4 Tips for Conducting Better Interviews

1. Focus on Strengths, Not on Weaknesses

“The effective executive makes strength productive. He knows that one cannot build on weakness.” So wrote management guru Peter Drucker back in 1967.

An employee won’t succeed massively in your company unless her best strengths match your biggest needs. Focus on exploring how her personal strengths made her biggest accomplishments possible, then check whether these match up with the strengths most needed in the open role.

Should we ignore weaknesses altogether? Probably, unless they’re so detrimental (for example, anger management issues) that they will significantly undercut the candidate’s strengths.

2. Determine the Candidate’s Ideal Environment

Does the environment you provide enable her to fully actualize her strengths? Most of us have had the experience of feeling unable to give everything we had to offer, whether because of an overbearing boss, a lack of resources, or many other reasons. Spend time with your candidate exploring the context that made her biggest achievements possible, then ascertain whether she’ll get that same support from your organization. Include aspects such as support from other people, motivation structures, work/life balance, and even physical environment.

3. Make the Candidate Comfortable

We’ve all heard stories of brain teasers or trick questions (“How many golf balls fit in a school bus?”), but these rarely predict future success. We want to focus on strengths and ensure we get the most accurate evaluation possible. Since most of this information will be provided by the candidate, putting the candidate at ease and allowing her to open up more candidly has real value.

Empathize with the candidate. Scrutiny rarely feels good, so do what you can to promote a feeling of open dialog and partnership. The candidate should walk away convinced that you want the best for both parties.

4. Avoid Hypotheticals Whenever Possible

Hypotheticals have little to no predictive value of future performance, because they evaluate how well candidates can tell you what you want to hear--not whether they can deliver it.

Instead, focus on discussing past achievements or examining work product. Determine the measure that matters most to you--for example, some technical interviews check for a baseline of familiarity with a given technology, while others focus on exploring a candidate’s thought process, even if the answers given are wrong.

And avoid “homework” if you can. It bloats the hiring process and can cause the excellent but busy candidates to opt out. If you want to evaluate work samples, request samples of past work, or incorporate a work exercise as part of an in-person interview process. Whatever you do, be sure that the work sample or test is highly related (hopefully predictive) of the candidate’s performance on the job.