Interviewing Techniques


I am a big fan of the maxim, “hire for attitude and train for skill”. Naturally, there are specific job competencies that require formal qualifications or proven skill, but these are almost the minimum requirements of the job. A valid piece of paper or a track record gets the candidate in the door, but the personal attributes are the tipping point.

The best way to ensure that you are hiring right is to make sure that you are very clear what the ideal candidate would be. The starting point has to be the job profile and the standards pertinent to that job. These are the documents that speak to the very necessary competency based questions that need to be raised in the interview. Next, you need to consider the company culture and the nature of the work. Is it back-office and detailed or front-end and fraught with customer demands?

Planning a question sheet ensures that you keep on the straight and narrow Vis a Vis legally acceptable questions and those that may be discriminatory. It also helps the interviewer to think creatively about how to obtain the information required to fairly assess the candidate. Open questions and asking the interviewee to ‘share’, or ‘describe’ or ‘explain’ encourages the person to speak and allows you to assess their approach to work and their problem-solving skills.  The questions are meant to be prompts, not a script. It is preferable to allow the conversation to flow naturally, rather than appearing to be an interrogation.

It is important to remember that quality candidates are assessing your/your company’s attractiveness, as much as you are assessing them.  Ensure that you have a pleasant and quiet space for the interview and observe the social niceties of offering refreshments and trying to put the candidate at ease. Relaxed interviewees reveal more about themselves than people who are on edge. If you’re seeking a professional, friendly can-do person, then that is the kind of behavior they will be expecting from you. Take detailed notes during the interview. You would be surprised at how your memory blurs after four candidates. Note-taking is also a sign that you are taking the person seriously.

Personal attributes are difficult to assess and we do need to be careful of cultural bias. I was fascinated to listen to callers on a radio show discussing handshakes. Western culture judges a limp handshake negatively, but a fair number of callers said that in their culture a firm grip is seen as being disrespectful or even aggressive. A better way of assessing how that person interacts with others is to have them wait a few minutes where they can interact with other people in the business. How do they engage with their potential co-workers? Can you see a cultural fit? (I refer to the culture of the business – informal and collegiate or formal and more reserved?) A front end customer service job will require friendliness and energy. What are the verbal and non-verbal behaviors that the person shows?

People read non-verbal cues or body language all the time, we just don’t always realise we are doing it. By making an attempt to watch the candidate and by listening attentively to what they are saying and not saying, the interviewer gains a fuller picture. If the person shows unease or breaks eye contact when asked a particular question, this is a signal to dig a little deeper. If the person pauses and considers the answer, while still appearing comfortable, this would indicate good thinking skills.

Encourage the person to ask questions about you and the company. Their questions will often reveal if they have done any homework and indicates whether they are seeing this as a stop-gap, just a job, or a long term career commitment. On that note, if your business is very small, hiring a high-flyer is probably doing you and the candidate a disservice.

Ensure that you have the right contact information for the person and thank them for the time. Professional courtesy and your business image is their last impression of you. Even if you don’t hire the person, they may be a customer one day!

Key take out: An interview is a two-way street in which both parties should be putting their best foot forward. Preparation is vital to asking the right questions so that you can make an informed decision.

Author: Janet Askew

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    It’s easy to fall foul of labour laws when interviewing potential employees. Take the time to think and plan to get the right person in the right way for the right job
    And hiring the right person to fit your organisation and your vision requires careful consideration and the best use of interview time. The wrong person could cost you your business.
    As an entrepreneur that started out as a small business with very ittle experience about all the business legalise I employed people Ihad met or knew or people recommended to me etc. In the early days Ididnt have any idea about employment contracts what i needed to do when hiring and the Basic Conditions of Employment Act and the CCMA to my detriment I might add!!!. I have learned sometimes the hard way that no matter how small your business is you need help from an expert in drawing up employment contracts and understanding the issues and i have learned that friendships and loyalty mean very little when things go wrong. As they say Divorce can be expensive So my advise to all you passionate small business entrepeneurs is get professional help on this element of your business .... it will help in the long run
    I hope it is not too early to get controversial. I would love us to address the pretentious nature of the interviewer and interviewee on the BIG DAY. To overtly impress and over-sell our skills and offerings. Reality hits us in the face when the job is secured then the place of employment or the new employee does not live up to expectations. These techniques are true in theory but I strongly believe the interviewing process needs assessments that are more diligent. A documented process that is followed by a series of practical work. This legitimises our on-going commitment to one another. No?
    Another interesting observation I have had over the past 15 years is that as the article says it attitude and a match of your passion and the employee's that creates lasting realtionships. It has been one of my on going discussions that when the attitudes of the leader entrepeneur and the team dont match then your small business takes a beating. The wrong attitude in your small team will drain the energy and passion from everyone. And many times the only things us entrepreneurs have in the early days is a lot of energy and passion. So look for a similar energy and CAN DO attitude because it s very time consuming and draining having to try to motivate your team.... look for self motivated and positive people who are looking for the solutions and not the problems
    Ionce opened a CCMA case against an employer based on an inadequate induction. As much as my previous employer learned from that process I also learned to ask the right questions. Crucial questions that should have been asked in the interview like has someone else done this position and can hand-over with me? What are your expectations of me?
    We’re living in one of the toughest hiring climates of all time. An article on that supports your stance of looking for synergy:
    Finding the right people is a vague and subjective thing but along the lines of question that was posted about leadership is if you can establish that the people you interview have a positive attitude then the chances are you're mentoring will strengthen their skills. Transferringskills requires a receptive person who wants to learn and grow and who has an advernturous and entrepreneurial spirit. Of course not all positions are entrepreneurial but i have an amazing friend who is an accountant and a financial director and yet i have never met a better ambassador salesman and marketer for a company than him. So even accountants need a spirit of sales and entrepreneurship
    Agreed! That's the beauty of being a small business and not a corporate. Because (corporate) company culture often overlooks the outliers. It actually isolates some people even more than they would be in another scenario. It's like that awkward moment when a potential employer askes you about the trash you tweeted a few days ago. Do you deny who you are to fit in (state that it was a spur of the moment thing) or remain true toyour identity which will probably result in you not being hired based on conservative company culture.
    Hi Nok Pretense is particularly true for small business owners that are starting out. Sometimes its a small business doing big work but not big enough tobe able to afford to pay staff corporate salaries or offer the same perks.Its trying to get staff to believe in a vision when hiring too.
    Yes! Skills can always be learnt attitude cannot...
    What are the sort of things we should look for when hiring - skill set aside?
    I've learn't not to hire junior people only. Hire people that are better than you and that are subject matter experts. It will reallytake your business to the next level. This is not easy when starting out and cashflow is not great - but I fell in the trap of only hiring juniors and you land upin trainer mode whilststill doing all the work yourself. There's a fine line between mentoring interns and getting the work done to increase the business income. Get some qualified people on board and support with interns.
    Yup - and you're only as good as your last delivery/interaction.