How To Be A Good Interviewer

Mastering an interview is a crucial management skill, but it’s hard to learn. Here are a few guidelines.

How To Be A Good Interviewer
[Photo: Flickr user David Wall]

Interviewing someone for a job is a multifaceted skill. It’s intuitive in some ways, but it’s also about preparation. It’s about listening and simultaneously about evaluating what you’re hearing.


Here are two useful axioms that I’ve learned from years of interviewing:

An interview is a conversation with a purpose. So relax. Thinking of interviewing this way will go a long way towards making you feel and appear more comfortable and take a bit of pressure off the candidate. Be open to giving your impressions, respond to, or reflect on what you’re hearing, and repeat things to be sure you understand. You know, the kinds of things you might do in an actual conversation with someone.

The best predictor of future behavior is past behavior. While I’m biased to reject this notion (who says a person can’t grow?), over time it has proven to be pretty accurate. Try to put what you’re hearing in this context. What about a candidate’s behavior, the way he makes decisions or treats other people or comes up with solutions, can you glean from a particular answer? Look for passions and initiative around those passions (whether in a professional context or not). These are clues for leadership and self-motivation.

With these in mind, here’s how to conduct a successful interview:

Have A Clear Picture Of Your Ideal Candidate

This may be seem obvious, but it’s important to be sure you know what you’re looking for. Do a lot of work in advance defining your ideal candidate and the scope of responsibilities, and the rest will go smoothly.

Don’t Be Uptight About The Position Profile

You don’t learn much about a person if you’re just checking off skill boxes. And you know that ideal candidate you envisioned? They don’t actually exist. So leave breathing room.


Think About The Business Goals And Strategy

Why are you hiring this person the first place? What gap will the successful candidate fill? What is the big-picture business reasoning for the hire? Does this person jibe with that?

Think About Culture And Fit

Always consider a person in the context of your workplace and staff. By the way, this does not mean you should hire someone just like you or your co-workers, but a complementary fit goes a long way towards success.

Your goal is to accomplish two things at once:

  1. Find out what the person has accomplished, how they describe themselves and who they are as people.
  2. Make some judgment about all that. Does it ring true? Are there inconsistencies in what they say and what you observe? Is the person really aware of who they are, how they impact others, what they have learned?

Use “Critical Incident Interviewing”

This is jargon for taking specific things a person has done and gradually peeling back the layers to get to a person’s true contributions by asking subsequent questions. The aim is to learn how the candidate approaches or manages a situation, problem or challenge, and how she thinks about developing solutions for herself and those around her.

Ask Questions About Influence

Ask at least one question about a specific incident in which a person used his or her influence to accomplish something. Most organizations work in teams these days, and lines of authority often change. The ability to influence is important.

Spend Time On Values

What matters to the candidate? What has he accomplished that holds particular meaning for him?


Get A Sense Of Emotional Intelligence

How does a candidate manage himself in a given context? How does he manage others? What skill does he have in understanding the viewpoint and perspective of others and conveying that effectively in action?

Ask About Transitions Between Jobs

It’s very interesting to see where someone starts with this question and what details they choose to illuminate about why they made a move. Ask how your position contributes to the trajectory of their career.

Focus On Qualities Of Leadership

Look for independent thinking, vision, the ability to articulate it so others can understand, emotional maturity, courage and commitment, resilience, integrity, intellect. Leadership is about stewardship: a sense of responsibility about others and the organization. It’s about supporting the growth of others.

In the end, interviewing can be tough. You’re spending a few short hours with someone to then hand over the keys to the kingdom. If the basic skills are evident, spend most of your time on issues of integrity and propensity for leadership, the things you can’t easily teach.