turning the tables: how to be a good interviewer

Ann Marie’s recent post about hiring and the recruitment process in higher education got me thinking.  Many of us, regardless of position, conduct interviews – whether they are for student leadership positions, entry-level professional staff or senior administrators.

I didn’t realize that interview skills (of those on the interviewer side of the table) were not an innate quality, until I sat on a hiring panel with a former colleague.  His lack of interview skills made me wonder: “How do we learn to be good interviewers?”

I never received training on how to conduct interviews, so instead relied on all of my previous experiences with interview processes.  I thought about the things that various hiring panels did to make me feel comfortable (or uncomfortable) as a candidate, and let that help me to determine what was good, what was bad and what was downright ugly (I share a couple of those examples below).   As I moved into the profession, I also paid attention to how colleagues approached interviews, and picked up skills via osmosis (figuratively, of course).

Being a good interviewer requires a different skill set than an interviewee.  I’d like to share some tips for interviewers:

1. If you supervise staff who will be conducting interviews, tell them what you expect.   Provide examples or even do an interview run-through.  Ensure that all staff are aware of ethical hiring practices (what questions they can and cannot ask).

2. Greet the candidate with a smile and a firm handshake, then invite them to sit down.

3. Provide the candidate with water.

4. Have an “interview spiel” prepared and share it with each candidate.  I use this as a guideline:
– thank the candidate for joining you in the interview;
– introduce all members of the hiring panel (names and position titles);
– inform the candidate of how many questions they will be asked and the process for asking them (hiring panel will take turns asking, hiring manager will ask all of the questions, etc.);
– invite them to take a moment to think about their answers before responding if they need to;
– remind them to ask if they need a question clarified;
– let them know that you will be taking notes, so not to worry if you are not making a lot of eye contact;
– remind them of the length of the interview;
– let them know that they will have an opportunity to ask any questions they may have at the end of the interview;
– ask if they have any questions before you get started.

5. Be cognizant of your facial expressions and body language.  If a candidate says something that you disagree with, does your body language display your disparity?

6. Manage your time appropriately.  If you have back-to-back interviews, do your best to stay on track.  It is poor form to keep a candidate waiting for long period of time.  (I once waited over an hour for an interview because the previous candidate ran long).  It’s never a bad idea to build in some buffer time. 

7. Ensure that you have enough time reserved for the candidate to ask any questions they may have.

8. At the conclusion of the interview, inform the candidate of the next steps in the process and your intended time line.  Tell them how you will follow-up with them (email, telephone, etc.).

9. Thank the candidate for interviewing with you and ensure they know how to get back to their car/bus stop/etc.

10. Wait until the candidate has left the room and out of earshot before discussing their interview.  Also make sure that your next candidate is not right outside of the door so they can hear your discussion (I’ve been there – nothing more demoralizing than going into an interview having just heard how much the committee adored the previous candidate and intended on offering them the position).

What other tips do you have for interviewers? What do you do to ensure that each candidate feels valued and respected?



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