When it comes to improving job interview performance, there’s lots of advice on the web for job seekers. But what if you’re the one doing the interviewing, or who owns the company that needs new staff?
Conducting a terrific job interview is just as much of a learned skill as any of the job skills for the position you’re trying to fill. With a little preparation and practice, you can master the art of the interview and improve your company’s chances of winning over top talent for open positions. Follow these simple tips to ensure an exceptional experience for both you and your candidates.
1. Be clear on what you’re looking for in a successful applicant.
Obviously, before you begin interviewing applicants, it’s important to take some time to define the characteristics you’re looking for in an ideal contender.
Be clear on your criteria as well. Knowing what you’re looking for—someone who’s excellent at sales, for example—is just the first step. You’ll also need to know how you’ll be able to distinguish “sales excellence” from lesser standards.
How will you know when you’ve found the right candidate? A combination of factors can tell you, depending on your needs. For example, you can look for educational accomplishments and degrees, professional certifications, references, pre-employment tests, recommendations and more. The essential part is to make this decision upfront so you’ll know what you’re looking for during the interview process.
Don’t neglect company culture. Even the most qualified and skilled applicant can be a poor fit if there’s no alignment with your company’s existing environment and atmosphere. The right personality and attitude can be just as important as the right skills.
2. Understand the legalities of a job interview.
You may really want to know the answer to a specific question during a job interview. And, you may even be able to articulate a perfectly plausible reason for asking it. However, if that question is prohibited by law, that rationale won’t matter.
Inquiring about any protected category of personal information during an interview can land you in hot water. These categories include race, national origin, religion, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, pregnancy status (or plans), disability, age, citizenship or marital status.
Just remember to keep your questions firmly within the boundaries of the applicant’s ability to fulfill actual job duties. Questions about skills, experience and education are therefore relevant; questions about how old someone is are not. If you’re concerned about some aspect of physical job performance, ask that question instead of inquiring whether the person is disabled. For example, you can ask whether the candidate can regularly lift 50 pounds or stay on their feet for long periods of time.
3. Pick your questions carefully.
Frame your questions carefully and don’t simply pick random questions out of some list. The questions you ask should be tailored to your company and the position in question.
Distinguish between skills, ability and experience. You can teach skills to someone with the right innate abilities. Frame questions to elicit the information you really need based on which of these are most important to the position in question.
Trick questions may not be as revealing as you think, and they can sour a good applicant on your company before you even finish the interview. If you choose “creative” questions, make sure the way they’re phrased is designed to elicit actually relevant information.
4. Tell your candidates what to expect in the job interview.
There’s no need to make the interviewing and job application process a mystery. Explain to your interviewees exactly what’s going to happen when the interview is scheduled.
Let them know where and when the interview will take place, but also tell them who will be doing the interviewing—both name and title. Don’t hide the ball or try to spring a surprise on them. The more upfront and honest you can be from day one, the more highly the candidate will think of your company.
5. Give the candidate time and space to respond.
If you find yourself thinking “How long have I been speaking here?” you may have fallen into a very common interview trap: forgetting to let the candidate answer the question, or even forgetting to ask the question in the first place.
Remember the purpose of the interview. It’s supposed to be a conversation, not a monologue.
6. Give yourself plenty of time, too.
Don’t try to rush through this process. Rather, look for ways to schedule in buffer time before and after the appointed time. Use this to review the candidate’s application, résumé or CV, as well as to make notes, preview your questions, and prepare for the interview itself.
This article originally appeared on entrepreneur.com.