Articles, Essay

Now Hiring: Interview Principles to make Better Selections

hiringHire the Best Person for the job, not just the best interviewer!

In a large, risk-averse bureaucracy there is a tendency to create processes that try to minimize risk. In our hiring process we have reduced the job interview to one that values fairness over effectiveness. Every applicant is asked the exact same questions in the exact same order. Followup questions are verboten. If the applicant doesn’t understand the question, the interviewer repeats the question verbatim.

It’s as if we don’t really want them to work here.

Our most valuable resource is high quality people. To continue our success, we must continue to find, recruit, and hire the best possible people to do the essential work we do. It is inconsistent with this goal to conduct interviews in a manner that doesn’t contribute to it. Too often, our interviews are cold, uninviting, and exhausting. We must change that.

The following principles and guidelines are helpful steps in the right direction.

Guiding Principles

  1. The first PURPOSE of the interview is to predict whether or not a candidate will perform the job well.
  2. The second PURPOSE of the interview is to make the candidate want to work here, even if we don’t select them. Every interaction with the candidate should take place with this in mind.
  3. Check your bias. Don’t rely on first impressions. Use ALL the information available to you to make a hiring decision.
  4. Don’t weight the interview more than other data sources. We aren’t hiring professional interviewers, we are hiring professionals of all kinds to do a variety of challenging things.


  1.  Do your homework. Know what you are looking for this specific job. Structure your interview around learning whether each candidate will perform the job well. Prepare questions and probing questions in a way that will help determine probability of success.
  2. Set the scene to make candidates feel welcome. If your interview room looks like a Senate Confirmation Hearing you are doing it wrong. Candidates who have a positive experience will encourage others to apply, even if they aren’t hired.
  3. Get them to like us and want to work here. Conduct the interview in as casual a manner as possible. A few tips:
    • It’s ok to answer their questions (remember, they are trying to determine if they want to work for us) if they want to know more about us or don’t understand a question.
    • Use probing questions to get them to reveal a solid answer: don’t leave info on the table if a little nudge will bring it out.
    • Don’t ask a question if they already answered it. It’s awkward.
    • Rephrase poorly worded or awkward questions so they are more conversational.
    • Be friendly and give them non-verbal feedback: remember that we actually want them to like us enough to come work here.
    • Be fair with all candidates: make sure everyone interviewed gets the same chance to tell their story. That doesn’t mean we can’t chat, it means you have to pay attention to ensure each candidate covers what you’re looking for.
  4. Minimize your bias. We are all human and therefore are biased about most things. Interview panels’ first bias is that they think they are good judges of character. They usually aren’t. Most interviewers assess candidates in about 15 seconds, and then spend the rest of the time looking for evidence that they were right. Here are a few ways to minimize this:
    • Consciously avoid making any judgement for 30 minutes.
    • Focus on assessing the past performance of the candidate: this is a better predictor of future success than hypothetical questions.
    • Whenever practical use a work sample (hands-on) interview. This is the best predictor of job performance.
    • Use a balanced “whole person” scorecard that assesses the whole candidate, not just their interview skills. There is no need to actually score the interview. Score the candidate and then hire the best one.
  5. Don’t let talent walk out the door. Follow up with every candidate, regardless if we picked them. No candidate should be left wondering, “What’s next?” If we didn’t select a candidate but we think they would be a good addition to the team, refer them to Workforce Management or another section. We need all the great people we can find!

Final Thoughts

Focus on finding, recruiting and hiring GREAT talent. We should not be recruiting average talent: our work is too important! We should aim to hire the best people we can. If you aim for average and miss you get lousy employees. If you aim for Rock Stars and miss, the worst you can do is average.

“You never get a second chance to make a first impression” is an ad campaign from the 1980s for dandruff shampoo. Set aside your “first impression” bias and assess each candidate fairly. First impressions don’t get the work done, high quality people do.

The current job market is not favorable to us: there is no surplus of talent out there trying to get jobs with us. Most of the best candidates already have jobs. We need to entice them to want to work here. The biggest attraction for the people we are looking for: they want to do meaningful work with high quality people. Conduct your interviews in a way that sends that message!

We have a great organization with a great mission. We need to continue to find, recruit, and hire the best people to carry it on.

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