How to interview like a pro

Written by Don Sangster

Is an imaginary game of Russian roulette an acceptable part of a job interview? It’s not something Canadian business owners are doing, but U.S. employers are pulling out all the stops to minimize the risk of making bad hiring decisions. After all, just one in five job applicants has the skills that you’re looking for, says a new study by Workopolis, Canada’s leading Internet job site, so it can be hard to find that diamond in the rough. Games and challenging scenarios as part of job interviews are all the rage at Microsoft, investment banks and other large U.S. companies.

Canadian firms have likewise made refinements to key areas of the hiring process in the past five or ten years, though not nearly as extreme as, say, putting a make-believe gun to an applicant’s head and “firing” twice — an exercise meant to see how candidates perform under pressure. Teresa Howe, president of Toronto consultancy Workplaces that Work!, has seen many variations of the standard job interview come and go during her 15 years as a human resources director. Not a fan of fads, Howe suggests the following tactics for improving your hiring efficiencies:

Bring in peers

The panel interview is nothing new, but the addition of peers to the interviewing team is a fairly recent — and useful — innovation. Someone doing the same type of job can establish an instant connection with the candidate, which can reveal things that might have gone unnoticed by the others on the panel.

The panel interview is advantageous for both sides. You’re more likely to choose the right candidate, says Howe, “because there’s greater accuracy when you have three or four sets of eyes and ears.” Smart candidates will also enjoy the panel interview because “there’s an opportunity to connect with more than one person.”

Ask revealing questions

Past performance is the best indicator of future performance, says Howe, so ask questions such as: “Tell me about a time when you had to deal with …” and insert a specific problem that may arise at your place of business. These types of questions are known as behavioural questions.

Situational questions are similar but put candidates in hypothetical circumstances likely to arise on the job to see how they would handle the conundrum. Try using a real-life recent situation. An example might be: “Assume that you’re a supervisor and an employee is consistently late. How would you deal with it?” Says Howe: “Situational questions really focus on problem-solving skills, relationships and management style.”

Invite the best ones in

Invite the very best applicants to spend a half-day on a real work project, suggests Howe. “An important part of the equation nowadays is attitude. So when [the candidate] is in a realistic job preview, working under pressure, more of [his or her] real personality will be revealed.”

Keep your ears open, mouth closed

Your primary job during the interview is to listen. “Ideally, it’s the standard 80/20 rule of information exchange; the interviewer should be doing 80% listening, 20% talking.” Too much talking on the part of the interviewer, says Howe, is a very common mistake.

Read other pointers on How To contribute to your business success!

© 2004 Don Sangster

Originally appeared on PROFITguide.com