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RfH Insights: How to Run Effective Interviews and What Questions You Should Ask

October 22, 2020
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Interviews are nerve-wracking for candidates, especially when it’s their dream job at stake. But applicants shouldn’t be the only ones sweating.

On the other side of the table, there’s a lot of pressure for interviewers to do well. While you might find a great candidate, you might also land on a costly mis-hire — wasting your company’s time and money. We asked Resources for Humans community members to share their “dos and don'ts” around effective interviewing. 

Do: Prepare Questions Beforehand

Without preparation, you won’t get the information you need out of the interview. The purpose of the conversation is to assess whether the candidate is the right fit for the role. That means coming to the interview with a set of questions in mind and sticking to the script. If the candidate is meeting with multiple interviewers, compare notes in advance so the same questions don’t get asked repeatedly.

“Prepare for the interview beforehand. Know the set of competencies you are assessing, the general line of questions you'll be pursuing — and what the poor, good, great version of answers look like,” said S. Lawrence Grobe, People Program Manager at Riot Games. “By determining the framework ahead of the interview, it becomes much easier to prevent unrelated, subjective opinions or bias from impacting your assessment.”

In the same spirit, be sure to take notes either during or immediately after the interview. That way, candidates’ responses will be reflected as accurately as possible ahead of your next post-interview debrief.

Don’t: Ask the Wrong Questions

While there are questions you can’t legally ask, there are seemingly innocuous ones you shouldn’t ask. Consider some of the more generic, cheesy questions that don’t lend themselves to effective interviewing. Some might even ring a bell.

“Tell me about yourself.” “What are your biggest weaknesses?”

Vague questions just lead to vague answers. Instead, interviewers should ask situation-based or behavioral questions to determine how the candidate would actually perform in a particular situation. Similarly, don’t ask questions irrelevant to the job or ones that open the door for unconscious bias to creep in. “Don’t ask questions irrelevant to the candidate’s ability to do the job — like, ‘Where do you live? Do you celebrate X holiday? What’s your relationship with the person who referred you?” said Elexa Broder, Senior Recruiter at Formlabs.

Another community member advised interviewers to steer clear of these topics even if the applicant brings them up first. In her team’s interview guide for new managers, Kristine Tippin, HR Generalist at Swyft Filings recommends that interviewers return to their prepared list of questions and keep any follow-up questions on topic. 

Do: Be Present

Interviews are already daunting — don’t make them worse by seeming distracted or tired while talking to candidates. If you’re stuck in back-to-back virtual interviews, make some adjustments to avoid virtual interview fatigue so you’re bringing your best self to each meeting.

Demonstrate your attentiveness by asking follow-up or clarifying questions throughout. When applicable, refer back to things the candidate mentioned earlier in the session. “Be curious, ask clarifying questions, and come prepared to act as a company ambassador selling the culture,” Broder said.

Active as you want to be, community members stressed that you should stay mindful of your share of the conversation. “Talk more than you listen. Assume the candidate knows your organizational and industry-specific acronyms or standards,” said Vickie Kozhushchenko, Senior Vice President of People & Culture at IntegriChain.

Don’t: Judge Harshly

This year has been hard on us all, including HR teams. But for individuals furloughed or laid off, interviewing is an especially high-stakes affair. While interviewers should always keep an open mind, they should be especially understanding right now. Give interviewees a chance to show you their best selves and above all, don’t judge harshly.

“In this COVID world, you don't know what others are dealing with in their lives. And many have never had a virtual interview. Be kind,” advised Ellie McLaughlin, Director of People Operations at Aprio Cloud.

Franky Rhodes, a recruiter at Lola.com, echoed that sentiment. “We are all riding the same storm, just in different-sized boats...Be transparent. COVID messed up a lot of things for everyone. Talk about the layoffs, the pivots, the changes. None of us are perfect,” Rhodes said. Make the interview a conversation — albeit a professional one — and don’t sweat it if your virtual call gets interrupted. Having a child or pet pop in might even break the ice.

Do: Represent Your Company Well

Candidates aren’t the only ones being evaluated. As an extension of your employer brand, it’s your job to put your company’s best foot forward. That means being able to field questions about your culture and convince in-demand candidates to come aboard.

“Be ready to answer difficult candidate questions about the company. Check out your organization's Glassdoor profile and recent reviews,” Grobe said. You might also get questions about your company’s actions in response to the pandemic, both good and bad. Ground your answers in your company’s values, but, above all, show your human side.

“Make sure that you make the candidate comfortable and show your human side as the interview is as much about you and the company as it is about the candidate,” said Tehseen Jafary, HR Director at The Washington Center. “The candidate needs to see the real you, and evaluate if you measure up to what they are looking for in a manager or organization.”


Have other interviewing tips? Share your dos and don’ts, and see what others are saying about the talent acquisition by joining the Resources for Humans Slack community.