February 23, 2008

Let’s Interview Somebody!

By Paul Bieber

We have talked about inviting the right candidates for your job openings. Let’s talk about the first interveiw. The purpose of the first interview is to see if the candidate meets your minimum standards; at the second interview you’ll decide who the best candidate is from those who meet your standards.

How do you get to the first interview? For a factory job, usually you want to have people apply in person. Set up the interviewing hours before or at the same time as the shift. Don’t expect an applicant for a night shift to come in during the day. For a customer service position, have a phone number to call. You want to hear their voice and their enthusiasm through the phone. For a professional position, ask for resumes.

For the office and professional areas, try to spend five minutes on the phone with potential applicants seeing if they fit your rough idea of the job. Ask them why they are looking for work. If they go negative about their current job, drop them like a hot potato. Without being pushy, ask what their current earnings are–you’ll get a lot of push back here, as people who have special arrangments, like bonuses or commissions want to take time to explain. Ask them to just give you a general ballpark figure. If someone makes 30% more than your job, tell them that you just can’t get anywhere near that figure, and saving yours and their time, don’t offer an interview. People may say that this doesn’t matter, but anyone who is willing to take that kind of pay cut will continue to look for a job that pays them what they were used to making, while they are working for you.

It is wise to have all applicants fill out an application. Take a minute to read this application while you hand the applicant a brochure about your company. Look for neatness and to be fully complete. When looking at job history, look for gaps in time, and question this during the interview.

The first interview should be about 20-25 minutes. You shoud try to speak for less than 10 minutes, letting the candidate speak as much as possible. Your first impression is extremely important, in fact, research has shown that most job interviews are decided in the first two minutes, and the rest of the time is spent being polite. What do you look for to make that first impression? Are they on-time? Are they dressed appropriately? The attire should be one level above their regular job duty clothing. A factory worker should be in clean clothes, a customer service person should look professional. Their first comments should be clear and concise, not rambling. They should hand you a new, clean resume for any supervisory or office position, and if you have applicants fill out a job aplication, it should be completely filled out. If someone writes “see resume” and doesn’t fill out your form, they will always look for shortcuts in the job. Not a good sign. If your application says fill out completely, and they take a short cut, they don’t follow directions well, either. This sounds petty, but believe me, this is true. The applicant should have some prepared questions…it shows they did a little homework and are interested in the position. All this in the first sixty seconds, and then you start the interview.

I’ve always looked to see if a job candidate fit the job and our company first, and then went on to discuss their qualifications for the position. How do you do this? I ask each applicant “What do you want to hear about first, a description of the potential job, or our company benefits program?”. A choice for the benefits tells me this is not our person. When you do discuss benefits, which should be near the end of the first interview, use a checklist to mention all of your benefits.

At the beginning of the interview I try to make people feel at ease. A question about their favorite football or baseball team perhaps. Never politics, religion of their health. I then go into either a short job description or a short review of benefits, based on the previous question. As an interviewer, you should practice this a couple of times, so you cover the key points, and get it finished promptly. Then ask, “Do you have any questions so far?” I intentionally leave one important thing out of the presentation to see if they do ask a question.

Remember, this interview is not the final one, and you can add that information next time.

After your presentation and you ask them if they have any questions, ask this simple open ended question–“So, tell me about yourself”, and let them ramble on. If they ask “What do you want to know?”, say “Just anything you want to tell me about yourself”. Whether they talk about their work history, or themself, take notes. There are many things you can’t ask, (we’ll cover that in an upcoming blog), but for now, just let them talk. If they tell you something, then you know it. I guarantee you will learn more about your candidate with this question than any other.

Next week we’ll go deeper into the first interview, discussing specific questions you can’t ask, and some you absolutely should!