I am a big fan of the maxim, “hire for attitude and train for skill”. Naturally, there are specific job competencies that require formal qualifications or proven skill, but these are almost the minimum requirements of the job. A valid piece of paper or a track record gets the candidate in the door, but the personal attributes are the tipping point.
The best way to ensure that you are hiring right, is to make sure that you are very clear what the ideal candidate would be. The starting point has to be the job profile and the standards pertinent to that job. These are the documents that speak to the very necessary competency based questions that need to be raised in the interview. Next you need to consider the company culture and the nature of the work. Is it back-office and detailed or front-end and fraught with customer demands?
Planning a question sheet ensures that you keep on the straight and narrow Vis a Vis legally acceptable questions and those that may be discriminatory. It also helps the interviewer to think creatively about how to obtain the information required to fairly assess the candidate. Open questions and asking the interviewee to ‘share’, or ‘describe’ or ‘explain’ encourages the person to speak and allows you to assess their approach to work and their problem solving skills. The questions are meant to be prompts, not a script. It is preferable to allow the conversation to flow naturally, rather than appearing to be an interrogation.
It is important to remember that quality candidates are assessing your/your company’s attractiveness, as much as you are assessing them. Ensure that you have a pleasant and quiet space for the interview and observe the social niceties of offering refreshments and trying to put the candidate at ease. Relaxed interviewees reveal more about themselves than people who are on edge. If you’re seeking a professional, friendly can-do person, then that is the kind of behaviour they will be expecting from you. Take detailed notes during the interview. You would be surprised at how your memory blurs after four candidates. Note-taking is also a sign that you are taking the person seriously.
Personal attributes are difficult to assess and we do need to be careful of cultural bias. I was fascinated to listen to callers on a radio show discussing handshakes. Western culture judges a limp handshake negatively, but a fair number of callers said that in their culture a firm grip is seen as being disrespectful or even aggressive. A better way of assessing how that person interacts with others is to have them wait a few minutes where they can interact with other people in the business. How do they engage with their potential co-workers? Can you see a cultural fit? (I refer to the culture of the business – informal and collegiate or formal and more reserved?) A front end customer service job will require friendliness and energy. What are the verbal and non-verbal behaviours that the person shows?
People read non-verbal cues or body language all the time, we just don’t always realise we are doing it. By making an attempt to watch the candidate and by listening attentively to what they are saying and not saying, the interviewer gains a fuller picture. If the person shows unease or breaks eye contact when asked a particular question, this is a signal to dig a little deeper. If the person pauses and considers the answer, while still appearing comfortable, this would indicate good thinking skills.
Encourage the person to ask questions about you and the company. Their questions will often reveal if they have done any homework and indicates whether they are seeing this as a stop-gap, just a job, or a long term career commitment. On that note, if your business is very small, hiring a high-flyer is probably doing you and the candidate a disservice.
Ensure that you have the right contact information for the person and thank them for the time. Professional courtesy and your business image is their last impression of you. Even if you don’t hire the person, they may be a customer one day!
Key take out: An interview is a two-way street in which both parties should be putting their best foot forward. Preparation is vital to asking the right questions so that you can make an informed decision.
Author: Janet Askew