As a small business owner, one of the major challenges is hiring new staff. There is a glut of advice available on how to conduct interviews, yet there are some often overlooked psychological principles that can be the difference between a successful or unsuccessful interview. As a psychologist who has studied and practiced the selection interview for many years, I recommend five practical tips based on psychological principles that can make all the difference in your next interview.
1. Setting Up the Interview Room
A successful interview should be planned and structured, yet come across to the candidate as friendly and informal. One way to achieve an informal setting is to dispense with desks and tables in the interview room, and use only chairs. Use a clipboard to hold any papers. When it is a one-to-one interview, sit at a right angle to the interviewee. If it is a two-to-one interview, sit in a triangle. Sit in a diamond if it is a three-to-one interview. You should not outnumber the interviewee four-to-one. The goal of a good interview is to get the interviewee to talk at least 80 per cent of the time, and you are more likely to achieve this if the setting looks informal. Talking helps interviewees to dissipate their anxiety, and they become more and more relaxed as the interview progresses.
2. Set Expectations and Agenda at the Start
It is perfectly possible and reasonable to limit an interview to one hour. Divide the time into four sections: ‘Welcome’ (1 minute) is where you introduce yourself and your colleague(s), tell the candidate that they will be expected to answer questions for most of the interview, and reassure them that time has been set aside at the end of the interview for them to ask questions of you. Then ask your first question. ‘Acquire information’ (50 minutes) is where you ask your questions. If the interviewee tries to ask you questions during this allocated time, politely remind them that their turn will come later. ‘Supply information’ (about five minutes) is where you answer the interviewee’s questions. ‘Plan and Part’ (one minute) is where you inform the interviewee about what will happen next and, if possible, give an indication of when a decision will be made.
3. Focus on the Candidate at All Times
To conduct a successful interview, it should sound like an informal conversation between two people who have recently met. To achieve this standard, you should follow the normal conventions of a conversation. Always look at the interviewee in the area of their eyes while they are talking, even if you are not the one asking the questions. Nod to reinforce the fact you are listening. If you are writing notes, try to learn to do it without looking at what you are writing. All these activities help the interviewee to relax, and will have a positive impact. Avoid bringing application forms or other paperwork into the interview room. Instead, read them beforehand and transcribe the key facts (e.g., the interviewee’s previous employers and dates) on the first page of your notepad. Never look at your watch during the interview, instead, keep track of the time by putting a clock behind the interviewee so you can glance at it easily without appearing distracted.
4. Learn to Probe and Follow Up
It is important to follow up most of the answers you are given with personal, short questions to clarify or get more facts. It helps the interview appear more like a conversation, if you sound interested and curious. There are standard probes: ‘Why? Could you please elaborate?’ ‘What do you mean?’ ‘Tell me why you did that’ ‘How did you do that?’ ‘What did you learn?’ There are also tailored probes: ‘Who else was there?’ ‘What did you do when that happened?’ ‘When did this happen?’ ‘How did you cope?’ Many interview scripts, particularly those associated with the popular competency interview technique recommended by many experts, sound stilted and unconnected when the interviewer moves from one prepared question to the next, but probes can help attenuate the stilted effect.
5. Rate Independently Before Combining Ratings
When you are interviewing alongside others, resist the temptation to blurt out opinions after an interviewee has left the interview room. This can colour the assessments of others, and lead to a premature and truncated discussion of the interviewee’s merits. A better approach is to ask other interviewers to note their thoughts in private and put them away until all candidates have been seen. The best notes refer to evidence from what the interviewee said during the interview that is relevant to the competencies sought in the job. After you have interviewed all candidates, chair a meeting of all interviewers and review each candidate’s competencies one at a time. The interviewers should read out their notes about each competency and try to reach a consensus before moving on to the next competency. This approach is more likely to produce a measured conclusion and is fair to all interviewees.
In conclusion, the interview is the most frequently used form of candidate selection, but it can often go badly, and be stressful for both the interviewers and interviewees. With these five tips based on sound psychological research, you can conduct a relaxed, effective, and fair interview.
Additionally, there are five more key tips when interviewing candidates. Firstly, write a detailed job description of what you want the person to do. Secondly, decide on the skills needed for the person to do the job and distinguish between which are essential and which are desirable. Thirdly, allocate a score to essential and desirable skills to compare candidates at a later date. Fourthly, plan a structured interview to ensure you cover everything you intend to and prevent deviations. Finally, have a panel of two or more interviewers to ensure the panel sees all the candidates and to overcome any potential subjectivity.
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