|Go to Your Local Regional Help Wanted Market
Lights! Camera! Action! (But First, Set the Stage)
By Mel Kleiman
Whether performed at the local high school or on Broadway, every play ever staged has had the same indispensable player. No, it’s not the leading man or lady or even the director, producer, or playwright.
Who keeps the show running smoothly and oversees the set so the actors can concentrate on their lines and movements? The stage manager.
Just like a stage manager, an interviewer must create a setting that positions applicants to deliver clear and truthful answers; a setting in which the interviewer can retain control of the interview without appearing manipulative.
Like a good stage set, a good interview setting makes both the interviewer and applicant feel comfortable and confident.
It’s an Interview, Not an Inquisition
Years ago, a fad interviewing technique deliberately tried to make job applicants uncomfortable by putting them under some kind of physical or mental stress. For example, seating applicants facing a sunny window that casts the interviewer’s face in shadow, but shone too brightly in the applicants’ eyes or having applicants sit on a leather sofa or chair with shorter front than back legs that caused applicants to brace themselves to keep from sliding forward. The idea behind these disrespectful techniques was to test how the applicant responded to discomfort and to situations beyond their apparent control.
Don’t do it. Remember, you’re speaking to a potential employee, not sweating a confession from a suspected felon. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t ask challenging questions, just that you don’t need to ask them in an unnecessarily stressful way.
Only comfortable applicants will give you the kind of information you need to make a good hiring decision, so ensure the applicant’s physical comfort beforehand.
Sit where the applicant will sit and make sure the chair is comfortable. Remove whatever items you or the applicant might find distracting — unless you want to see how the applicant handles distraction (which is not appropriate in a first interview). Look at how the applicant will see the room and make whatever adjustments are necessary. Comfortable people relax and will tell us almost anything. Uncomfortable people become tense and will tell us as little as possible.
Remember, you only have one chance to make a good first impression while the most desirable applicants may have many employers to choose from.
If the applicant has a résumé, keep it out of sight and don’t interview from it because you’ll end up only confirming information the applicant has already provided. If possible, don’t interview across a desk — it puts a formal barrier between you and blocks your view of most of the applicant’s body language. Instead, create psychological comfort by sitting side-by-side with the applicant or in full view of each other since you will be taking notes. In case the applicant wants to take notes, be sure there’s a supportive writing surface nearby.
Make It Clear You Take the Applicant and the Interview Seriously
Making it clear the interview is important to you makes the applicant feel important too, so don’t allow interruptions. Within the applicant’s earshot, direct the receptionist to hold your calls for the time you and the applicant are together.
Don’t go on stage without knowing your lines. Remember the qualities you’re looking for, what the job requires and the information you need to get in order to decide if the applicant and the job will be a good fit. You should have already identified the capacities, attitudes, personality traits, and skills you need and the questions you need to ask to discover this. Understand the role you want played before you start looking to cast it so you don’t cast a leading man in a character actor’s role.
You expect the jobseeker to be on time, so be on time yourself. Greet the applicant warmly. Introduce yourself using your name and title. Give the applicant an opportunity to relax by spending the first few minutes making small talk about neutral topics (weather, traffic, sports, etc.). You might want to talk about your role in the organization and the career path that got you where you are today. Tip: The more you give, the more you’ll get.
Ask if the applicant minds if you take notes. (Because applicants watch you take notes, remember to never write down negative information until after you receive the next piece of positive information; otherwise the applicant is likely to stop revealing adverse information altogether.)
When the applicant appears ready, establish the structure for the interview. Remember, getting to the readiness point takes longer with some people than it does with others, especially with people seeking a first job or seeking to reenter the workforce. Don’t rush things — you want the best employee, not the best applicant.
Start by saying, “I’m going to do things a little differently than most interviewers. First, I’ll tell you a little about position and the company. (Don’t explain everything about the position and the company because doing so gives the applicant information about your needs that can be fed back to you.) Then, I’d like to gather some information about you and, after that, I’ll be happy to answer any questions you may have.” This way, if applicants interrupt you with questions, you can keep the interview on track by reminding them you’ll answer their questions later.
Get the Honesty You Need by Being Honest Yourself
The best way to get honest answers from applicants is simply to ask them to be honest. Most people come to interviews prepared to tell the interviewer what they think the interviewer wants to hear. Most will embroider their accomplishments at least a little and some will tell you outright lies.
Telling applicants you expect them to tell you the truth changes their mindset. An approach that produces excellent results is explaining you have two major concerns in this interview: The first is that the applicant is right for the job and the second is that the job is right for the applicant.
Continue by promising to be totally truthful about the job, the good parts, the not so good parts, the things that are challenging, and the things that are not, and close this preamble by saying, “I could tell you anything I thought would get you to come to work for us and you could tell me anything you thought would get you the job. But I’m going to be truthful with you and I need you to be absolutely truthful with me. If you’ve ever had trouble with a boss before, I can take that into consideration if you tell me. But, if you don’t tell me, and I find out when we do a background check, I cannot consider you for employment. Do you understand what is I am looking for?” Then wait for the applicant to confirm they understand the importance of honesty.
Once you get started with the meat of the interview, remember there are no bad answers to any interview question. Good answers come in two guises: those that tell you the applicant deserves further consideration and should move along in the hiring process and those that tell you the applicant is unsuitable.
From your standpoint, the worst possible outcome is that hiring the applicant is a poor decision. From the applicant’s standpoint, it’s that accepting a job with your company will turn out to be a mistake. Only when concerns for both sides are truthfully, fully, and satisfactorily addressed should you move ahead.
Mel Kleiman CSP: Helping companies build a frontline that will help them build their bottomline. Visit www.the5firsts.com and www.humetrics.com.