past.
Finally, be sure to save enough time for the candidate to ask you questions about the role, team, or company culture. Remember, this is a two-way street, and the conversation should reflect that.
If someone else is sitting in on the interview, provide them with a few interview guidelines for interviewers and include questions that are off-limits or red flags.
The interview process is a dynamic one. Remember to listen for what people are saying, as well as what they're not. You can use active listening and follow-up questions to draw out more information or get the candidate to elaborate on certain points.
How to interview someone for a job:
First, make sure that you have a good understanding of the role and what sort of skills and experience you are looking for in a successful candidate. Then construct a series of questions tailored to that role.
Ensure that you are asking questions that can provide insight into a candidate's suitability for the role. These might include questions about past experience, technical abilities, problem-solving skills, ability to work in teams and collaborate with colleagues, decision-making processes, etc.
Also, think of questions that give an indication as to how the candidate would fit into the company culture. Questions that provide insight into the candidate's personality and attitude can be helpful in determining if they will be a good cultural fit.
It’s important to keep the conversation flowing, so ensure that you have plenty of follow-up questions prepared. This allows applicants to expand on their answers, and also gives you the opportunity to ask questions that dig deeper into their thought processes and experiences.
Finally, be sure to provide a balance between technical and general questions. You want to get an overall sense of the candidate’s abilities, not just from one perspective.
At the end of the interview, thank the candidate for their time and let them know when they can expect a response.
If your team is conducting panel interviews, go back into your interview intelligence platform and review the interviews so that you can coach your fellow interviewers to ensure that the most important topics get covered. This will help you make a more informed decision and hire the best candidate for the job.
Strategic interview questions to ask candidates are always role-specific and vary depending on the job you’re hiring for. Think about what skills, traits, and experience are important for success in this particular role and craft a set of questions that will help you gauge each applicant’s potential to succeed.
If you're a Pillar customer, over 1000 of these questions are already formatted for you and can be added to an interview as prompts. The questions are broken down into categories and can be filtered by title.
For example, let’s say that hypothetically you're hiring a salesperson - Here are a few examples of candidate interview questions:
Interviewing potential candidates for a job is a critical step in the hiring process. It’s important to take the time to ask strategic questions and follow up with additional inquiries that allow applicants to elaborate on their answers. The goal is to get an overall sense of the candidate’s abilities, personality and attitude, so you can make the best hire for your team.
Pillar was created with one goal in mind - to help you make better hires. If you're currently revisiting your interview process and would like to see an effective hiring process that lowers employee turnover by more than 50%, schedule a demo and chat with someone on our team.