The interview has to be managed with respect to time, getting enough information from the candidate to make a decision, and to keep the interview on topic.
It is very easy to get sidetracked by an interesting candidate and run out of time.
This is one of the most difficult tasks for a new manager, so we are going to work through some techniques you need to prepare to help you manage the interview.
Specifically, we will learn how to do the following:
Arrange the interview room
Manage the sequence of questions
Create a timetable and stick to it
It was once thought clever to arrange the interview room to place the candidate at a disadvantage. Later in this chapter, we will work through the need and means to relax the candidate to make them communicate freely. An interview is a discussion, not an interrogation.
I want you to make sure the interview room meets the following points:
Do not seat the interviewers so the candidate has to look from side to side to see their faces. Keep the interview as conversational as possible.
Seat the candidate within normal conversation distance.
Try to avoid having a barrier between you. You may feel a desk is appropriate, but avoid things like open laptops and excessive amounts of paper.
Don't seat the interview panel in front of a window so the candidate struggles to see the facial gestures.
Seat everyone at the same height.
Interviews sometimes take place in small offices that are ill-equipped to seat everyone you have on your interviewing panel. If you need a bigger office to hold the interviews, go and get one.
You may have learnt by now that I want you to develop your own managerial style, your own personal brand. This is part of your development as a new manager. I want people to know what you stand for, what your values are, what makes you special.
This does not mean you can be a pain in the backside by insisting on something that doesn't matter. It means you will insist on things being done properly. By properly, I mean the way you want them done.
Next, you need to become familiar with the interview questions and how they are used to gather evidence to judge the candidate's match to the job requirements.
At this point, you should have already checked that the job and skillset specifications are correct. Also, you should have organized who will ask what, when, and how in the interview.
Now you need to understand how the interview questions should be asked to the candidate to describe his or her skills. The follow up questions are used to clarify the strength of those skills.
Two to four interviewers are typical for any job interview. Each interviewer asks a series of three to five questions, with follow up questions as needed.
Start with open ended questions and, if necessary, follow up with more closed questions to get a definite answer. For example, consider employing a structure similar to the following:
Tell me about a time when you (for example) wrote creatively?
Can you give me an example of the rules and guidance you had to follow?
What did you do to adopt those rules and guidance?
You can dig down and judge the candidate's degree of skill by their answers:
HR will give you the questions and score sheet.
Work through every question and its follow up to understand what is being asked. Think about what the best possible response to each question would be.
Decide on the minimum level for each skill the job requires.
Remember, we talked about making the interview as near to a conversation as possible. Schedule sufficient time for the level of detail you want; nothing destroys the rapport and communication in an interview as quickly as running out of time.
As a new manager, you may not have had many opportunities to plan yet. You should plan out the timetable of the interview.
A plan is not a set of definite instructions. It will say your introduction of the organization will last for around two minutes (or whatever), not that you have to stop talking after two minutes. You can be quite sure of how long your presentations will take because you will have practiced it and measured the time required.
You can judge how long the questions will take and how many questions will be asked. You can't know how long the candidate's replies will be, but you can make a good estimation. It is a good idea to state the time you have allowed for the interview when explaining the interview process to the candidate.
You can measure the progress the interview is making and compare it to the planned times. You will have the chance to review your planned times after conducting a few interviews as you will have real data to modify your plan.
There should always be some slack time between interviews. The interviewers will need to use that time to do the following:
Finish marking the score sheets and any notes (revisit the discrimination section in this chapter if you have forgotten the rules)
Put away (out of the candidate's eyesight) the previous candidate's documentation
Take a short comfort break and drink some water
Refresh their minds about the next candidate by reading through the documentation
When you are planning your timetable, you should be aware that this slack time can be used as a buffer if the interview does overrun. It is very bad practice to make a candidate wait because you haven't planned the timetable properly! The candidate is not going to be impressed by your management, which is not a good start to a manager-subordinate relationship.
Most management training includes planning. As a new manager, you need to learn the difference between theory and practice. To help you cross that divide, we are going to use an interview planning template. I can't know what your precise interview needs are, so the template includes a lot of variables.
Remember to be as accurate as possible with regard to the known tasks, such as your introductions. Carefully estimate how long the other tasks need.
We'll work through the planning now as follows:
Fetching the candidate and seating them in the interview room: It is a good idea for you to go and time how long this takes. Record the time.
Casual conversation to settle the candidate: This casual conversation begins the process of your understanding of the candidate. The conversation should be about trivialities not connected to the job. You can ask about the candidate's journey but avoid any comment that suggests a difficult journey is a negative on the candidate's score. You can talk about a significant recent event: sport, weather, the Stock Exchange, celebrity gossip. Avoid any topic that relates to the job as you are not interviewing yet. There is a section on building rapport near the end of this chapter.
I suggest a time between one and two minutes for this, depending on your organization's practice. The candidate settling time you need depends on the candidate's nervousness. You will need to be prepared to start the interview if the candidate seems unable to settle. Estimate your time for this settling and then refine it through experience.
Introducing the interviewers: Practice the introduction of the interviewers by saying out loud what you will say to the candidate. It is important to speak it and time it as we talk twice as fast in our heads. You might introduce the interview panel by giving each person's name and job function. For example—"Can I introduce Ms. Smith and Mr. Jones of HR and myself, John Brown, the manager of the position we are interviewing for today." Prepare and time your interviewer introductions. Record the time.
Explain the interview process: This is a pre-prepared speech, so you will know how long this takes to deliver. Record the time.
Ask if the candidate has any questions about the interview process: If you have done a good job of explaining the process, there should not be any questions. If candidates frequently ask similar questions, you should add the points to your speech. I suggest you allow 30 seconds for a candidate's questions until your interview experience brings better information. It is always a good idea to reflect on your interviews to make changes to improve the process. However, it is inadvisable to change the interview process in the middle of a cycle of interviews. You should always interview following one standard process to avoid accusations of discrimination. If you decide to improve the interview process, do it between cycles.
Some organizations video their interviews, but ensure the candidates are informed of this practice. Alternatively, you may include a note taker in addition to the interview panel. You will be surprised how difficult it is to recall details of a candidate's responses at the end of a long day's interviewing.
Introducing the organization and the job: This is a prepared speech, so you know exactly how long this will take. Record the time.
Ask if the candidate has any questions about the job or the organization: Once again, if you have done a thorough job of explaining everything, there should not be any questions. Rewrite your speech if the same questions come up over and over. You need to make an estimate for the question time; I propose you allow 45 seconds in total.
Ask the interview questions: We will learn more about questioning in Chapter 3, Conducting the Interview – Questioning and Scoring. You have a list of primary questions and follow up questions from HR. You have agreed who is asking what primary questions and in what sequence. In my experience, you do not need to ask the follow up questions in every case. You will find that the candidate will sometimes give a full answer that allows the interviewers to score that skill or experience. Unless it is organizational policy to ask all the questions of every candidate, which may stem from anti-discrimination legislation, I suggest you assume half the primary questions will need the follow up questions.
As an example, say there are ten primary questions with two follow up questions each. You will ask ten primary and ten follow up questions. Say the questions out loud and time how long they take to ask. Record the time.
Listen to the candidate's answers: This is a major variable that you cannot directly control. As a new manager, you need to find out about the response variation between people, and this is a big one. A candidate may just give an answer straight out. Alternatively, the candidate may think for 30 seconds or more. You will have to make a judgment on whether the candidate is still nervous or is carefully assembling a story. The primary interview questions are designed to encourage the candidate to give a full answer. Your follow up questions may be designed for an open-ended response or a simple yes or no answer. If the candidate has not made clear their experience in Excel spreadsheet design for example, you can ask, "Have you ever designed a spreadsheet?" Most candidates will give both quick and slow answers. It is usual for some of the answers to be probed more deeply. For example, the candidate may answer with, "We completed the project successfully." You will want to probe what "we" means and what the candidate did on the project team. Estimate how long their answers will be by answering the questions yourself. For 20 percent of the questions, allow time to ask three follow up questions. Say the words and time how long they take. Record the time you estimate for all the candidate's answers.
Closing the interview: After the questions have been answered, it is polite to ask if the candidate has any questions. Estimate a time for this and sharpen the estimate through experience; I suggest you begin with three minutes.
Escorting the candidate: After the interview is finished, the candidate needs to be escorted to reception or HR, or whatever your practice may be. Your time is precious at this critical stage, so please try and get someone else, not an interviewer, to take the candidate away. It will take time for the candidate to be taken away. Estimate the time and record it.
Complete the score sheets and finish thinking: You need time to think about what you have just heard and to come to your conclusion on the scoring and any issues that still concern you. I will deal with scoring in the next chapter, but it is important that you are settled with your scoring before moving to the next candidate. As an inexperienced manager, you will be astonished how after a full day of interviews you can remember so little about individual candidates! When you are interviewing, you have all your senses on high alert and your mind racing to understand what is said, assess the candidate, and manage the timetable. It is an extremely exhausting task. If it isn't exhausting, you haven't been sufficiently engaged in the interview! As well as time to complete the scoring, you need time for a comfort break. I suggest you allow ten to fifteen minutes in total for this. You can always revise your timetable in light of your own experience.
Make a timetable: Take the times you have recorded and make a timetable showing how many minutes each activity in the interview process should last.
You can then put in a few milestones to allow you to manage the interview. As an example, if the interview starts at 10am and the candidate settling and introductory speeches are estimated at fifteen minutes, then you have a milestone at 10.15am of when you should be starting to ask the interview questions.
Don't have too many or too few milestones. Spread them throughout the interview to give regular feedback of how the interview is progressing against your plan.
When you have the plan prepared, discuss it with the other interviewers so you all understand and agree what should happen.
Type it up and take a copy of the milestone plan to the interview. You have enough to do without trying to remember the plan.
Actors and actresses who achieve great stardom are so good that they seem to be natural. In reality, while they may be adorable, they are also perfectionists. They insist on take after take until every breath, every movement, every word is simply perfect. Now you are on the stage and should make your every performance perfect.
You shouldn't expect to make a perfect plan the first time, and neither should anyone else. I do expect you to revise the plan in light of your experience so it is near perfect after three or four interviews.
In the next section, you'll understand how the basis of selection has to comply with the law.