As a child, when your parent was asking a pointed question about something that would get you in trouble, were you nervous? If you were on trial in court answering questions from a lawyer who was trying to stump you, would it scare you? Have you ever felt interrogated and gotten defensive? Most of us have been there.
There’s something nerve wracking about being the one fielding questions and trying to find ways to answer them satisfactorily. But that’s not how a job interview should feel. Our job as a recruiter or manager is to find out who the applicants really are and if they’ll be able to do the job—not just come up with questions to make your candidates sweat.
Here are 7 ways to make sure you conduct interviews in a way that makes applicants feel like they’re having a conversation with a friend, not deflecting impossible-to-answer interview questions:
1. Make the applicant comfortable. Sometimes that means making sure the chairs in the conference room are set up properly. Sometimes that means offering them a bottle of water. Sometimes that just means being friendly and smiling. Then start off with some low-key questions that will soften the applicant up and make sure they know you’re happy they’re there.
2. Ask thought-provoking questions that get applicants talking. Be sure to know enough about the job opening to be an active participant, which will initiate a great conversation and show you how passionate the applicant is about the job. Check out applicants’ body language. Do they light up when talking about the work? Do they bring up topics that would only be known by someone who truly cares and stays up-to-date? Do they have opinions? These are all great ways to tell how passionate the applicant is about the job you’re offering.
3. Most applicants have long-term career plans. Ask the question that tells you where the applicant sees your job opening fitting into that plan. It’s important to know how you can better help develop them as an employee and also how they can fill potential needs in the future. If the applicant hasn’t actually thought about this, isn’t that telling you something as well?
4. Tell stories and ask them to tell you stories. Studies have proven that people remember stories much better than just being told something is the way it is. In fact, a study done at Stanford showed that “stories are remembered up to 22 times more than facts alone.” Besides, who doesn’t love hearing stories?
5. Always give them a chance to start up their own meaningful conversation about your company and talk about how they can add to it. This will tell you if they’ve looked into what your company does and if they’ve analyzed how they will contribute to it.
6. Show you’re truly interested in them. While we don’t want the interview to just be a Q&A, that’s at least better than a monologue. The interview isn’t just about the applicant reinforcing they have the skills to do the job nor is it just a chance for you to talk about how great it is to work for your company. This is a chance to really dig deep into who the applicant is and show that you care about who they are. Respond to their answers thoughtfully and ask them to talk more about certain aspects (in other words, actually make it a conversation).
7. Align the company’s goals with the applicant’s goals. It’s important that you find an applicant who is a good fit for your company, but it’s equally important for your applicant to find a company who is a good fit for their needs. If you don’t pay attention to the goals of both parties, one party will end up feeling dissatisfied with the situation.
Interviewing should be treated like an opportunity to get to know someone, not a process where you pelt a list of candidates with a set of the exact same questions. Candidates will be more comfortable and you will be able to more effectively evaluate whether they will be a good fit in your company. End the interview feeling like you just made a friend. And at the very least, they will walk away feeling like you treated them like a valued individual and not just another candidate responding to a set of questions.