Guide for Structured Job Interviews


Ever left a job interview frustrated? Because the interviewer seemed unprepared and asked seemingly random questions making it hard to discuss your achievements, interest in the role and how you planned to contribute to the success of the company. Or maybe you have been the recruiter who could not get ratings or post-interview notes from a manager because they did not jot anything down and could not give you any feedback after an interview they had conducted?

Getting the most out of the time you have to interview a candidate takes a lot of planning, focus and clarity on what exactly you want to establish. And yes, it also takes time management. An hour can fly past so fast without a plan!

To make interviews work well, the recruiter needs to do 3 things diligently:
  • Prepare an interview guide for each interviewer and provide them with that and any additional items such as the CV/Resume of the candidate, completed application forms and any other documents which have been provided by the candidate before the interview. Also include relevant notes from a screening call.
  • Prepare all interviewers with interview training so they can use the interview guide correctly and understand how to phrase questions and follow-up questions. Include the use of behavioral questions in the training, which are powerful in establishing what a candidate had done in previous situations given key competencies required for the role. [Providing interviewers with training on natural biases, will improve fairness of interview outcomes]
  • Follow up after the interview to collect notes and scores from interviewers. It is your summary of results that helps those making decisions about next steps in the recruitment process.

The Interview Guide

  1. Helping the interviewers plan to succeed

It is tough for interviewers to follow someone else’s plan verbatim and such an interview can come across as forced or staged. The preparation gives the interviewer a chance to consider rewording questions and possibly add their own questions. They may also want to change the sequence of questions. All of this will lead to a better and more natural interview experience for the job candidate.

2. Starting in a structured way

Setting expectations and clarity about the structure of the interview upfront is helpful for a candidate to understand the approach you plan to follow. Most candidates feel more relaxed understanding the structure that you will follow.

3. Behavioral QuestionsSTAR style

Note that it is not advised to ask more than 3 behavioral questions during a 60 minute interview. To explore answers and ask follow-up questions can take time and you do want to leave time to answer the candidate’s questions too. If doing a panel interview, divide the 3 behavioral questions among members of the interview panel.

4. Candidate questions and closing the interview

Give the candidate an opportunity to ask questions to help him or her have a clear understanding of the role and how things work at your company. Then it is time to either ask any follow-up questions you may have left to the end (checking if you have enough time left to do so). One approach that is often used to give you time to check your notes is to ask the candidate a question and giving him or her some time to think about their answer (while you check your notes).

Remember to share the next steps with the candidate i.e. when the interview phase will end and decisions will be made for the next phase in the recruitment process. Or if you do not know, let the candidate know that the recruiter will be able to answer next step answers.

Next steps

Follow through with interviewers to ensure results and scores are collected in a timely fashion to support data-based decision-making regarding next steps.

Make sure you provide interviewers with a summary scoring sheet in the Interview Guide to select scores for answers obtained based on a pre-determined rating scale. This will avoid the need to go back and forth to interviewers while trying to understand their own way of scoring candidates.

Comments

Not everyone enjoys a highly structured interview and in some company cultures or for roles in creative functions, this may be seen as an unproductive way to test the creativity of candidates or showcase the unpredictable nature of the industry or the environment. Let common sense prevail to ensure you have an interview protocol that meets the need to fairly evaluate all job candidates in a consistent manner.

When your interview guides are online and so are your scoring sheets – this greatly improves your ability to quickly access post-interview notes and scores after interviews are completed.

Do not under-estimate the training needed for interviewers to understand the recruitment process or the importance of being able to demonstrate that a fair and consistent approach was used to evaluate candidates before selecting the final candidate.

Link to another post on this blog about using a Score Sheet for scoring job candidates after interviews

Link to a post on this blog about creating a Job Candidate Summary using all scores obtained after interviews

Designing an Interview Training Workshop


(For Interviewers and Managers)

Need to provide a training workshop for managers on how to conduct job interviews? The slides I am sharing today can help you with that. You can turn it into an interactive online event or you can use it to create a face-to-face workshop. You could even turn it into a standalone training video if you provide your own voice-over to explain the various points further.

Remember, it is not a good idea to start with the slides and then just blindly using them for a workshop or other learning solutions without first considering the needs of your own intended training participants, interview process, etc.

Here are the slides:

The structure

After an initial explanation of what behavioral interviewing is and how it works, the slides focus on 5 steps that can help explain how to implement this approach as an interviewer.

Designing an Interview Training Workshop, use these steps as a guide:

  1. Define the group of people who are the intended participants in your training workshop – what do they know, what do they need to know, (if they have done interviews already) what goes wrong, what goes right when they have done interviews in the past? What does all of that mean for what you need to accomplish with this workshop?
  2. Define an overview of what you intend them to know and be able to do after the workshop. (You can only do so much during a workshop so be realistic on what the outcomes might be).
  3. Define what will be included in further detail and exercises during the workshop (bullet points should help you further) in order to meet the goal(s) you have set in point 2 for the group you have defined in point 1.
  4. Set a date when the workshop will be made available so you can remain focused on deadlines that help to meet that date.
  5. Start working on the next level of detail – Consider that you may want to do a combination of training solutions like assigning some online training before they come to the workshop to cover some knowledge you want them all to have at the start of the workshop. Also, work out your bullet points into a “storyline” that logically structures the sequence of topics to be covered and exercises you will use to help build competency in using specific tools or approaches.
  6. Use the slides I have attached for download (above). Using your answers to the points above – maybe you need ideas about how information can be sequenced? See if any of the sections in the slide deck help you fill in some of your planned learning areas. Maybe some of the exercises could be useful for your workshop?

A friend of mine always says (in Dutch) – you can better creatively borrow ideas from others than come up with something yourself, which is lesser. So use this slide deck, and borrow ideas from it to get your budding Interview Training Workshop to the next level!

Tips for that interview


It is about knowing what you want to say when you answer the questions, but it is also about how you say it. Your credibility and success will depend on both – contents and delivery. While you can get feedback from others on your written answers (contents) and feel confident about that, until you have practiced the delivery, you are only halfway ready for the interview to get the job or role you so desperately want!

Steps

Collect maybe a handful of typical questions asked at interviews (there are several sites that would offer you suggestions for questions to prepare for). Also, look for some specific questions that are logically tied to the role description for the job.

Examples of typical questions include:

  • Give me a summary of your career history and why this role is right for you.
  • Tell me more about yourself.
  • Where do you see yourself in 5 yrs – career-wise?
  • Why are you interested in this role?
  • What is the achievement that you are most proud of in your life?
  • Tell me about the last time you got angry with a colleague?

2. Use the STAR methodology to construct answers on paper/screen to the typical questions you picked. If the question is not in the format “tell me about a time when” – you can still use the STAR method by answering “The situation was… X, I had to do Y, Here is what I did… Z, and the outcome was AA and this is why I believe/want/have this approach… (explain your answer)”. In some cases, STAR may not the be right way to go about giving an answer. (Link to explanation of how STAR methodology works)

3. Use structured messages (especially if STAR may not be the right approach for your answers) See post about how to structure messages. In principle – look for 3 key points you want to bring across to answer the question or explain something. The power of using 3 points is that humans remember 3 points and it satisfies something primal in us to hear answers in 3’s. Tell us first “There are 3 reasons why” and then tell us that one by one.

4. Practice your prepared answers a few times until you feel that you have reached a satisfactory level of delivering the right message in the right way – answering the questions you have selected.

5. Time to record yourself. Get out your video recorder/tablet/phone and record yourself answering the questions one by one.

How to use the recording(s) of yourself answering the questions:

How to review your recording

Turn off the sound! – Watch your body language and look for moments when you find your body language possibly distracting from your message. It could be that you keep sweeping your hair behind your ear, or you fiddle with a pen or your glasses or you do not make eye contact. Make notes about that to yourself.

Don’t watchlisten! – Watch it again without looking at the screen, just listen to your answers… does your voice sound steady? Is it clear? Do your answers come across crisply and credibly? Make notes for yourself.

Watch and listen! For the 3rd time, watch the recording with the sound on. How does your body language compliment your answers? Where do you wish you didn’t play with that object in front of you because it made your answer sound tentative? Or did you look away from the camera while saying something important? Make more notes.

6. Use your notes and adjust your answers as needed to improve on the contents. And practice answering them in a new way.

7. Find someone who has interviewed others in the past to listen to you. Ask him/her to ask the questions one by one and deliver your answers (updated words and delivery as per your adjustments). Ask for specific feedback on areas where your answers or delivery could be better.

Having made the adjustments and delivered your answers to the best of your ability on the day of the interview does not always mean the job is yours. There are many reasons why good candidates do not go to the next level of interviews. Do make sure you learn from your experience if you are not successful. Ask for specific feedback after the interview – regarding areas where they felt you did not meet expectations. Then use that as a checklist for the next time you prepare for an interview.

Preparing to facilitate a Team Session


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The success of team events or sessions can be more predictable when facilitators gather information from invited participants and stakeholders before planning the agenda, activities, and presentations.  Knowing more about the current issues and expectations can greatly enhance your chances of ensuring the team faces what they need to focus on and deal with that in a constructive way.

The source I am sharing, is a list of pre-session interview questions which could help you get a good foundation about the team: what is working, what could be better and how each of the interviewees sees the situations faced by the team.

Some important notes about pre-session interviews:

Starting right
  • If the team members do not know you (the facilitator) yet, be sure to introduce yourself to each interviewee and mention your role in the upcoming planned session. They may have additional questions about your background and experience in this area and why you are working on the planned session. Be prepared to summarize these points before you get into the interview.
  • Make sure you can explain to what degree the responses will be confidential. You would typically want to share a summary of responses with the session attendees to help set the scene on the day and perhaps use that to initiate a discussion or lead into an activity to address something that was mentioned by several participants during the interview. Will you be word-smithing the responses to protect the identity of interviewees? Or will you share the raw data? You need to be transparent about that.
  • Why are you asking? Be sure to explain how the answers and responses will be used to plan the session and help the team move forward and past any obstacles that may be holding them back.
  • Let them know upfront that their questions about the session will be answered during their time with you (the interview).
Planning your approach
  • Will you interview individuals or groups of individuals that work in a specific department or functional group? Think this through carefully with regards to the advantages and disadvantages of this choice before you make that decision.  I usually recommend that the number of session participants is no more than about 20 – 25 people and I prefer to know each individual’s responses before I finalize my planning for the session. This means I interview each person separately. But I can also imagine that the team/project culture and approach could make it useful to interview small sub-groups within the team.
  • In person or online? I prefer to do the interviews in person to allow me the opportunity to ask follow-up questions on the spot. Sitting with someone and talking through the questions gives you the opportunity to also watch their reactions or pauses after each question. This can indicate whether some topics may be sensitive to the interviewee and again you could choose to ask more questions to better understand the issues at hand.
  • The right number of questions. It is important that the interviews do not become exhausting. Accept that you will not be able to ask every single question that you may have for the planned participants before the session. Some questions are best worked out by the group at the session. Be very selective and critical – ask only questions which will help you prepare for the session. The interviews are not intended to replace the planned group/team session.

The questions in the (download available above) resource range from understanding expectations to identifying possible issues that the team needs to address. It includes some questions which may help with understanding possible issues that could pose an obstacle to team success.  Some of the questions are also specifically there to help team session participants envisage themselves being a positive contributor to the success of the session.

I do not suggest that all of the questions would be relevant to every session that you would plan, as the facilitator. Instead, I suggest that you use the ones that make the most sense for the session you are working on and feel free to add additional questions as needed in order to improve your understanding in the relevant areas that the session needs to cover.

Finally, it is important to realize that just the fact that you are asking questions and providing interviewees an opportunity to discuss their thoughts and impressions is in itself already a change management intervention. You are setting the scene for the session and helping to shape participation before the session. This could greatly enhance group dynamics and ensure the success of the planned session.

Job Candidate Summary template


After interviewing some candidates for a vacancy it is easy to start getting confused about how the candidates compare to each other. If you have used the template for capturing information during interviews Job Applicant Interview Record then you will have a stack of records from those who have interviewed the candidates you are currently considering. How to bring it all together?

The template I am sharing here will help you with that:

Interviewers can also use this sheet to score each candidate they interview for a vacancy and then provided completed sheets back to the recruiter who consolidates all input received into one summary for final discussion and decision-making.

Change column headings in this template to match the key criteria that you have used in your Interview Records for this vacancy and use the average scores that each of the candidates have obtained from interviewers when you create this summary. The Totals column adds up the overall score for each candidate so you can see how the scores compare and which candidates have scored better than others. This template is useful to the recruiter in advising the Hiring Manager on the outcomes of interviews in order to plan the next steps for that vacancy.

Variation option:

You can add a row for weighting specific criteria in the spreadsheet. For example if you believe that one of the items is much more important than the others – could be language skills, or supervisory experience – you can decide to give it a higher importance by adding a higher “weighting” to it. (All of the weights for each of the rated categories together should add up to 100)

The overall scores are now created by multiplying the score for each category with the weighting that you have assigned – based on the higher importance of some items.

The Job Candidate Summary template can help you create one simple document which contains all of the feedback received about a candidate during the interview phase. And this greatly benefits a focused discussion about next steps with the Hiring Manager.

Exit Interview Template


Unexpected employee resignations can often be alarming. More so if the resignations come from star employees whom you had high hopes for in terms of future expert or leadership roles at your company. How will it impact your project and your team, you may wonder? The question I would ask is, was it avoidable?

The Exit Interview helps with gathering feedback on employees’ decisions to leave the company and what next steps they are planning to further their careers elsewhere. This structured interview can greatly support your ability to narrow down the reasons for the exit and whether you have any large internal issues to address to avoid more people leaving the company.

While it appears to be a written survey, it works well as an interview conducted in person and then the interviewer (usually from HR) can complete the survey later in order to capture the answers from exiting employees in a structured way. Based on your company set-up and employee conditions you may want to add some questions or statements to be rated. Just avoid overloading the employee with too many questions. Perhaps you can remove some of the existing questions if you decide to add any?

Tips:

  • You could  choose to use this as a survey which the departing employees complete independently. I would however recommend that you ask these questions as part of an exit interview conducted in person as it offers the opportunity to ask follow-up questions to clarify answers to make sure you really understand the factors that led to the decision to leave the company.
  • There is a good chance that the departing employee may not tell you the truth. Sometimes they are afraid you may give them a bad reference in future if a prospective employer called you up. Other times they may be worried about being the whistle-blower on an existing organizational issue in terms of potential impact on any friends they still have at the organization. It may be worth considering the use of an outsourced vendor to gather feedback from departing employees before or just after they have left.
  • Do take the time to review feedback received from exit interviews to determine whether you or anyone else at your company may need to take actions to improve a situation, revise benefits, improve communications to employees on specific topics etc. These actions may be exactly what is needed to avoid other employees from leaving for similar reasons.
  • Mind confidentiality around these interviews. Be sure to be honest with the departing employee on who will get to know about the information shared and stick to the agreement.
  • Talk to those employees who remain with the company and make sure they understand how much you value their continued service and loyalty to the team/organization. When a prominent person leaves – whether a subject matter expert or a much-liked leader – people may start wondering about their own careers and consider leaving too. Taking employee retention actions and communicating especially to those in key roles will go a long way towards putting people’s minds at rest.

It is never easy when you lose good employees and respected leaders and experts to the competition. The best you can do is make sure you learn from the event and take the actions you need to avoid recurrence of an unplanned exit.

How to record Job Applicant Interview results


Comparing multiple job applicants after the interviews are complete can be tough to do if you did not capture your impressions in a structured way. Without a structured process to capture impressions various forms of bias can creep into your decision-making. For example… most people tend to prefer people who are more like they are and therefore tend to hire people who are most like themselves. And it is also true that we often have a “feeling” of whether we like someone or not within the first 5 minutes of the interview. Trying to ignore these unconscious biases is hard to do without a structured process to capture your interview results.

The template (download button is below) is a way for you to be more diligent in capturing specific feedback from the candidate as it relates to the job description and requirements for the vacancy. Avoid making decisions about whether or not to hire a person during the interview. Instead focus on the gathering the relevant data needed for making those decisions. A structured interview record can go a long way towards helping you do just that.

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