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Determining the long term fit between your position and a potential candidate is a tall task ― largely dependant on the interview for input. By taking the following steps to structure your interviews and your questions, you can greatly improve their effectiveness:

Be prepared

Review the candidate’s resume in advance and jot down questions you want to be sure to ask. You’ll convey your genuine interest in the interview and you won’t waste precious time reading during your meeting.

Plan your questions

Asking the right questions can help you better uncover the qualities and skills you are seeking in your next hire. Here are some samples:

  • What made you apply for this position?
  • Can you summarize for me your work history and education?
  • Why are you leaving your present (or last) job?
  • What kinds of co-workers do you like best? Why?
  • How does this job fit with your overall career goals?
  • Can you describe for me your most important career accomplishments? How about your biggest career disappointments?
  • What could make you leave this job?
  • Would you describe how your experience and skills relate to this job?
  • How would you describe your relationship with your last (present) supervisor?

Avoid certain questions

Some questions to avoid during an interview are:

  • How old are you?
  • When did you graduate?
  • Are you married?
  • Do you plan to have children?
  • What is your child care situation?
  • What does your spouse (or parents) do for a living?
  • Where do you go to church?

Be an active listener

Take advantage of the opportunity to get to know the interviewee and allow them to explain their qualifications. As a rule of thumb, the person leading the interview should only do 25% of the talking. Try saving your explanatory information for the end, when you give the interviewee an opportunity to ask any questions they may have. The quality of the questions asked can say quite a bit about the candidate.

Be courteous

Schedule the interview with enough time for you to extend the meeting if needed (suggested duration is 45 minutes.) Avoid interruption by holding your incoming calls and turning off your cell phone.

Set an agenda

Interviews can be stressful. It’s helpful to let the candidate know up front what to expect during your time together, such as format and duration.

Develop rapport

Plan to spend a few minutes breaking the ice. “Small talk” on the weather, their commute and any other “safe” topics helps set the interviewee at ease. Avoid discussions on families and other personal topics that should not influence a hiring decision.

Review technical background

A key outcome of any interview is determining whether the candidate has the necessary skills and experience. To gain a better understanding of the candidate’s knowledge, ask open-ended questions instead of a yes/no format.

Assess cultural fit

More challenging to uncover, personality and behavioral tendencies are critical to observe. Past behavior is the best predictor of future behavior. So ask candidates to describe how they handled (not would handle) applicable situations in the past.

Market the Opportunity!

Give the interviewee the reasons why the company is successful and the role is a desirable one. Be enthusiastic in your telling of why you enjoy working there.

No compensation talk

The purpose of an initial meeting is to evaluate potential fit― both technical and cultural. Discussions of salary and benefits are best accomplished during a follow-up discussion.

Outline next step

Candidates may be evaluating more than one opportunity. So let them know where you are in the process and when you expect to reach a decision. It’s a good idea to provide candidates with your business card, so that they may readily follow up with a thank you note or additional questions.