Professional Candidate Interviewing

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Recruitment interviews are pivotal in the candidate selection process and play a crucial part in the assessment of professional expertise and social skills. Having a goal-oriented conversation, understanding the requirements of a position, bringing this into the interview and extracting the maximum of relevant information needed for making a good choice, is a challenging task. In addition, besides mastering theoretical questioning skills, the manner of communication and behaviour during interviews is important.

The complexities of interpersonal communication, – including non-verbal signs and responses – are just some of the reasons why. The key to the success of professionally held interviews lies in the quality of the questions and the correct interpretation of the answers. A good interviewer steers the conversation in the desired direction with the right questions asked at the right time, getting the most important information along the way, bringing this together and then finally making a good choice.

The professional interviewer stands out from the rest with the ability to observe, empathize, listen and steer the interview systematically. From the moment of the first handshake, the ensuing small talk, the questioning phase, through to the synthesis of facts and impressions. Some of the distinguishing traits of character, abilities and skills of a good interviewer are: trust building likeable personality; ability to listen and observe attentively; a good memory; interest in the motives and values of people; respect for individuals with all their differences; open, honest, unbiased approach to others; stable and solid personality; unobtrusive interest and curiosity; keen to learn; quick cross-linked thinking; self-critical willingness to reflect; a good sense for the essential and relevant; ability to formulate well thought-out questions, good communication skills.

Since, professionally held interviews have a lot in common with general conversation- and discussion techniques, a good interviewer should keep in mind that dialogues connect and monologs divide. Long lectures and endless company descriptions make an interview worthless; the result: The applicant “switches off” and is no longer able or willing to participate constructively. A good way to enable dialogue are questions that actively involve and draw in the candidate, making sure that what is said is understood by both in the same way. A rule of thumb says that at least 70 per cent of talk time should be granted to the applicant. The interviewer is above all, a good listener and questioner. At this point, let it be said that there is a significant difference between hearing and listening; hearing tends to be passive and what is often heard is interpreted subjectively; listening, on the other hand, is more of an active process that requires a combination of full attention, concentration and internalized objectivity.

A good interviewer will tend to ask how and not why; for example: “Why was your experience with several of your previous employers unsatisfactory?” A why-question like this may manoeuvre a candidate into a defensive position. More constructive, revealing or pertinent are generally – depending on the situation and the applicant’s personality – how-questions, for example “Looking back, how could you avoid this happening again.”

Besides listening, a good interviewer should be observing the applicant’s body language all the time to see if it is congruent with what is being said. Body language can provide clues as to the attitude or the state of mind of a person. For example, it may indicate attentiveness, enthusiasm, feeling relaxed, pleasure, lack of interest or inherent frustration. Even so, it is important not to come to conclusions about the applicant’s personality on the basis of single or isolated signs, but to place these in the overall context. Some important signs could be posture (open or closed), gestures, facial expressions or approving nods. An indication of incongruence for example would be an applicant who tells you about his excellent management and team-building qualities, his assertiveness and goal-oriented work style; but you recognize several signs of low self-esteem and insecurity (general nervosity, hardly any eye contact, hiding hands, self-defensive posture) However in the case of young and inexperienced applicants these sort of signs should be not taken at face value; on the contrary, try and loosen up the atmosphere and give the candidate more room to express inherent or deep-rooted self-confidence which wasn’t evident at the beginning.

There are interviewers that claim the first five minutes of the interview determine the “for or against” of an applicant, this may be so, and in some cases even correct. However, this is what an experienced recruiter says to that approach: “Whoever gets the impression that the candidate is the ideal or the wrong one at this stage of the interview, should – consciously and critically – look for reasons which speak against this first intuitive feeling and keep this in mind during the whole interview. Selecting the right candidate is not about gut feelings, even if it is a fact that psychological research has affirmed the importance of first impressions (looks, clothing, posture and other body language) but these have to be put into context. A limp handshake, may indicate passivity, but cannot be the reason to eliminate a candidate from the selection process right away, especially if the vacancy is for an assistant accountant.

The same rule applies for a smart, eloquent candidate with a firm handshake applying for your sales executive vacancy. You would need to find out more about personality and look into the following topics: commitment, work method, discipline, enthusiasm, creativity, prioritization, persistence, zeal and self-confidence to be able to estimate the candidate correctly. Be aware that impressions are often subjective and can therefore be distorted.

Philip Lee is the author of Hire the Best with the Best Interview Questions available as an eBook on Amazon.com