Job interviews have always been tough, and not just for the job seeker. Countless books, guides, seminars, and business articles have been produced to help us interviewers conduct the right interview to find the right candidate.
There is nothing that propels a business forward more than nailing an important search and hiring that rock star. And there is not a more expensive miss than blowing the process and hiring a dud. Stakes could not be higher.
So how do you get through the thin surface of rehearsed answers, fluffed up resumes, exaggerated accomplishments and staged references?
I've hired hundreds of people in my career. I've probably interviewed thousands. As a young manager, I made every mistake. I defaulted to the canned interview questions. I focused more on asking my next question instead of listening with the intent of learning. I approached interviews with the idea that I had to sell the candidate on our opportunity versus using the time to determine if the person across from me was the right fit.
As I matured as an executive and an interviewer, I slowly abandoned the canned approach. With experience I became less nervous, more conversational, and most importantly, more clear on the objective at hand. Which is always "Is this person a good fit for what I need for this job?"
I know this maturity has paid off. I don't keep specific stats, but my hits outpace my misses. This is an inexact science. And, there are more variables than you can control. But being really good at the pieces you can control is the goal.
As I sit here today, here's how I conduct my interviews, including the 2 questions I ask of every candidate.
Take Control Early
Too many inexperienced interviewers allow the candidate to run the show. I've witnessed an entire hours worth of interview time chewed up with the following sequence: Job seeker asks question, interviewer responds. Repeat. There is simply no way the interviewer left the session with any clarity on the candidate. So, the fix is to take control of the process. Here's how I do it.
"Thanks for coming in to chat with me today. I'd like to take the first part of our time to give you a brief explanation of the company and the job. I'd then like to ask you some questions about you and your experience. We'll leave some time after that for any questions you have for me. Does that sound like a plan?"
Not a single candidate has ever said no to this plan. This strategy sets expectations, but more importantly allows you to take control and accomplish what you need out of the session.
I Always Ask This Question First
After a very brief intro to the job and the company. Very brief. I'll always start with the same question.
"I have your resume in front me here. But, I was hoping you could take me through the verbal version of your path?"
I will stop there. I never give any clarification of what I'm looking for or how long the answer should be. Nor do I say where to start or even in what order to go. To me, this a great way to allow the candidate to tell their story in their words. Do they go chronological? Do they talk about milestones? Do they finish with their objectives? I don't really care. I want to sit back and take in how each handles this blank canvass.
I Always Ask This Question Last
In the meat of the interview, I'll probe through specific jobs and accomplishments. I'll ask about strengths and weakness. If I find something interesting or very relevant to the job, I'll go deeper. Again, sometimes there is more art than science to this.
But, I'll always finish with the same question. Here it is:
"I'd like you to pretend like I'm 8 years old. I'm in 1st or 2nd grade. And, I'd like you to explain to me what you do and why you're good at it."
This question might seem odd. And, it certainly catches some off guard. But, I love it. My goal is to strip away all the rehearsed answers. I also want to force the job seeker to discard any industry buzzwords and jargon. I really want see how he or she handles the task of explaining themselves in the simplest form. It's an unconventional approach. But, I have learned more about a candidate's real understanding of a job and his or her fit with this question than any other. Not an interview passes without me asking it. It's my go to.
As interviewers, we hold the future of the company in our hands. It's a great responsibility. Don't let it intimidate you. Practice. Get better. Always start with the end in mind.
And for you job seekers out there. Find an eight year old. Take your best shot. If the eight year old will hire you, you've got a good chance with me.