How to Conduct a Successful Interview

What the Interview Is[n’t] For

The first major error that people make is they treat the interview as a skill test. If you are not yet convinced that the person has the skills to do the job, why in the world are you wasting your time talking to this person? Remember: you almost certainly have more work on your plate than you know what to do with (that’s why you’re hiring, right?). You can’t afford the risk that you are going to spend time talking to someone who turns out to be incompetent. Before anyone comes into your office for an interview, you should be relatively certain that they have the requisite skills to do the job. If you need them to pass tests, create something that is easy to score and that they can do on their own (but whose end-product demonstrably cannot be used in any way — be ethical!). If you believe that you need to observe their thinking style or ability to do teamwork, feel free, but confine it to sessions of 60 minutes or fewer. If you have any other reasons for wanting to observe their work, or you need to do an extensive skill test (e.g., Can they finish a project quickly enough in our fast-paced company?), use a contract-to-hire method so that they are getting paid for the work. If you are extra-skittish, you can negotiate a fixed cost and level of quality for the deliverable, but do understand that you will need to explain why you need to stipulate this or risk looking bad.

Setting Up the Interview

Regardless of how far in advance you set the interview (or not, as the case may be), make sure you send the candidate information about the company, what to prepare, and how to prepare. In fact, it’s often a good idea to send out the questions that the candidate should be able to answer — you might choose to pose the actual questions differently, but if they are prepared with the information, they should have no problem with alternative queries. Send out the dress code, location (be very specific about this), time, and a list of the people they will meet (down to the person who greets them at the door). You should also request that they prepare at least three questions to ask you.

Conducting the Interview

In the setup, you should have determined all of the information that you need to get from the candidate, and everything you need to learn about him/her to make an effective decision. This is generally what is meant by making sure you ask every candidate the same questions (going down a list is ridiculous and robotic — if you’re going to do that, make it a pre-test, or don’t do it at all). The interview should be a conversation, with the pre-set questions a skeleton for you two to flesh out in conversation. It often helps to keep it in front of you and to take notes on it (leave space) so that you can be sure you get the information you need out of the interview.

An Example (With Questions I Ask)

When I hire research assistants for my lab, here are some of the questions I ask (and why I ask them):

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Orin Davis

Orin Davis

Self-actualization engineer who makes workplaces great places to work. PI at Quality of Life Lab (www.qllab.org). Consultant. Professor. Startup Advisor.