Imagine finding the perfect candidate – someone with unique skills, high emotional intelligence, and a track record of getting things done. It took some work to convince her to even consider joining your company, but she’s finally coming in for an interview. Hiring her would provide a much-needed boost to your company, so you need things to go well.

Unfortunately, after the interview she tells you she is opting out. She didn’t appreciate the questions she was asked or how she was treated. Furthermore, she says she isn’t confident in the quality and direction of the company. Before the interview she was excited, but now, she doesn’t have a good impression. You just lost an all-star candidate.

This is what bad interview practices can do. They can cause you to lose stellar candidates and overlook people who would be great fits. Good interviews, on the other hand, can have the opposite effect. They can draw out the very best in people, create positive first impressions, and help top talent enthusiastically join your company. Whether you are running a new startup or a well-established corporate giant, effective interviews are often the difference between winning top talent or losing it, which in turn can dictate the entire future of your company.

What’s the difference between a good interview and a bad one? More importantly, how can you make sure you’re doing it the right way? There’s a lot that goes into it, but here’s a breakdown of some core components:

Bad Interviews Are:

👎 Inconsistent

While personal interactions always vary, bad interviews lack any consistency in terms of style, tone, and questions between each interview. This high degree of variance makes it nearly impossible to compare candidates, which then reduces the likelihood that you’ll make the optimal choice.

👎 Unprepared

When candidates come in for an interview they have taken their personal time, paid for transportation, and risked angering their boss, to be there to meet with you. Being unprepared shows a lack of respect for their efforts. Furthermore, a lack of preparation feeds into inconsistencies and can cause the interview to meander between useless topics, thereby leaving all parties feeling like the interview did not go well.

👎 Cold

Interviews are high pressure situations for candidates. Acting brusque, cold, arrogant, etc. only serves to increase the pressure and create emotional tension that might cause a candidate to opt out. This is not to say you can’t challenge people or put them under pressure, it is just to say that there is a time and place for that, and it needs to be done at the proper moment and only encompass a part of the interview rather than the whole.

👎 Charm Contests

Ineffective recruiters and hiring managers can sometimes reduce interviews to measures of how much they personally like someone. They end up zooming in on shared hobbies and interests, appearance, etc. and in so doing completely ignore the attributes that will determine if someone will be successful.

👎 Unaware of Bias

We all have biases, and bad interviews ignore this fact completely. Being unaware of biases increases the chance that we will treat people inappropriately. The result of which can be anything from minor, unspoken discrimination to outspoken, illegal harassment.

👎 Lacking Behavioral Questions

Behavioral questions provide insights into how people have acted in the past and how they will act in your organization. Bad interviews don’t strive to assess this, and instead focus on questions like, “why do you want to work here?” That question might be useful, but it won’t tell you a whole lot about what that person is truly capable of.

👎 Missing Follow-Up Questions

By failing to ask follow-up questions you run the risk of allowing to candidates to give overly general answers or accidentally gloss-over key points that would reveal why they would or would not be a good fit for the job.

👎 Full of Inappropriate Nonsense

This should go without saying, but it still happens enough that we have to write it here: don’t say, do, or ask things that are not appropriate. This can include racist, xenophobic, homophobic, and/or sexist statements. However, it can also include negative put-downs and other hurtful remarks. Telling someone mid-interview that they have a funny accent, that they seem boring, or other similar remarks serves only to cause harm to the recipient and does nothing to help the interview.

Good Interviews Are:

👍 Consistent

Well run interviews feature a similar, though not necessarily identical, set of questions, use an identical format, and run through the same set of interviewers. While perfect consistency is not possible, the more consistent one is the easier it is to compare notes and even start using data to determine how well a candidate will fit. On top of that it makes it easier for you to improve and optimize your process.

👍 Prepared in Advance

Being prepared involves two areas – researching the candidate and the role, and knowing what interview questions are needed. You should always have a thorough look at the candidate’s profile before meeting them in addition to knowing the key requirements for success in the role. This information enables you to guide your questions and know where to dig for more details. The questions you want to ask should be prepared in advance as well. This is not to say that you can’t ask other questions, but you should have a guideline of the key things you want to find out more about.

Shameless plug: Hello Talent makes it easy to review and comment on candidate profiles before and after interviews.

👍 Open

While bad interviews are cold, or even hostile, good interviews are open. They include the basics like an introduction and some light small talk, but also feature affirmative response to let candidates know if/where they are on the right track. During open interviews you can also challenge candidates, but these challenges shouldn’t come as a surprise. Instead start by saying something like, “during this next segment I’m going to really push you on your answers. The goal is to see how you perform under pressure as well as to try to get an extra clear view of who you are and what your thought processes are. Is that alright?”

By telling people in advance that they may be pressured or feel a bit uncomfortable you’ve changed the dynamic and helped the interview to feel like a fair, thorough assessment rather than something that was unexpectedly demeaning.

👍 Focused on the Right Hard and Soft Skills

Prior to the interview you should first make sure that the job description is highlighting the correct hard and soft skills. Job interviews can get lost in big details that aren’t actually relevant, so make sure to get that right. Once the interview has started take the time to actually dive into the skills that are most correlated with the job. Avoid wasting time on discussing skills that don’t actually matter.

👍 Aware of Bias

As previously stated, we all have biases. Good interviews don’t ignore this, instead they account for it. That might involve reviewing interview questions to see if they might be inadvertently problematic, or simply coaching recruiters and hiring managers on how to recognize and properly deal with their biases.

👍 Use Behavioral Questions

Behavioral questions are key to being able to truly understand how someone has worked in the past and how they will work in the future. Generally speaking they are framed in one of two ways: “tell me about a time when…” or “what would you do if…” The advantage that comes with asking questions like these is that they require concrete examples instead of platitudes. Candidates can’t simply say, “I’m a team player.” Instead they would have to tell you about how they helped their whole team to succeed in achieving a goal.

One of my favorite questions is, “tell me about the two biggest professional mistakes you’ve ever made.” It forces a level of honesty from candidates and, if they answer the questions well, also shows what they learned from their mistakes and what they did moving forward.

👍 Include Follow-Up Questions

Follow-up questions allow you to do a real deep dive into a candidate. These questions can be as simple as “tell me more about that,” or can be more complex, with questions like, “why did you do X instead of Y?” or “how did other people respond to that?” Follow-up questions enable you to get a clearer, more honest picture.

👍 Feedback Oriented

One thing great interviewers do is provide feedback to candidates. This can be done immediately after the interview, or during a follow up call or email. Feedback, allows candidates to know what they’ve done well and what they can do better. In providing feedback you ensure that even rejected candidates can benefit from the experience. Feedback also serves as a good filter, if a candidate doesn’t respond well to feedback he/she probably won’t be a good fit for your company.

How to Start Giving Better Interviews Today

If you are about to give an interview you may be panicking and thinking it requires a lot of preparation and training. Don’t worry though, you can do a few things to be better at interviewing RIGHT NOW:

  • Write down three key hard skills and two key soft skills for the role. This is what you will focus on in assessing the candidate.
  • Write down 2-5 behavioral questions that are connected to the skills you just listed
  • Take these skills and questions and format them into a guide that you will print and take into the interview (and make notes on). Be sure to include reminders for a personal introduction as well as an overview of the company, it’s goals, strategy, and how the role will fit into it. Finally, remember to give the candidate time at the end for questions.

By taking the time to work on giving effective interviews you’ll position yourself to provide candidates with a better experience and draw more talented people into your company.

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