12 Simple Steps to Conduct the Perfect Job Interview

12 Simple Steps to Conduct the Perfect Job Interview

Your goal is to hire the best people you possibly can.

That means your interview should be the best it possibly can be. The stakes are simply too high to do otherwise.

Here are 12 steps to help you conduct the perfect job interview:

1. Truly understand what you need.

Experience, qualifications, and credentials are all important. But great employees don't just perform a job; they solve at least one critical business need.

Identify that critical need, determine how you measure success in the position, assess the common attributes of your top performers, determine what qualities mesh with your culture... and tailor everything in your selection process finding the perfect person to solve that critical business need.

Otherwise you’re just going through the motions.

2. Determine how you will find the perfect person to fill need that need.

Say you need an outstanding programmer. Great: Now determine how you will identify "outstanding." That may include certifications, specific accomplishments, the right references, or even an on-the-spot test.

Then consider your culture. Skills are important, but attitude is often more important. Determine how you will identify the person with the right personality, interpersonal skills, and interests. That may involve a few lunches with key team members, or a day on the golf course, or an evening at a ball game.

Remember, you aren't looking for the best candidate from a specific pool. You're looking for the perfect candidate for the job.

That's why ranking candidates in the post-interview phase can be misleading. You don't want the best of what you saw. You want the best person for the job. If no one in the pool is the right fit, you'll need to keep looking -- but you will never keep looking until you shift from thinking "best of" and start focusing solely on "best."

3. Thoroughly explain the process to every interviewee.

Candidates selected for interviews should know exactly what to expect: when they will interview, where they will interview, who will be involved in the interviews… everything. Make sure there are no surprises, no tricks, no uncertainties, and no loose ends.

Remember, the first day on the job for the person you hire is the first day you contact them. Be considerate, be thoughtful… be awesome. If you’re not, the best candidate may decide your company is not the right fit for her.

4. Spend twice the time on homework as you do on the interview.

Lots of people glance at a resume a couple minutes before the interview. Wow. There's a recipe for success.

How will you ask intelligent questions and create compelling conversations when you don't know a lot about each person ahead of time?

Start with the resume and pretend you're the candidate. Your first job was at ACME Industries. Hmm. What did I accomplish? What projects did I work on? Why did I get promoted? What does that say about my interests and my work ethic?

Then look at "my" next job. Why did I leave my first job? What does that say about my career path? What does that say about my interests? What did I accomplish there that I didn't accomplish at my first job?

Pretend you are the candidate and look beyond facts and figures; read between the lines to get a sense of that individual's interests, goals, successes, failures, etc.

Then do a quick survey of social media. (Don't feel bad; I guarantee the candidate is checking you and your company out the same way.) What are the candidate's interests? What does she like to do in her spare time? Whom does she network with?

If you find someone in the candidate's network that you also know well, make a note. They could be a great reference either before or after the interview.

Your goal is to know as much about the candidate as you can, not in some creepy stalker way but so you will be able to...

5. Make the interview a conversation, not an interrogation.

The best interviews are actually conversations... but you can't have a conversation with someone you hardly know. Again, the more you know about the candidate ahead of time the more you can ask questions that give the candidate room for self-analysis or introspection.

And once you ask a question, the key is to listen slowly. Give the conversation room to breathe. Often candidates will fill a silent hole with additional examples, more detail, or a completely different perspective on the question you asked.

That will allow you to ask thoughtful questions too -- and when you do, candidates will open up and speak more freely because they realize you're not just asking a list of questions.

You're actually listening -- and engaged.

6. Always ask follow up questions.

The most revealing answers usually come from follow-up questions. Listen to the initial answer, then ask why. Or when. Or how a situation turned out. Or who actually did what. Or what made a success difficult to achieve. Or what was learned from a failure.

Follow-up questions take you past the canned responses and into the details. That's a great place to go, because like the devil, the true superstars show up in the details.

7. Spend as much time answering questions as you do asking.

Great candidates are evaluating you, your company, and whether they really want to work for you. They'll ask questions – hopefully like these.

Give them time to ask. Answer thoughtfully. Be open and candid.

But never sell. Trust that great candidates will recognize a great fit and a great opportunity.

8. Describe the next steps.

At the end of the interview always describe the rest of the process. Explain what you will do and when you plan to do it.

Few things are worse than having no idea what, when, or if something happens next. Don't force the interviewee to ask. Tell them.

9. Provide closure -- every time.

Failing to follow up is incredibly rude, especially to people who pay your business the highest compliment of all by saying they would like to work with you (and therefore spend more time with you than they do with their families.)

And if common courtesy isn't incentive enough, there's a business reason, too: if you don’t provide closure people won't complain to you... but they will complain about you and your company.

This principle should apply to every person who applies for a job, regardless of whether or not they were interviewed or even seriously considered for an interview. Before you post an opening, always decide how you will close the loop with every person who responds.

10. Sense-check with bystanders.

Interviewees give you their best: They're up, engaged, and switched on. But how do they act when they aren't trying to impress you?

What candidates do while they're waiting in your lobby can tell you a lot. Find out how they treated the receptionist. Find out what they did while they waited. Ask if there were any chance encounters with other employees.

Occasionally you'll pick up a disconnect between the show a candidate put on for you and the way they acted around people they weren't trying to impress.

A nice guy in the lobby may not end up being a nice guy on the job… but a jerk in the lobby will always be a jerk on the job.

11. Contact references.

But don't just contact the references the candidate provides; after all, that's a handpicked list. Check out the people in the candidate's network; chances are you know someone who knows someone who knows the candidate and can speak to her experience, skills, attitude, etc.

You have a network. Use it. A terrible candidate may wish you hadn't stuck to her list of references... but a great candidate never will.

12. Conduct one more interview.

Even if you think you're sure, give yourself one more chance to be absolutely positive that you're making the right decision. Hold another interview. Or take the candidate out for dinner. Or go to a ballgame or play a round of golf.

If you have any doubt at all, however small -- or even if you don't -- take that one extra step to be sure.

And don't be afraid to let your intuition and gut feel inform your hiring decision. Your experience is hard earned; don't be afraid to use it.

Don't worry: Great candidates won't mind an opportunity to spend more time together because they want to be sure they are making the right decision, too.

And since the best dozen is a baker's dozen, here’s an extra step:

Make an enthusiastic offer.

You should be excited when you find the best candidate. So let your excitement show. Show your enthusiasm. Don't be coy; don't play the, "I better not seem too excited or she might expect a higher salary," game.

In a great employer-employee relationship there is no upper hand. The right candidate is just as excited to come on board as you are to welcome them. Don’t pretend you’re doing the best candidate a favor by hiring her; see it as she is doing you a favor by joining your company.

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