Successfully interviewing candidates is a skill that takes practice and preparation. The purpose of an interview is to weed out the candidates who can talk a good game, but can’t or won’t be able to perform on the job. Many hiring managers warm to a candidate in the first few minutes of the interview due to their charisma and presence. However, the hiring manager will then spend the rest of the interview trying to prove to themselves why that candidate is right for the job – charisma alone is not a valid indicator of job performance. It’s vital that the hiring manager puts these thoughts aside and gives each candidate the chance to pitch themselves.
It’s also worth bearing in mind that some candidates who nail interviews do so because they go to a large number of them, meaning they either a) lose a lot of jobs or b) get rejected from interviews frequently. Rather than prioritising confidence, hiring managers must listen actively to what the candidate says and whether this aligns with the job description. Only then will you be able to determine whether they have what it takes to take on the role. It falls on the hiring managers shoulders to be skilful enough in their approach that they can decipher the good candidates from the bad.
Below is a list of dos and don’ts for the hiring manager to adhere to when interviewing candidates:
DON’T make inappropriate small talk
You should avoid asking questions about relationships, age, religion, gender and race. These characteristics can create bias and are not conclusively related to how well the candidate will do the job. There’s no harm in small talk, so long as you discuss the weather or whether they found the place easily. However, asking specific questions that delve into their private lives can create bias in the hiring process. For example, if you discuss how they had to drop their young children off at school that morning, you might unconsciously feel less inclined to hire them because of concerns about childcare. They might be more than perfectly capable of carrying out the job, but your unconscious biases may come into play and cause you to believe that they won’t be able to fully commit to the job. Who will look after the children in the school holidays? Will the candidate need to leave work early to collect the child from school if they’re feeling ill?
This isn’t just discrimination, but in most cases, illegal. Asking questions about the candidate’s age, religion or other characteristics is incredibly invasive and is not a predictor of their performance. To avoid a lawsuit on your hands, prepare your questions well in advance and get feedback from your colleagues to ensure they’re legal and unbiased.
For more information on bias and diversity in the hiring process, read our blog post: Hiring Managers: How To Hire For Diversity.
DO write things down
Don’t be afraid to jot down notes during the interview. While you may think you have a photographic memory and can recall information about each interview easily, it’s always better to be safe than sorry. Revisiting your notes made during the interview could be the key to deciding between two exceptional candidates. Notes can also come in handy if you need to debrief or consult other hiring managers in the process. All you need to do is remember to bring a pen and paper with you to the interview. You can also make additional notes straight after the interview if there’s spare time before the next interview.
Your notes should be comprised of what stood out about the candidate – both good and bad. This could involve the impressive projects they have led to the number of staff they have oversight of. It’s essentially a way to keep a record of all the key information and important points that you don’t want to forget about later. You could even develop a rating scale and score each candidate out of 10 to make it easier to compare candidates later.
DON’T ask boring questions
Avoid asking the candidates boring and common questions that they will be expecting. You won’t be able to truly test the candidate if they’ve already prepared answers to your monotonous questions. Your questions should investigate their passions and what makes them tick. Understanding the candidate on a deeper level will allow you to determine what they can contribute to the role and whether they’d be a good cultural fit.
For some examples of what questions to ask, read our blog post: How To Interview Candidates: Ask The Right Questions.
DO brush up on the candidate’s job search touchpoints
It’s always a good idea to walk into the interview prepared. Imagine how embarrassed you’d feel if you asked specific questions about their careers, but mixed up two different candidates. You were meant to ask Tony about his experience in Order Fulfillment, not Catherine! This would leave a bad impression of you and create a bad candidate experience, which could cause top-talent to slip through your fingers all because of a daft mistake.
To prevent this from occurring, allocate time to re-read their job search touchpoints (CV, cover letter and LinkedIn profile) before every interview so that your memory is refreshed of each candidate’s background. Doing so might also prompt some additional questions to ask the candidate about specific projects they’ve managed. By personalising each interview, you demonstrate interest and create an excellent candidate experience.
DON’T vary your core interview questions from candidate to candidate
Although you want to personalise the interview and ask specific questions about each candidates experience, your core questions shouldn’t vary too much between candidates. The playing field needs to remain even otherwise you won’t be able to accurately compare the performance of one candidate from another. Follow up questions to their answers and personalised questions are allowed, but these should be few and far between. Don’t place all of your weight on their answers to these questions; perhaps you could ask them at the end of the interview after your core, standardised are out of the way.
DO get the candidate talking
As any good hiring manager will know, the job interview is remarkably different from an interrogation. People tend to reveal more about themselves when they’re relaxed and not placed under stress. You should avoid making it a stressful interview as candidates will be less likely to perform to their true abilities. The more friendly and approachable you position yourself, the more comfortable and confident the candidate will be to talk about themselves.
Be careful not to do all of the talking. This interview isn’t about you or your career trajectory (although the candidate might ask about this out of curiosity), it’s about the candidate and their experience. To encourage them to speak more, ask questions like “how does that sound to you?” and “do you understand what I’m saying?” to further prompt them.
DON’T make it all about you
Get your pitch over and done with in the first five minutes of the interview, and then refocus the interview to be about them. Get clear on your goal; to identify the best candidate for the role. This is going to take some investigating on your behalf. In order to do this, you need to ask the right questions and comprehend their responses. The focus of the interview should be on the candidate otherwise it’s a waste of time. Try not to go off on rambling tangents; keep your questions clear and concise for the candidate to interpret.
DO let the candidate ask questions
A job interview is as much an assessment of you and your organisation than it is of them. Due to this, it’s usually commonplace to switch roles at the end of the interview and allow the candidate to ask you questions. This should be encouraged rather than resisted; it allows them to get a clearer picture of what it would be like to work you. A candidate that asks a lot of questions demonstrates their interest in the role, compared to a candidate that has no questions to ask and is clearly more incentivised by the higher salary.
To answer your candidate’s questions in a succinct manner requires preparation. You should brush up on your knowledge of the organisation before the interview to prevent yourself from being tongue-tied because of an unexpected question. Failure to provide effective and informative answers could result in top-talent slipping through your fingers.
Keep in mind that candidates that only ask about hours and salary are more likely to be clock-watchers. They may be able to ace their responsibilities, but they certainly won’t go above and beyond or contribute much else.
DON’T forget to inform the candidate about the next stages
Many hiring managers are vague when it comes to informing the candidate of what to expect post-interview. It may have just slipped your mind or you may not be organised enough to give an exact timeframe. If you do know the deadline dates, tell them when you expect to make your decision by and whether you will need to consult other hiring managers as this might slow the process. Try to give them a projected timeline of the next stages in the hiring process. It’s also worth mentioning whether they will hear from you if they’ve been unsuccessful, or just whether they’ve been successful. Additionally, let them know what method you will contact them by, whether that’s by phone, email or through an executive search firm. Executives and senior managers tend to have hectic work schedules, so it might be worth asking your candidates what time and what channel they would prefer to be contacted by.
DO be aware of your body language
Your body language can reveal a lot about what you’re thinking. For example, if your arms are crossed, you keep checking your watch and are slumped backwards in your seat, this implies you’re bored and would rather be elsewhere. A candidate that deciphers your body language as uninterested, bored and frustrated will make them even more nervous and they will fail to perform to the best of their abilities. Here you’re not measuring their experience and potential, but how well they perform under pressure. How the candidate performs in an interview is not a true representation of their abilities, so it’s worth keeping in mind how your body language can contribute to this.
As a general rule of thumb, you should sit in a relaxed position, make eye contact frequently and don’t fidget. Your body language here demonstrates that they have your undivided attention.
The interview is your opportunity to identify the best-fit candidate for the role. However, it’s not always a simple and straightforward process; a lot can go wrong during the interview and this requires careful consideration on behalf of the hiring manager. If you can keep in mind the do’s and don’t listed above, this will help to increase your chances of identifying and engaging the best candidate.
For more hiring advice tailored to hiring managers in the life science industry…
- Read Post-Interview Etiquette: A Guide For Senior Managers And Executives In The Life Sciences.
- View our talent solutions to see how we can help you gain a competitive edge through talent.
* Fraser Dove International is a talent consultancy operating exclusively across the life sciences industry. While our roots lie in executive search, we provide more than the traditional recruitment services. Uniquely placed within the market, we have been providing cutting-edge talent solutions and insight to organisations at all stages of their journey – from start-up to established leaders – since 2013.