Do Your Preparation Before Interviewing Candidates

It’s not just candidates who get nervous about interviews! Do your preparation and you’ll have nothing to worry about.

If you’re new to interviewing – or if you’ve hired candidates before, only to feel that you made the wrong choices – then it’s crucial to understand the importance of preparing in advance.

Interviewing is high stakes – not just for the job-hunter, but also for the employer. If you make the wrong hire (or miss out on the right one), that can be hugely damaging for your business.

You don’t want to invest loads of resources in training someone up, only to find that their “soft skills” and personality are absolutely the wrong fit for the position.

Even if you think you’re interviewing for a job that’s not especially important, you still need to do some preparation. For instance, hiring summer interns needs to be done right: you don’t want your permanent employees demoralized by having to patiently coach a bunch of interns with a poor work ethic, or interns who are sorely lacking in essential skills.

Of course, if you’re hiring at a more senior level, it’s even more crucial that you get it right. Bringing on board the wrong project manager, for instance, could have a hugely detrimental impact on your company.

Feeling Nervous?

When the topic of interview nerves comes up, people normally think of the prospective employee … not the employer.

But if you’re new to hiring (or if you’ve had some poor experiences in the past), it’s only natural for you to be nervous too.

Maybe this is your very first time hiring someone, and they’re going to be mission-critical for your business. This is often the position that entrepreneurs and startup founders find themselves in … and as Foundr puts it, it can feel like you have no idea what you’re doing.

Or perhaps you’re responsible for hiring a new team member, but you’re worried that you’re going to be swayed by a candidate who’s all charm but who lacks essential skills.

Be careful with what you wish for, because it might come true

If you tend to be an introvert, you might simply be anxious about having a high-stakes conversation with someone who, right now, is a complete stranger.

All of this is perfectly normal. And while you might not be able to get rid of your nerves completely, carefully preparing in advance of interviews will help … a lot.

Why You Need to Prepare Before the Interview

You might think that advance preparation is really your candidate’s domain, not yours. After all, you’d expect them to do some research about your company beforehand.

But it’s important that you prepare too.

You want to make a good impression on your candidates (remember, to a degree, they’re interviewing you too!) – and you want to feel confident that you’re in a position to make a good hiring decision.

Here are seven things you can do to prepare:

#1: Know What You’re Looking For

When you advertised the job vacancy, you almost certainly produced a list of “essential” and “desirable” attributes, as well as a description of the job role.

This is a great place to start, in terms of what you’re looking for, but you might also want to think beyond this. For instance, do you want someone who’s very detail-oriented for this role, or do you really need someone who’s great at seeing the big picture?

It’s also important to have a sense of where you might be willing to compromise. Perhaps you want a candidate who is proficient with Microsoft Excel, for instance – but you’d be happy to provide on-the-job training for a bright candidate who’s quick at picking up new tools.

Know, too, what your deal breakers are. If the role requires communication with senior management and important stakeholders, someone who’s shy and unconfident would probably struggle – even if their technical skills were up to scratch.

#2: Be Aware of Your Own Biases

This is a difficult and often uncomfortable area of preparation, but if you want to make the best hires, it’s an important one.

You need to become aware of your own biases. Perhaps your existing team members are all men in their 20s, for instance: would that put you off hiring a woman in her 40s? While some companies say they believe in the importance of “cultural fit”, this can unfortunately end up meaning that there’s a startling degree of homogeneity among new hires.

A 2015 McKinsey report on 366 public companies found that those in the top quartile for ethnic and racial diversity in management were 35% more likely to have financial returns above their industry

Don’t assume that, say, a candidate in their 50s is going to be less tech-savvy than someone fresh out of college. You might well be surprised. Having a wide range of backgrounds and perspectives represented on your team will lead to smarter decisions and better outcomes.

#3: Make Sure You’ve Got Enough Time (and Mental Space) Set Aside

You’re not going to be at your best as an interviewer if you’re worrying about a huge deadline, or rushing to get this interview done so you can move on to the next.

As much as possible, try to allow some “buffer” time around interviews: don’t assume that you can start and finish each one on the dot. Make sure you’ve got time before each interview to review your notes about the candidate, to glance over their resume again, and to mentally prepare yourself.

Also, try to avoid doing lots of interviews in the same week as a big deadline (or a big personal event that’s distracting you). You may find that the preparation for interviews, plus the follow-up after, takes up a lot of time and energy.

#4: Research the Candidate

One of the most important things you can do when preparing for an interview is to research the candidate ahead of time.

80% of employers Google their candidates, and there’s no reason for you not to follow their example. You want to be aware not only of any potential problems, but also of your candidate’s record in your field. If they’ve been quoted by the media, or if they’ve written articles for relevant journals or even websites, you want to know about it.

If you do come across problems or concerns when Googling a candidate, it’s up to you to decide how to proceed. In some cases, these issues might be grave enough that you change your mind about interviewing the person. In other cases, you might simply want to mention to the candidate that (e.g.) you noticed their Facebook profile was set to “public”, and that this means anyone can see their (perhaps less than salubrious!) photos.

If employers don’t find something good and solid, that agrees with the resume — a LinkedIn Profile is perfect for this — you aren’t invited in for an interview

LinkedIn is another great place to turn when researching a candidate. You may find more detail about their past employment than on their resume, and there may well be endorsements from past employers or past clients. These can help you build up a fuller picture of the candidate.

Another avenue for research is to reach out to a few trusted members of your own network to ask if they know the candidate. While this would almost certainly be overkill if you’re hiring an intern or a temp, it’s not an unusual practice if you’re hiring at a higher level – especially if you work in a small field where many people from different companies know one another.

#5: Prepare for the Interview Itself

You don’t want to “wing” the interview: you want to know, ahead of time, the questions you need to ask and also – crucially – how long you can take.

If you’ve only got 30 minutes for the interview, it’ll be crucial to keep things on track. If you’re new to interviewing, or don’t feel very confident, you may want to think through – ahead of time – how you’ll redirect the conversation if the candidate goes into too much detail on a particular area.

When you’re coming up with questions, avoid the temptation to throw in some “funny” or “off-the-wall” questions. Don’t ask things like “what animal would you most like to be?” unless there’s actually a good job-related reason for asking it. You don’t want to fluster your candidates (who are probably nervous enough already), and this type of question can come across as an unpleasant power-play.

So how do you get rid of interviewing jitters? It all comes down to preparation.

You’ll also need to coordinate with your HR department: for instance, they may need to know about upcoming interviews so they can use HR tools like CakeHR to plan for the onboarding of new candidates.

#6: Review Your Candidate’s Resume Beforehand

You’re likely to go into the interview feeling a bit stressed and flustered if you’re not even sure who you’re interviewing – so block out time in your schedule for carefully looking over your candidate’s resume before you enter the interview room.

Make sure you review your candidate’s resume before the interview: as well as having standard questions that you’ll ask of all candidates, you’ll want to ask questions that address any particular points of interest (or concern) from their resume. For instance, if it looks like they’re lacking an important skill, you’ll want to address that in the interview.

It’s crucial, of course, to be aware of what’s legal for you to take into account from an interview. In many countries, for instance, it’s a bad idea to ask candidates if they’re pregnant (or seeking to start a family) as you could then be accused of failing to hire them because of their answer. Make sure you’re aware of any areas you should avoid asking about, as you definitely don’t want to open up your company to a potential lawsuit.

#7: Prepare the Interview Room

To conduct the interview, you’ll need a private room where you won’t be disturbed by others: you really can’t run a good interview in the middle of a busy cubicle farm, in the lobby, or in a coffee shop. (If you really do need to interview in a public place like a coffee shop, see if it’s possible to hire a private room there for an hour.)

Make sure that you have everything you need to hand in the room – you don’t want to waste time during the interview having to dash around to fetch the documents you want. At a bare minimum, you’ll probably want to have a copy of the candidate’s resume, notes about the questions you want to ask, notes about key information (e.g. the salary range for the position) that might crop up, and a working pen!

Try to ensure, too, that you have drinking water available: a jug and enough glasses for everyone attending, or, if you prefer, sealed water bottles. You (or your interviewee) might be struggling with a dry mouth due to nerves.

Of course, you’ll also need to make sure you have enough seats for everyone who’ll be attending – it doesn’t create the most polished impression if someone ends up perching on a desk or has to dash off to wheel in an extra chair.

If you have someone else on the staff (e.g. an administrative assistant) who’ll be setting up the room, then you’ll want to allow a couple of minutes to just check that everything is in place.

And … Help Your Candidate Prepare Too

Part of preparing for the interview is making sure your candidate has every opportunity to prepare.

This might mean:

  • Letting them know ahead of time the format and duration of the interview. It can be very daunting to be faced with a panel of interviewers if you’re only expecting one or two people in the room, for instance.
  • Explaining how to find your offices, where to park, and any other information that might not be obvious (like what door to use to access the building).
  • Giving your candidate a contact number in case they run into issues on the day. This would likely be your receptionist, but if you’re in a small company, you might simply give them your mobile number.
  • Letting them know what to bring with them – e.g. if you need them to bring proof of ID, say so. Spell out anything that might be different from interviewing norms, too (e.g. “we’re a casual office and you don’t need to wear a suit for your interview unless you want to”).
  • Sending them a reminder a day or two before the interview, to confirm the time and place. Yes, you should be able to expect a candidate to keep track of this on their own – but it never hurts to reach out just in case they’ve lost a vital email.

Interviewing candidates – especially if you’re doing it for the first time – can be daunting. Whether you’re interviewing interns or managers, doing your preparation in advance will make the whole process run much more smoothly.

Stewart Dunlop is a full-time content marketer at Foundr and a part-time Stephen King reader, gamer & footballer.

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HR management software app system CakeHR human resources

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