Interviewing candidates is a skill that can be improved with practice. Put applicants at ease and listen more than you speak to get the best out of your interviews.
Q: I’d like to do a better job at interviewing prospective employees. There’s a delicate balance between talking and listening in interviews, and I’m not sure I’m striking it correctly. How can I improve?
A: Interviewing job candidates is a learned skill, and it takes work to become as proficient at it as you’d like to be.
Interviews aren’t always comfortable for either the interviewer or the interviewee, so the first thing you should do is put the applicant at ease. It helps to be prepared with some small talk. This gives the applicant a few minutes to relax before you formally begin the interview. Pick subjects that anyone can speak to without deep thought, like the weather or traffic. Offer water or coffee, if possible, and smile in a welcoming manner. If you’re relaxed, the applicant will also feel more comfortable.
Once you’re both ready to begin, let the applicant know what your process will be. For example, you can say, “Our time together will have three parts. To get started, I’m going to explore your work experience by asking you some open-ended questions. Then, I’ll share some information about the organization and this position, and finally, you’ll have a chance to ask me questions.”
You should ask insightful questions and follow up if you need more information, but the applicant should spend most of the interview talking, and you should spend most of it listening.
Don’t share too much about the job or the organization at the outset. Often, if you explain the job duties right away, applicants can frame their answers to your questions using the words you’ve given them. This can give you a false sense that they’re perfect for the job. It’s better to have them tell their story before you share details about the position.
Be careful not to talk too much in an interview. You should ask insightful questions and follow up if you need more information, but the applicant should spend most of the interview talking, and you should spend most of it listening. Try to aim for an 80/20 mix, when possible.
Getting the balance right between talking and listening in interviews takes practice, but when done well, it can pay dividends for you, the new hire, and your organization.