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Interviewing and the interview process—from the initial screen to the last sit-down with the hiring manager—can be the make-or-break moment in the candidate's experience with your employer. All your preparation and work up to this point could be for nothing if the interview doesn't go well. Even if the candidate isn't the best one for the job, you want him or her to leave with a good impression of the company.

Recruiting experts and practitioners outlined the following simple tips to improve interview skills and technique, as well as the candidate's experience.

[SHRM members-only toolkit: Interviewing Candidates for Employment]

1. Be Prepared

Not being prepared for an interview is a disservice to the candidate and the whole process, said Sara Ferraioli, partner and managing director at WinterWyman, a Boston-based talent acquisition firm. "Too many recruiters are skimming the resume while walking into the interview," she said.

Sarah Greer, a recruiter with Ruby Recruiting in College Park, Md., recommended researching the candidates and writing out questions in advance.

Ferraioli agrees with this approach. Prepping on the candidate's background and having questions ready to go is much more productive than "doing it on the fly."

Find out as much as you can about the open role, and see if it matches what is important to the candidates as they grow their career, said Debbie Zoerkler, vice president at recruiting and staffing firm Top Talent Professionals in Ellicott City, Md.

"Provide the candidate with as much information as possible [about the job] to determine if this really is the right match for them," she said. "Paint the picture for them. It's not only the job description or their skill set that matters. Does this culture match their values?

"To do that, recruiters will need to understand the role they're recruiting for and the business of the employer."

Ferraioli explained, "I can't stress enough how important it is to understand the employer and really sell what it does—the job, benefits, projects. That goes a long way in the initial screen interview. If it's not done well, it can leave a candidate feeling less interested."

Recruiters should also make sure that candidates are prepared for interviews as the process advances. "Recruiters are coaches too," Zoerkler said. "Let [candidates] know who they will be interviewing with, what the expectations are, what the action items are, about the dress code—prepare them to nail it. Do not assume they know the interview process, since not all companies have the same process."

2. Be Respectful

Both recruiters and hiring managers must be respectful of candidates' time by being punctual for interviews. "There's absolutely no excuse for keeping a candidate waiting," said Katrina Collier, candidate engagement expert at The Searchologist consulting firm in London and author of The Robot-Proof Recruiter (Kogan Page, 2019).

"This is a candidate's market. You can bet that if you're late for an interview, they will go and report that on Glassdoor or Indeed."

Use the brief time you have together to put candidates at ease and show them your culture. "Be conversational and genuine," Collier said. "You might want to take them around the workplace so they can see the environment, rather than hiding everything behind closed doors."

Greer added that interview questions should flow like a conversation—not an interrogation.

"It's OK to go off script with follow-up questions, but keep it relevant," she said. "Don't throw curveballs to try to trick candidates or glean insight into their personality with off-topic questions." 

Collier added that basic social IQ must be practiced—sit up, show interest, make eye contact and turn off your phone.

3. Build Rapport

Recruiters and candidates are in the process of forming a relationship, and strong rapport is the foundation of that relationship, said Rachelle Roberts, a senior recruiter at ICF, a management consulting firm in Fairfax, Va. She added that focusing on building trust and making sure the candidate experience is positive takes precedence in the process, even over matching the candidate's skills to the job requirements.

"If you haven't built rapport in the beginning, and you don't feel like you're able to connect conversationally, it doesn't give a good vibe for the energy of the company or yourself and does not reflect well on what the candidate experience will be like going forward," she said.

4. Communicate Well and Often

Roberts stressed that the first touch point, the screening interview, should always be with the recruiter. "That's so you can start to develop the relationship and start to mold the candidate experience," she said. Some hiring managers want to skip this step and go directly into their own interviews to save time, but Roberts believes that formative time spent with the recruiter is key.

"If I don't do the screening call with a candidate before handing him or her off to a hiring manager for an interview, I don't know much about the person and then have to backtrack later on," she said.

Catherine Jaeger, talent acquisition manager and senior corporate recruiter at Walmart, attributes her career success to paying attention to her candidates. "Some recruiters will submit candidates and then forget about them," she said. "I'm very responsive and keep them in the loop every step of the way."

Maintaining a high level of communication with hiring managers is also important, she said. "Never leave them guessing about what you're doing or where candidates are in the process."

5. Review Your Work

Jaeger believes continuous self-improvement is critical to being a better interviewer. "You never want to become stagnant, and we are surely not interviewing the same way today as we did years ago," she said. "When I feel like my interviews are getting too routine, I ask my peers to shadow the calls and hear my questions to see if I'm missing anything or to see how I can change up my technique. Then I return the favor and shadow them."

She also listens in on the interviews with hiring managers to hear how they interact with candidates and what questions they ask.

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