A job interview is the ideal time for a hiring manager to get a good sense of what a candidate is all about, extending beyond what’s written on their resume and cover letter. Simultaneously, that candidate should be evaluating the office environment and the open position to verify that this is a job they’d be interested in pursuing.
While this conversation is an important one, it can also drag on much longer than necessary if the hiring manager isn’t focused on exactly how the discussion should play out. Before you begin the interview, it’s important to establish exactly what you hope to learn about the candidate.
Here are some essential pieces of information to touch on during the dialogue:
The candidate’s skills and abilities: What do they bring to the table that would enable them to excel in this role? Do they have any special training that puts them ahead of other applicants? Obviously you can see some of this information laid out on a resume, but a job interview allows this person to elaborate in a way that a few pieces of paper simply can’t.
Their desired work environment: Do they thrive when they’re up against deadlines or do they prefer slow yet steady productivity? Do they love nothing more than collaborating or do they prefer solo work? Are they always thinking up innovative new ideas or are they more into executing what’s asked of them? A job interview is the perfect time to figure out how this candidate works best. From there, you can see if the open role would put them in a position to shine.
Their goals as a professional: Finding out what an individual hopes to achieve out of their next career move is a big part of ensuring whether they’ll be a good fit for you. Maybe they hope to get into management, perhaps they are looking to work with different kinds of clients, or maybe they are seeking additional learning opportunities to expand their skills as a professional. Can your company help them achieve their goals?
The struggles they may have faced in the past: Any professional, regardless of job or skill level, is going to run into tough times at some point or another during their career. You want to find out what they do when they encounter these difficult moments.
Asking about particularly challenging times during their professional run thus far enables you to hear about their problem solving skills, attitude, and outlook on life. If they immediately go negative, trash their co-workers and their boss, and lament the situation they faced, you might question whether this individual is a good fit. If they admit that they’ve faced hardship but have learned from it, you can bet that when tough times come around again, they’ll work with their colleagues to move past it.
Once you know what you want to discover during a job interview, it’s important to keep the conversation concise. Failure to do so may yield a discussion that’s all over the place and far too long.
Here’s how to prevent a job interview from going off track:
Have an agenda going into the discussion
When you know what you want to cover and what questions you want to ask, it helps to guide the conversation. Rather than asking extremely generic, open-ended questions and hoping the candidate provides some information that’s of use to you, go in with a set strategy in place.
What kinds of things are you hoping to learn about this individual? What sorts of questions do you need to ask to get there? Don’t feel stifled by “typical” interview questions either. If you don’t really care about where this individual sees their future in ten years, don’t ask about it. If you really want to know how they’d go about solving a real world problem, focus on that instead.
Do your background research ahead of time
Rather than wasting time covering basics about the candidate’s background (education, first jobs, etc.) make it a point to read their resume carefully ahead of time. Instead of having to spend 10 minutes covering the basic information that’s clearly displayed on their resume, you can immediately dive right into the more important questions when the interview begins. This allows you to dig deeper and cover information that’s not immediately apparent as you scan through their materials.
By reading the individual’s resume and cover letter in advance, you also have the opportunity to address any particularly interesting points or concerns you may have right away. If you see a gap in employment history, for example, you can inquire about this. If you find they have a unique certification, you can get details on where and why they received the training.
Stay in charge of the conversation
During the job interview, you may find that the candidate begins to steer the discussion in a different direction than you’d anticipated. Perhaps the person starts detouring off into a fairly interesting, yet irrelevant story about an experience they had at their last job. Maybe they begin doing a deep dive into the specific clients they worked with at their first job 20 years ago. It’s up to the hiring manager to keep the interview on track and to make sure the duration of the discussion is meaningful.
If you notice the person has begun to digress while answering a question, make it a point to step in and redirect. You might want to gently remind them of the question you initially asked, or perhaps you’ll want to prompt them with another question to get them finishing up that thought and moving on to a new, insightful discussion topic.
Throughout the duration of the interview, bear in mind the information you hope to gain from the conversation and continue to redirect the discussion until you get the details you need to make an informed hiring decision.
Know details about the open position and be able to answer questions
While you’ll be posing questions to the individual interested in the open position, you should also be prepared to answer their inquiries about the job they’ve come in to interview for. What are the duties? What is the pay? What types of projects will they be working on?
If a prospective hire fails to ask for any details about the job you’re discussing, it should be a red flag for a hiring manager. Do they care about the position at all? Are they just looking for any job that comes their way or are they truly interested in making a career move?
To keep the conversation moving, have pertinent details about the job on hand so you don’t have to go digging for information or searching for an employee who might know the answer when a question comes up.
Put your personal feelings about the candidate aside
It’s hard not to let personal feelings sway the way your interview goes, particularly if you think the candidate is especially interesting. But in order to keep the discussion productive, it’s best to put your personal biases aside and keep the discussion strictly professional.
You may be tempted to make small talk with this individual about their personal life, their travels, or past jobs, but remain focused on the reason why they’re chatting with you. You’re both there to discuss an available job. Therefore, you should continue to pose questions that directly relate to the open job, answer any questions that the individual may have about this position, and then wrap up the dialogue.
Know how to politely get a candidate to wrap up a question if they’re rambling
In many instances, job interviews get off track because candidates are nervous and begin to ramble. You ask a simple question and they begin to deliver a 10-minute monologue hoping to cover any and all relevant points pertaining to that inquiry. From there, they begin to grab at straws and offer anything they can think of in hopes of making a positive impression. When the whole interview continues this way, you end up trapped in a two-hour long conversation when 45 minutes would have been completely sufficient.
To avoid getting stuck in an unnecessarily long discussion, know how to politely wrap up a candidate and move them along. No need to forcefully interrupt them or tell them they’re rambling, but you can gently encourage them to finish their thought as you pose the next question.
Give hints if a candidate gets stuck
Candidates occasionally get stuck because they’re nervous and end up drawing a blank as they try to provide sufficient responses to a hiring manager’s questions. This results in a conversation that stops and starts with only bursts of productive dialogue in between. Part of the hiring manager’s job is to guide the conversation along.
While you shouldn’t prompt an individual or tell them what to say, know how to assist if someone gets stuck and the conversation gets stalled out. Ask a follow up question, repeat the initial question, or politely wrap up that inquiry and move on to something new. Understand that even the most intelligent, experienced, and well-prepared individuals get nervous and may need some assistance in getting through an interview. This doesn’t mean that they’re unqualified for the job.
Change direction if the question being answered leads to an unproductive conversation
If a question you pose begins to lead the candidate off on a tangent, know how to redirect the discussion so that the individual begins to cover important points once again. Simple questions like “And how did that experience impact you professionally?” or “What did you learn from that? How did that translate into professional growth?” can get them reconnecting the dots and talking about ideas that are relevant to the open position.
Have backup questions on hand
Sometimes when you’re doing an interview, you’ll find the questions you’d prepared aren’t yielding the kinds of answers you’d hope to get out of a candidate. Maybe they’re delivering generic responses and you know there’s something more that they’re not showing you.
In these instances, it’s beneficial to have extra questions on hand. Going down a different line of questioning is sometimes all you need to get the candidate to come alive and deliver interesting responses that give you real insight into who they are.
Keeping a job interview on track requires careful effort on the part of the interviewer. Go into the dialogue with succinct questions on hand. These inquiries should be strategic and should help you to extract the exact information you need from the job applicant, without allowing them a lot of room to ramble about details that may be interesting, but aren’t pertinent to the interview process.
A hiring manager should also be prepared to move an interview along if it stalls out. These techniques enable both parties to share relevant information without wasting excessive amounts of time as you go.