This is second in a 2-part series on interviews.
As I suggested last time, interviewing top talent should be a priority for leaders and are worth all the time they take. If you are using a search firm you trust and are meeting a shortlisted candidate they ought already to have undergone some careful assessment, so you should be assured that the meeting will be worthwhile.
Here are several suggestions to consider:
Find a framework…
It sounds obvious, but interviews are worth planning. For us, this means carefully crafting a set of criteria for assessment and a framework of questions to use in interviews based on those criteria. We tend to boil the information we’ve gleaned from meetings about the role into 4-5 areas covering both character and competencies.
Basing interviews on a standardised set of questions minimises the risk of the bias to which we’re all vulnerable. Unless you’re asking each candidate the same questions, you’ll end up collecting differing information on each and balanced comparison becomes impossible. This not only hampers the process – it’s completely unfair.
…but go with your gut!
Ultimately, no two interviews are ever the same, and nor should they be. Give candidates room to tell their own stories, but ensure you ask probing questions and politely dig for more detail when and where it’s lacking. Bring a healthy scepticism to the interview and develop a readiness to interrupt; if you sense there’s something missing, focus in on the area in question until you’re satisfied. If you don’t get there, something is amiss.
The alternative is that interview technique becomes a blunt instrument which pays no heed to the person in front of you. As such, this willingness to flex is both a kindness to the candidate, and an essential part of thorough assessment. Often, avenues of questioning which are opened by intuitions about the candidate prove particularly fruitful.
Start general, get specific
Whether simply covering a candidate’s story or asking thematic questions about particular competencies like strategy or governance, start with general questions. The best candidates will volunteer just the right level of information, reading the “question behind the question” and matching it to the position being discussed. They will naturally provide relevant examples without being longwinded.
If you don’t get the detail you want, follow up in the hunt for specifics. Often these questions are short, and can simply be repeated if the candidate is evasive - “how” or “why”…?
Turn the tables
Ensure that the candidate gets ample time to ask you questions or make comments on the role. The best candidates will always ask probing questions, and likely help you to see the position you’re hoping to fill in new ways. Such a period in interview is often revealing as it briefly hands the candidates the reigns for the discussion.
We strongly advise against interviewing solo, and as a rule look to conduct all of our meetings with candidates with two members of our team. There’s always a risk that without doing this, a simple and avoidable personality clash might put either candidate or interviewer off.
If you are running a multi-stage process (and you should) then consider bringing in different personnel at different points, ensuring you hear as many different views on the candidate as possible.
This piece was written by Jonathan, one of the consultants on our team at Carnelian.
Other posts by Jonathan include:
Interviews: Getting Them Right (Part 1)