Danielle M. Verderosa

Danielle M. Verderosa

President, HR Allies

Five Tips to Conduct Interviews with Substance

Do you remember your first job interview?  Not the one where you were the one being interviewed – the interview that you did when you were hiring someone else.

Even if you’re not in human resources, a small business owner, or an official Hiring Manager, you’ve probably been asked to informally interview a candidate and give feedback on them.

But no one ever trains you how to interview, so you sort of wing it.

Here’s how my first dozen-ish interviews went:


Me (reading resume): So you currently work at XYZ company?

Interviewee:                            Yep.

Me:                                         And in that position, you do (reads bullet points directly from resume)

Interviewee:                            Yep.

Me:                                         Great. And before then, you worked at XYZ company?

Interviewee:                            Yep.


You can see how this interview technique played out, right?

After a while, I wised up to the idea of asking actual questions that required thoughtful answers from the job candidate. Those questions came from “interview questions I heard in pop culture or that I seem to remember being asked myself.”

Where do you see yourself in five years? Why should I hire you? And (gulp – I am still mortified by this one) What makes you tick?

And regardless of how someone answered my interview questions, I’d ultimately make a hiring decision based on “Did I like them?”

The trouble with amateur interview techniques – besides the fact that a candidate’s answered those dull, unimaginative questions so many times that they give rote answers – is that they have very little relevance to what someone really wants to learn about a candidate.

Here are some tips on conducting interviews that have more substance:

  • Make the candidate feel welcomed and relaxed at the start of the interview, but fight your instinct to explain about the job, position, or company when you kick off your conversation.  Yes, it seems like good manners to put everything in context for the interviewee, but giving that information too prematurely will only cause clever candidates to shade their answers to match the information you gave them. Save the explanations until you’ve finished asking them questions.
  • Keep your own talking time to no more than 20% of the interview. An interviewer’s job is to listen carefully, not take the spotlight themselves with their own voice.
  • Ask yourself what you really want to know about a job candidate, then craft bold questions that will require a candidate to give substantive, relevant answers. It doesn’t matter if you’ve never heard of those questions being asked in an interview – in fact, it’s even better.
  • Along with the original questions you’ve created, figure out what answer you’re hoping to hear from the candidate. Rank potential answers in a “good, better, best” way so that you know for sure when a candidate’s answer is a home run or just mediocre.

And though it’s an old-fashioned, softball-type standard interview question, I always like ending my interviews with this question: “Before I explain about this position and what we’re looking for, tell me – what do you already know about the company?”

I like this question, not only because it’s a great transition into the interviewer taking over the communication in the interview, but because it immediately shows an interviewer which candidates took the time and effort to research about your job … and which candidates had such little regard for working for your company that they came to the interview unprepared.

And since candidates have to be expecting to be asked this question, it really shows a lot of “I really could care less about this job” if someone fumbles or stumbles their way through this answer. And no one wants to make a job offer to someone who could care less, right?

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