Most owners I work with are fantastically creative, innovative, knowledgeable and entrepreneurial, but they are generally not skilled interviewers. The owners are not to blame; interviewing is an art, and one that can take years to master. 

Interviewing can be highly stressful for everyone involved. The interview process tends to be full of emotion and sometimes both parties will walk away thinking, “I wonder if I represented myself (or my company) well.” With a strategy and plan, owners can streamline their firm’s interview process and help hiring managers determine who the best individuals might be for open positions. 

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Decide what the firm needs.

The first step in any interview process is to determine what it is that an interviewer wants to accomplish. Is the firm looking for business information about a competitor? Is it important to find out whether the individual will be a cultural fit? A skills fit? Does the firm need to learn how job duties compare and contrast at other companies? Do managers want to learn what the compensation and benefits packages are locally?

Once there is an idea of what is needed for the firm’s next hire, hiring managers must develop a list of questions to help achieve the goals. For instance, to gain competitive information, you should ask a candidate, “Tell me about your business mix. What percentage of your clients are high-end residential versus commercial? How has that business mix changed over the years that you have worked with your firm? What kind of commercial clients do you manage?

If the goal is to understand what kind of job duties the candidate has, ask him or her, “Tell me about your typical week. How do you start off on Monday and how is that different than the other days of the week?”

If management skills are important, you should ask about a real life example (maybe one that wasn’t handled favorably recently) such as, “There was a situation where a client was frustrated because he hadn’t seen crews regularly due to the fact that the operations manager had switched days and didn’t communicate the changes with the client. The client questioned what was being done on all portions of the property. How would you handle this situation?” or “We found out that our crews were leaving debris such as food containers on properties.

How would you handle that situation from the employee side and how would you communicate with the client?”

Sell the company.

It is important to walk into any interview with a prepared list of questions. It is also essential for hiring managers to take the time to give a short overview of the company, any notable awards or features about the company or its staff and the reason the position is open. It happens quite often that candidates who are not a fit for the current position are visiting other employers, talking to colleagues and sharing information with others about each interview. When a candidate hears some interesting or exceptional information, they will share that information.

The converse is also true. If a candidate has a negative experience, they will tell everyone they know how they felt or what they learned about a firm. It is imperative to ensure that a company treats interviews as an opportunity to communicate positively with every candidate, even those that are obviously not a fit.

Be consistent.

In the United States, there are a multitude of labor laws that guide the kinds of questions hiring managers can and can’t ask throughout an interview process. Everyone recognizes that asking questions about protected attributes or asking questions that may be perceived to be discriminatory in nature will only be a detriment to business operations in the long run.

For best results, interviewers must always look up and understand the applicable federal, state and local laws that apply to interviewing or be sure that an HR professional has reviewed all questions.

Another important key to successful interviewing ensures that interviewers always ask the same questions to each candidate that is interviewed. This way, after completing the interview process, interviewers can compare answers to gauge cultural and skills fits among all the appropriate candidates.

Hire Power is a monthly column designed to help you recruit, hire and retain the best talent for your company. We’ve got a rotating panel of columnists ready to give you practical, tactical advice on solving your labor problems. Email Chuck Bowen at cbowen@gie.net with topic ideas.