Hiring a new employee can be an overwhelming decision. You want to pick the best candidate for your team, someone who is a net add to your organization. Choose poorly, and the negative consequences can have a ripple effect, hurting team morale, company productivity, and your own nerves at the prospect of a termination and going back to square one.
There’s plenty of conventional wisdom out there about interviewing methods and hiring an excellent candidate. Too often, however, it dictates a cookie-cutter approach to the hiring process. Truthfully, a successful hiring manager will adapt their methods as needed to various positions. Even so, there are some standard habits I have adopted in my seven years of interviewing and hiring. My approach has not only worked well for my team, it’s worked well for the whole company. After six years as a functional manager, hiring for my own department, my general manager had been so satisfied with the team I built over the years that he suggested the rest of the management team come to me for advice. Eventually, I transitioned to a strictly Human Resources role, and now do more hiring than ever.
Fear not! You don’t need to be an HR professional to build a stellar team. Over the years, I’ve acquired – and retained! – excellent employees. The tips here can help you, too, hire employees with the right fit, the right skills, and the right attitude. Shed your preconceptions about how to interview, and read on.
- Focus on personality, not paper – Is this someone you can work with? Someone who will get along in the office? Someone who will be eager to learn? Finding a candidate who will be easy to work with and who has the ability to learn new skills is far more important than someone with a resume that perfectly matches skills or experience. You will thank yourself later.
- Focus on potential, not perfection – Just because someone says they are an Excel expert doesn’t mean they are, and you won’t know till they are already hired. Look instead for someone with the ability to learn, because that person is a multi-faceted resource. In fact, someone who is an expert may be set in their ways, hard to mold to your organizations methods.
- What questions do they ask? – Lots of questions are good, as it indicates a genuine interest in the company and the position. The best questions are more about culture, growth opportunity and training, which indicate an invested employee. Too much focus on pay frequency, immediate promotions, or petty logistical concerns are sign of an employee who would put their own needs above the company’s needs.
- Talk much? – Particularly with a sales candidate, if they can’t sell themselves, it’s not a good fit. In any role, though, you’ll want a good communicator, and someone who is not uncomfortable approaching their manager. Someone with the ability to turn an interview into a conversation will likely be easier to work with. It will also help you get to know the candidate’s personality; the quiet interviewee often leaves no impression.
- Lower their guard – You’ll learn more from a conversation than an interview. Don’t immediately hit them with a barrage of questions or an analysis of their resume. Let down your hair; tell a humorous story about a time that you messed up an interview – anything to give them confidence and to make them feel like it’s okay to open up to you and be real. Not only will you see the real person instead of the rehearsed Interview Candidate, but they may reveal their faults or even deal-breakers. I have had interview candidates tell me drunk stories – you’d be surprised (and grateful!).
- Avoid the standard questions – The answers you get aren’t real, they are rehearsed, and calculated to tell you what you want to hear and what will get them hired. Instead, pic one or two open-ended questions that will (hopefully!) tell you a lot about the candidate. What do you do in your free time? and What did you want to be when you grew up? can give you an opportunity for insight.
- Don’t be dazzled by the overqualified candidate – If it seems too good to be true that someone with ten years’ experience or a master’s degree applies for a job that requires two years’ experience and a bachelor’s… that’s because it is. Don’t rule this candidate out completely; they may have a great motive for wanting this position. Generally, though, this is someone who may not plan to be in the position long-term.
- “Where do you see yourself in five years?” – This is the ONE standard interview question that I hold stock in, mostly because there’s so much value in the response. What is the candidate’s ambition? Will they be with your company for long? Is there a career path for them in your department? It can also be very telling – it’s a red flag when you work at a bank and they tell you they want to get into non-profit. And yes, I’ve had answers that direct from candidates!
- “Why is my company a fit for you?” – The answer to this question tells you if they did their homework. If a candidate is not familiar with your company’s mission, they have not invested much in this interview, they do not care about this job, you don’t want to hire them. It’s also an opportunity for them to explicitly refer to skills and goals that align with the job. An effective answer to this question can really help distill the interview process.
- “Is there any highlight from your resume that would suggest you would excel in this position?” – Honestly, this helps you out by letting them do some of the work for you. Yes, you’ve assessed their resume enough to see that they may be a good fit. However, you’ve looked at dozens of resumes and they are each packed with a lot of information. This gives the candidate an opportunity to highlight the most salient points and give it some focus that is relevant to the position. It’s a chance to give you helpful information, and for a deft interview candidate, it can double as a sales pitch.
- “If you would have me tell the hiring manager one thing, what would it be?” – This is helpful to a recruiter in a first-round interview if they are not the ultimate decision maker. It is one last chance for the candidate to sell themself, and it also gives them a final opportunity to say something shrewd… or something really stupid. The type of information they choose to pass along says as much as the content itself. “I really want this job” or “I would be perfect for this role because of how I care about customers, and I think the sales awards at my previous job demonstrate that.” You be the judge.
Avoid The Bad Advice:
- Don’t make them go through their resume thoroughly – You have seen it. Use that time for some more free-form responses that will tell you more about the candidate and make it less formal (and them less nervous).
- Don’t make them do all the talking – An interview may be an audition of sorts, but it shouldn’t be the hot seat. Don’t put them on the spot. You’re selling your company to them almost as much as they should be selling themselves to you – talk plenty!
- Don’t dismiss someone with no experience – You get more for less with a college grad than with a mid-career candidate. They are eager to prove themselves and freshly prepared to learn. There is a saying about old dogs/new tricks, and you’d be surprised how often it applies.