No matter how groundbreaking the idea or revolutionary the product, no business is better than its employees.

We all know that, but if finding the right people is so important, why are so many entrepreneurs content to be mediocre interviewers? Why do so many ask horrible questions like these? And why do so many see interviewing as a necessary evil instead of a key driver of success?

Maybe, where interviews are concerned, they assume the burden of greatness lies solely with the potential employee. "Hey, it's his job to impress me," they think.

But that attitude is not only shortsighted, it's stupid. To find the best employees possible, you must be the best interviewer possible. (And maybe, just maybe, you should ask the one question that identifies a superstar candidate.)

Here's how to become the remarkable interviewer your business deserves:

1. Take the time to determine your real need.

A great employee doesn't just fill up a slot on the org chart. A great employee solves at least one critical business need.

So while credentials, qualifications, and experience are important, never lose sight of the fact that you're not hiring a position. You're hiring a result. 

You don't need a sales director, you need someone who will sell. You don't need a VP of operations, you need someone who can produce on time.

Identify your real business need; determine what successfully meeting that need looks like (since that defines the skills and attributes you're looking for); think about cultural fit; and tailor the interview (and everything else in your hiring process) to finding the perfect person to solve your critical need. Otherwise you're just wasting your time.

Remarkable interviewers never settle for candidates who have a few qualities that are nice to have but who lack that one quality they absolutely must possess.

2. Take it upon yourself to ensure every candidate will be at their best.

All candidates should know exactly what to expect: when, where, who will be conducting the interview(s); they should know everything. Great interviewers ensure candidates don't have to deal with surprises, tricks, or uncertainty.

For example, take the surprise group interview. A group interview is intimidating for a candidate, especially when it's unexpected. If the position requires working predominately within a team, then sure, group interviews can provide a feel for a candidate's suitability. But in that case, tell candidates ahead of time, so they can prepare.

Otherwise hold individual sessions.

And no matter what, let the candidate know who will be conducting the interview(s.)

Also, never forget that a new employee's first day isn't their first official day on the job, it's the day you first engage them in the hiring process. That's when their experience with your company really starts, so make the experience an awesome one.

3. Do more research on the candidate than the candidate does on your company.

Every interview guide tells candidates it's important to research the company. So isn't it just as important for the interviewer to research the candidate?

Of course it is, especially since it's impossible to ask intelligent questions and foster a compelling conversation (which is what every interview should be) unless you really know the candidate.

Start by truly studying the resume. Focus not just on jobs and qualifications but also on what the resume indicates about the candidate's interests and goals.

For example, look at her first job: What did she accomplish? What projects did she work on? When did she change roles? When did she get promoted? What do changes in responsibilities and duties indicate about her performance?

Then move to the next job: Why did she leave her previous job? What does that say about her career path? What does that say about her interests? Your goal is to read between the lines to get a sense of the candidate's successes and failures.

Then do a quick survey of social media. What are her interests? What does she like to do outside of work? What does that say about how she will fit in with your company's culture? And with whom does she network? What does that say about her broader goals and professional interests?

Remarkable interviewers know as much as possibly ahead of time, both for reasons of due diligence and because they want to.

4. Make sure the interview is a conversation, not an interrogation.

The best interviews are a great conversation. But you can't have a great conversation with someone you hardly know.

The more you know about the candidate ahead of time, the more you can ask questions that give the candidate room for introspection and self-analysis.

5. Make it your job to bring shy candidates out of their shells.

Some otherwise great candidates just don't interview well. They're hesitant or anxious or nervous, and don't make a great first impression.

But an awkward interview doesn't mean a candidate can't excel at the job. While some positions do require the ability to establish immediate rapport (like sales), in many others a lack of conversational skills in no way signals a lack of expertise.

It's easy to help a nervous candidate relax, especially if you've done your homework. Compliment a few of his accomplishments. Ask a question about her hobbies or outside interests. Ask him a few softball questions you know he can hit out of the park. Take a few minutes to help her gain confidence and settle in.

Most interviewers feel it's the candidate's responsibility to be "on." Remarkable interviewers feel it's their responsibility to get the best from every candidate, even those who at first might seem out of their depth.

6. Know when to go off script.

Every interviewer should follow a plan and ask a reasonably specific set of questions, but the best questions are almost always follow-ups. It's the follow-up question that takes you past the canned response and into the details, both positive and negative.

Listen to the initial answer, pause, and ask how. Or why. Or when. Or who actually did what. Or what made a success difficult to achieve. Or what was learned from a failure. Or what made a job hard or a project difficult. Or what made a task fun. Or what the candidate would do differently, and why.

When something sparks your interest, talk about it. Ask questions. Who knows where the conversation will go or what you will learn

Not only will you get past the canned responses, you'll also learn details--good and bad--the candidate never planned to share.

The real superstars show up in the details, and remarkable interviewers see it as their job to get those details.

(Plus you might find a candidate who may not be right for this opening, but perfect for a different opening.)

7. Never, ever take over.

Interviews often turn into monologues delivered by the interviewer.

Do that, and most candidates won't interrupt or try to restore balance to the interview; after all, they want you to like them. Unfortunately, that means your hiring decision is largely based on whether the candidate was a good listener.

Remarkable interviewers know they learn nothing about the candidate when they're doing all the talking. The best interviewers make the conversation 90 percent candidate/10 percent interviewer.

(Unless, of course, the candidate is asking you questions--as she should, since candidates are also deciding whether your company is the right fit for them--and especially if she's asking one of the great questions every candidate should ask.)

8. Never fall into the "checklist trap."

Conduct enough interviews and it's natural to start ticking off mental boxes during the interview. "Let's see," you think. "Experience: good. Qualifications: good. Skills: good. Attitude: good. Work ethic: good. Cultural fit: good... "

Everything is "good, which unfortunately means that you, without realizing it, start to think a candidate with no negatives is actually an awesome candidate.

Skilled interviewers are unreasonably selective about the people they hire. They don't want to hire the candidate whose qualifications and interview fail to raise issues or concerns. They want to hire the candidate who will excel in meeting their real business need.

An absence of negatives is never a superlative. Demand excellence. Look for remarkable employees. (Here's what remarkable employees look like.)

Outstanding interviewers never get lazy. They never settle for average. You should never settle for "good enough," because good enough never actually is.

9. Always describe the next steps, in detail.

Few things are worse than being a candidate who has no idea what, when, or if something happens next.

Don't make the candidate ask about the next steps. Explain the rest of the process. Explain what you will do and when you plan to do it.

And then actually do it.

10. Always provide closure to every candidate.

Failing to follow up is rude and unprofessional. Think about it: Candidates paid your business a massive compliment by wanting to work with you. (Why is that a massive compliment? They're wiling to spend more time with you than they do with their family.)

Plus, when you don't provide closure, candidates won't complain to you, but they will complain about you.

Describe next steps, follow through on those steps, contact candidates when the process for some reason gets delayed, and eventually provide closure to every candidate--period.

Not only is that good business, it's the right thing to do.

Published on: Mar 24, 2015
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