Interviewing Skills: A HR Management Perspective

You get a call from one of your business managers worried that another new hire is not working out, and he’d like to discuss it. It touches a nerve and is something that as an HR Manager you have been monitoring. The company has been growing quickly, and more interviews have been delegated to business managers. You’re worried that even though you feel that your whole recruitment process is well-designed, it is being undermined by a lack of interviewer skills among some of your managers.

You go through the numbers and find that the attrition rate is high, out of your hundred or so new hires over the past 6 months, about forty have either left of their own volition or have been “let go” during their probationary period. In the back of your mind, you’ve heard figures of £10,000 as a cost per bad hire. Thinking about it, adding in the intangible cost of upsetting other team members, upsetting clients, and missing growth targets, you wonder whether the cost is even greater.

You toy with the idea of undertaking a skills audit among your managers who take part in recruitment interviews, so you can get to grips with the scale of the problem, and what would be required in terms of training. These are the skills that you reckon all of your interviewers should possess.

Active Listening rather than just going through the motions of asking the standard questions and murmuring “good” or “OK” after the candidate’s response and moving on to the next question. Instead, your managers should be asking open-ended questions, seeking clarification, asking probing follow-up questions, and summarising or paraphrasing. They should be attentive and maintain good eye contact while being attuned to candidates’ feelings.

Aware of Bias, both conscious and unconscious so that any observations or opinions that are recorded are seen to be objective and relevant, rather than being subject to challenge because of any perceived or actual bias. Of course, your standard questions will have been through the “objectivity lens” but even so the follow-up and probing questions need to avoid bias and be able to stand up to scrutiny in the event of a claim.

Attention to detail as well as being able to stand back and look at candidates holistically. They should be able to recognise areas that need to be clarified either from a candidate’s CV or previous interview notes and be able to drill down further, seeking consistency. They should be able to record their observations and any issues during the interview, then enter these appropriately on your organisation’s interview summary sheets, either paper-based or electronically.

The flexibility of approach, being able to adjust their question style according to the behaviours exhibited by the candidates. How to deal with the over-confident candidate who brags and may attempt to intimidate or the nervous person who comes across as hesitant and anxious? They should know the techniques for getting the “rambler” back on track or encouraging the “minimalist” who specialises in one-word answers to open up. Some of your very skilled interviewers instinctively do this, whereas others either fail to spot these types, or don’t know how to adapt their technique.

A curious Mindset can be defined as “perpetually seeking new information and experiences,” being open to new things, and new ways of working and being. While of course, your interviewers need to be able to focus on how a candidate’s responses measure up to “what good looks like” on any objective scoring grid that your company uses, they should also be open to innovative answers that may demonstrate real original thinking and the confidence to challenge established wisdom.

Consistency of approach so that they are well-prepared for each candidate interview; that they have read and are “on top of” the job description, the required skills and competencies, and of course have read the candidates’ CV and cover letter. This should reduce inter-observer discrepancies and ensure that all candidates experience a fair and objective recruitment process.

Then of course there is the assessment of a candidate’s technical skills; can they actually do what they say they can, though you’re less worried about this as your managers are all experts in their own field and experienced in assessing technical competence?

Your instinct though is that most poor hiring decisions are a result of a poor cultural fit between the candidate and your company; their values are not the same as those of the company, and conversely, the actual role didn’t turn out to be what they expected. As a rough estimate, you reckon that there are significant skills gaps for maybe half of your interviewers, but you have no real way of assessing this systematically. In the rush for growth and getting more employees on board, your usual routine of sitting in on hiring interviews and assessing the interviewers’ style and technique has fallen by the wayside.

Kirsty Wark

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