I spent much of my 40-year career interviewing people for various reasons. As manager of a large company PR and advertising division, I probably interviewed at least 40 applicants a year. The job openings included both clerical and professional levels, including editorial, ad copywriting, graphic art, photography and videography.
Also, unlike most interviewers whose task involves only job seekers, one of my tasks as editor of company publications and conference planner also required me to interview a dozen or more executives and marketing experts a year. The result wasn’t to hire them, but to write articles about their lives and professions, or to prepare speeches for them to deliver.
Although the reasons for and the results of the interviews differed, I believed that many of the same rules apply. Here are some of the basics:
Dress for the date
If the interviewer is too casual, it could make the interviewee feel you don’t care that much about the meeting; it seems it just isn’t that important to you; or maybe you’d rather be somewhere else.
Choose a quiet area, preferably a closed-off room with no distractions. You want to concentrate on the person in front of you and give your undivided attention. This, of course, will require the interviewee to do the same.
Don’t spend a lot of time with unimportant, unrelated subjects or your own personal friendly chatter. If you indicate that your time is important and you don’t want to waste it in idle talk, then the interviewee will follow the theme and not go off track. Make all questions direct, to the point and on subjects related to the job.
Look ’em in the eye
Be sure the location and furniture arrangement gives you the opportunity to be close and face-to-face with the interviewee. Remember Jack Nicholson in “A Few Good Men”? When the lawyer demanded the truth, he said, “You can’t handle the truth!” The best way to get the truth out of someone is with constant eye contact. It not only presents an air of authority on your part, but it gives the interviewee the opportunity to be assertive and direct in responding to your questions.
Have I made an error?
If you’ve goofed by inviting in a person who soon shows obvious inability to do the job, sent a fake resume or is otherwise unqualified, end the session quickly. Be polite and considerate, but don’t waste any more of the person’s time nor your own. If the opportunity arises, you should say directly that the person will not get the job. Cruel at the moment, but more kind in reality.
The old Boy Scout oath applies for one-on-one interviews. Take the time before the meeting to read the resume thoroughly, examine submitted samples and/or check the interviewee’s background and references. This will not only make the interview go more smoothly, but will give you some early hints about how you’ll make your decision to hire the applicant. In my career, if the interview was not with a job applicant, but for me to follow the interview by writing a story or a speech, preparation through research and getting information from other sources in advance were essential.
Bring in another person
If you won’t be the direct boss of the interviewee, after you’ve covered essential points in a one-on-one session, bring in the person who’ll be directly in charge of the new hire’s work. If the interview is going badly at the start, this may not be necessary. However, if progress is satisfying to you, the next step will help you and the interviewee’s prospective manager make the final decision.
Allow back talk
This gives you the opportunity to observe how the prospect handles stress, direct questions that require fast answers and other aspects of his/her personality. A smart interviewee will reveal much about him/herself by reversing interview-interviewee roles and ask intelligent questions about the job, the company and expectations for the job. A dumb interviewee will show strain, resentment, ignorance and otherwise help your make your decision to end the session quickly.
When I interviewed high-level executives, I stepped out of my role as lower-level employee. I made my questions direct and allowed the other person to speak freely. If I was writing a speech, I wanted to be able to write it in the speaking and logic patterns of the person who’d deliver the speech.
The second time around
If you feel, after a face-to-face session, you’re still interested in the applicant but can’t quite decide yet, make a date for another interview. It may be inconvenient for both of you, but also encouraging for the applicant to know chances are improving for eventually getting the job. Make the date as soon after the first interview as possible, so the information will be fresh in your mind. You can also use the interval to check on references, consult with others in your company and other ways to compile more information.
End at the ending
When you’re satisfied that you have enough information to make your decision, get up quickly, shake hands and say your farewells. Even if the interview involved introducing the interviewee to others and/or touring the company offices, keep control of the time. You have other work to do, and you shouldn’t make the process any longer than necessary. If you truly believe the interviewee has a chance to get the job, say so. If you’re undecided, say that as clearly as possible. If the applicant doesn’t have a chance in hell of employment with you, be diplomatic, but don’t create any false hopes.