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How to get proper answers from a candidate


Interviewing is a skill. Yet it’s often assumed everyone can do it, even at the drop of a hat.

“Do you mind sitting in on this interview and maybe asking them about X, Y and Z?”

How many times have you or someone you know been asked that question? And how many times has it led to better hiring decisions?

There’s an assumption that more interviewers, more interviews and more questions will eventually lead to answers that are more meaningful and useful (i.e. ‘proper’) but that’s rarely the case.

In 20 years of recruiting, I’ve tried to pay attention to the companies and hiring managers who just seem to get it right time-after-time.

What I'm about to share is by no means a definitive list. But there are four things I’ve noticed they all do. And they’re all things that are really easy to do with a bit of forethought and mindfulness...

1. They make candidates feel comfortable.

The more relaxed a candidate is, the more likely they are to open up. Simple, right? From a physical point of view, that can mean choosing a setting (and chair) the candidate can feel comfortable in for an hour or so. Sitting across massive boardroom tables does the opposite.

They also think about their own body language and words. A welcoming smile, a bit of humour and a friendly handshake that doesn’t crush bones are always appreciated.

2. They make effort to build a rapport

The next stage after comfort is a connection. But the onus isn’t all on the candidate. Sure, they want to impress, but the best interviewers put a bit of effort in too. They look for things they have in common – professionally and personally – that helps bonds to form.

The purpose isn’t to make a hiring decision based on the fact they both like The Sopranos, but to give the candidate the confidence to open up. That said, shared good taste isn't to be sniffed at.

3. They ask open-ended questions

Monosyllabic answers to questions tend to kill an interview faster than bad ones. The best interviews flow naturally. It’s two or more people talking. It should feel like a conversation, not a yes/no questionnaire.

"Have you ever faced a challenging situation at work?" doesn't sound too bad on the surface. But it could easily lead to a short response.

By contrast, "Can you tell me about a time when you faced a significant challenge in your previous role and how you handled it?" manages to be both open-ended and specific enough to get a proper answer.

4. They listen. No, I mean, really listen

There’s no harm in preparing things to ask about, or even having questions jotted down. But to get the best answers, the most important thing an interviewer can do is listen.

Because it’s by hearing and understanding the answers that better, more relevant questions arise. And they, in turn, lead to real answers with depth and detail.

It might mean sacrificing a couple of pre-planned questions. But that’s okay. Because it’s all about using your time wisely, not necessarily efficiently.

So the next time you’re prepping for an interview, think about the room and how you make your candidate feel. Look for ways to connect. Think about the phrasing of your questions. And, above all, focus on what’s being said over what’s on the paper in front of you.

You’ll get proper answers, which’ll help you make better hires.



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