Paul Falcone is an HR consultant and author of 96 Great Interview Questions to Ask Before You Hire. He’s written the definitive guide to asking great questions and evaluating a candidate’s responses.
The interviewer has two important missions in an interview: The first is to get to know the candidate’s skills, experience, and to determine if they are fit for the position. The second mission is critical for the success of the first: to build trust and rapport and make the candidate comfortable enough to provide you with the information you need.
We believe that interviewers who use stress techniques are doing their companies a disservice. Sure, the job you’re hiring for may be fast-paced and enormously stressful, but we assume that you’ll prepare, train, and equip your workers to thrive in that stressful environment. (If not, the problem is you, not them). The interview is not the place to stress out potential workers; you’ll only make them so nervous they can’t tell you anything useful about themselves. And you’ll come off like a jerk.
Building rapport is a key skill interviewers must master. That means you’ll spend some time at the beginning of the meeting just getting the candidate to relax and be present (not inside their own head, panicking about their performance). Falcone writes, “Going from zero to question-and-answer mode in any interview situation misses the opportunity to build rapport, establish some common ground, and make the individual feel welcome, which are all critical to the relationship-building process that’s supposed to happen during any interview.”
Another benefit of a relaxed candidate is that they will open up and take more risks during the conversation. We’ve all run into over-prepared and coached candidates who have the perfect answer to every question. Part of your goal is to get them to reveal their true colors, and bump them off their memorized script. They’ll need to like and trust you for that to happen.
Most interviewers start out doing all the talking. They dive right into company history and culture and the nature of the job. Falcone says that “allows candidates little input other than to nod their heads with understanding. Likewise, if the interviewer shares too much information initially about the challenges of the role, it will likely tip off candidates in terms of how they should frame their responses to the questions that follow.”
Falcone says you should spend the first three minutes of the interview on the icebreaker, which he defines as “getting to know you” questions. He says the interviewer should follow the 80/20 rule: make the candidate talk for 80 percent of the time and the interviewer talk just 20 percent of the time.
Great icebreakers get the candidate to ease into telling you about themselves and what makes them tick. Warm, open-ended questions not only get the candidate talking, but they also get them thinking about why they’re looking for their next job. Falcone suggests questions like these:
“Before we launch too deeply into your career experience and background and what we’re looking for in our next hire, tell me what criteria you’re using in selecting your next role or company. What’s really important to you at this point in your career?”
“Tell me about your job search up to now. What’s motivating you to look for a new opportunity, and what have your experiences been as a candidate in the open market?”
This question also allows you to get a glimpse of who your competition might be and how you can position your candidate experience against other companies in the running.
Take time to develop a great icebreaker. It will open the way for a great interview – and a better hiring decision.
Missed Part 1? Check it out here.