Specialist recruiter James Liddell asks a question most hiring managers will have thought of at some point – why do we really interview people?
You’ve read through a stack of CVs and cover letters, discarded the obviously unsuitable and the uninspiring, and decided on half a dozen people to interview. You’re working out what questions you want to ask. What are the skills this job requires? What are the competencies? How can I get someone to tell me whether they can do the job without just asking them to tell me? Hold on a minute. It’s worth pausing, and taking a moment to think – what are interviews for?
Throughout my career I have been on every side of the interviewing table. In front of it, as a candidate; behind it as an interviewer; to the side of it as an HR practitioner; and as a recruiter, somewhere in the distance with my fingers crossed. So, I think I’ve got a fairly good idea of what the purpose of an interview is, and here’s a little secret for you: it has nothing to do with whether or not the person can do the job.
You can certainly give them a test or ask them to give a presentation to check out their technical skills. But you already have a pretty good idea of whether they can do the job, because you’ve seen their CV. You can see what their previous experience has been like, and the best predictor of future behaviour is past behaviour. So if you already know that they can do the job, why are you interviewing?
It boils down to one word: fit. Will this person fit into your organisation, your team, and with you? You can teach someone new skills fairly easily; teaching them to fit is a little more challenging. Have a think about what it takes to fit in with this job at every level.
Your organisation should be fairly easy. The organisation’s values will be proudly displayed on the website, or on posters in the canteen, or at the bottom of the e-mails that HR send round that you never read. If in doubt, pop an e-mail to HR saying “I want to make sure the candidates for this job fit in. What are our organisational values?”. Trust me, it will make their day.
When it comes to your team, consider that you want someone to complement the team, not just copy it. If you have five jokers, maybe you need someone a bit more serious. Then again if everyone is serious, maybe a joker won’t fit in! If you work in a sales role you might want someone charming and exuberant, but other teams might need someone with gravitas and discipline… consider what is right for you.
It is worth mentioning at this point that good candidates will be interviewing you as well. They will be trying to work out whether you and your organisation will fit them. If you make the interview process too onerous, with multiple stages asking the same old dull questions, asking them to meet different people within the team weeks apart… they may decide that your organisation is stuffy and overly bureaucratic, and not for them. Good candidates will be being courted by multiple potential jobs. Consider the messages you’re sending, as well as the ones you’re receiving.
Perhaps the hardest part of this process is considering what fits in with you. What’s your management style? Do you let them get on with it, or do you check every aspect of their work? Do you want to consult with them, or are there lots of crises for which you need to delegate specific tasks to overcome? Will you be coaching them or relying on their expertise? And then there’s the more personal considerations – maybe you’re a quiet type who doesn’t like to be interrupted, or perhaps you’re incredibly energetic and need someone who can keep up with you.
Of course, I’m not suggesting that you think to yourself “Could I have a pint down the pub with this person?”, or “Could this person be my friend?”. That isn’t the point about fit, even during the Christmas festivities! If your candidate doesn’t socialise in the same way you do this doesn’t mean that they wouldn’t fit into your team as a colleague.
Once you’ve considered what kind of person would fit into the organisation, your team and with you, you should have a good idea of the kinds of questions you can ask…
“How do you ensure your work is sustainable?”
“Do you tend to develop friendships at work or keep it strictly professional?”
“Tell me about a time you overruled your manager”
“How do you like to be managed?”
“Tell me something I don’t already know about you.”
“What are the characteristics exhibited by the best boss you have ever had—or wish that you have had?”
“What’s your biggest pet hate in the office?”
…could all give you some interesting insights.
So rather than “Tell me about a time you worked as part of a team”, and “Where do you see yourself in five years?”, which just let you know how well the candidate can answer rehearsed questions and follow the STAR method, how about asking them questions that will actually help to reveal how team relations will look two months down the line following their placement?
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