Listening for the Story (A Manager’s Guide to Conducting a Great Interview)

Season Three B, Episode Three. Podcast recap! (And if you missed the podcast, you can find it here.)

Podcast Recap: Season 3b, Episode 3

In this week’s podcast we focused on tips for managers to be the most successful and effective they can be when conducting an interview.

Oh sorry, you thought it was just the job applicant who had to prepare for an interview? Nope. Wrong.

You’ve Got Some Work to Do

You may recall that we spent some time talking about how a job applicant needs to spend some time thinking about “their story.” How does their experience best answer potential interview questions? We coached people to learn to tell their stories in a way that ensures that you, the interviewer, is hanging on every word and seeing the obvious link to the skills and traits you are looking for.

That last bit, “the skills and traits you’re looking for,” is the key, and preparation is required to make sure that you remember, during those long hours of interview panels, exactly what it is you are hoping to hear. When you design your interview questions, consider,

“Do my questions:

  • align with the both the skills and the character traits that were outlined in the Job Description and Job Ad that I posted?” (Remember, if you want to hire a Gen Z and you posted an awesome Gen Z job description, don’t slip back into tedious Gen X interview behaviours – be consistent!)
  • help me uncover things that may not be on the resume?” (Behavioural qualities like emotional intelligence and comportment.)
  • help me validate resume content?” (Sadly, some people hire others to write their resume, and have no idea what’s in it.)

You’ll also need to decide whether you require an assignment, and whether that should be pre-work (rare, since people can get help with these) or post interview work completed on site (more common).

Finally, consider the time available, the panel interviewing with you (do they have any questions to add or will you simply be reviewing your questions and goals with them), pare down your questions to the most important, and then create a scoring template to use in the interview.

This template can be as simple as a list of the questions, a number of points awarded to each one out of the total points available (a weighting factor), and a few words to remind you what you’re listening for. For example:

Q1: What is it about this job that encouraged you to apply? (15/100) [Listen for: passion, desire to transform things and make them better, well-spoken, confidence.]

Q2: Tell me about a time you had to get information from a variety of people in our global organization, and were not able to meet with them face-to-face? (10/100) [Listen for: problem solving skills, technology solutions other than email, seems to truly like people and talking with them.]

While I’ve Got You Here…

Asking the questions is the easy part. The hard part is listening.

Can you be fully present and engaged in what the person is saying? Is your phone buzzing in your pocket? Do you keep checking your watch? Are people tapping on your door, disrupting (even unintentionally) the interview?

Do everything you can to respect this person’s time, even if you can tell right away that they aren’t the right person. You never know who you will meet again in the future, or whether that person will be able to connect you to someone else. Also, it’s common courtesy.

Other notes on etiquette when conducting an interview:

  • watch for cues you may be giving unintentionally,
  • balance between serious and smiling/encouraging,
  • demonstrate the type of manager you’re going to be – role model your expectations – be on time and make an effort to look like you’re excited about this,
  • set expectations that the interviewee should mange their time, and
  • be kind. Getting people to relax will enable you to more effectively gauge their soft skills.

Lastly, listen for the interviewee’s story, assess their behavioural qualities and how they carry themselves (making allowances for fumbles and word slips at the start due to nerves), and take notes.

Notes are important so you can have an informed discussion with the panel after the interview, so you can support your decision, and so that you can carry out a debrief, if asked, after the interview. They also give you something to focus your mind (it’s hard to think about tonight’s game or tomorrow’s presentation when you’re taking notes).

But Wait, There’s More!

Other than making your decision and bringing in your new employee (which we will cover in our next episode), there is one last thing you may need to do, if asked.

Smart people always request a debrief if they are the unsuccessful candidate. They seek to understand what they could do better next time, and even look for suggestions on how to improve.

Many managers are terrified to conduct debriefs, almost always because they are uncomfortable giving feedback. The best way to prepare to give a debrief (other than reading this blog post), is to take 5-10 minutes, and write down what you want to share with that person. There’s no need to go overboard and gush about how awesome it was to talk to them and how they did a great job but it just wasn’t the best fit and how you really liked them and it was a close call.

That’s garbage feedback and it would be better not to bother at all.

What you want to do is schedule a 15 minute phone call, and go over three things that you felt were missing from the interview, or that could be improved. Consider phrases like:

  • I have a couple of ideas to share with you for your next interview.
  • With respect to project management (or whatever topic you want to focus on), what I was looking for was a specific example of what YOU did, and I only heard about the team.
  • We are looking for someone who has the confidence to take on difficult situations, and you seemed pretty nervous. Of course nerves are normal in an interview, but you didn’t seem able to get more settled and more confident as the interview went on.
  • I think you could use some rehearsal / practice / experience.

The key is to give specific feedback that highlights what you DIDN’T see/hear, and how the candidate could take action and improve.

Lucky for you, we have a handy dandy template, and we are happy to share it with you:

Interview Debrief One Page Template

You have done a lot of work to get to the point where you’re ready to interview someone, and (hopefully) so have they. Do that last little bit of preparation so that you can listen effectively for their stories and know without question whether they are a good fit for their team. Then be prepared to give feedback and pass on your expertise – you never know when that good karma will come back to you.

Until next time,

Ruth.

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