December 29, 2018
Prepare to Interview your Candidates
You are about to start interviewing your candidates. Are you sure you have all the basics covered? In this piece we review some of the fundamentals to make sure you are out to a good start
“Prepare, prepare, prepare. When the pressure is on, you don’t rise to the occasion; you fall to your highest level of preparation”
– Chris Voss. Never Split the Difference
In previous practical guides, we discussed the design of interview questions, how to create a scoring key to rate interviewees. We have also shared some tips on how to conduct interviews and the biases you should be aware of.
In this piece, we are going to provide a few more guidelines about the interview process: how to prepare for it and recommendations about taking notes during the interview, so you can get the most bang for your time and effort.
Prepare for the interview
Prior to the interview itself, you should:
A) Ensure the candidate meets the minimum requirements for the position. That means a thorough read of the resumé, application form, cover letter or other relevant materials.
- Is all the relevant information provided by the candidate in these materials?
- Are there any gaps in the dates provided for past job experiences/academic years? If so, make sure you address them in the interview.
- Do previous work experiences appear to be relevant?
- Have management positions been held (if required for the role you are recruiting for)?
B) Check the interview questions. You already have a clear understanding of the questions you will ask, based on the required competencies; you also have a list of follow-up or probing questions, as well as a list of positive/negative points to check for during the interview.
C) Make sure you have the information or gathered the materials that will be presented to the candidate during the interview: information about the project or department you are hiring for, organizational charts, information about the company, conditions of employment and benefits, etc. It is highly advisable that all those materials are available in Chinese or bilingual (Chinese and, usually, English).
Why and how you should take notes during the interview
Taking detailed and regular notes of observable behaviors and verbal responses during the interview is crucial. Documenting your learnings about the candidate during the interview will support you later to make your evaluation as objective as possible. See Figure 1 with a few tips on how to go about taking notes.
Taking notes during the interview will reduce the cognitive effort and memory decay that would entail retrieving those observations once the interview is concluded when you are most likely to miss/not recall important information or remember it in a distorted way. Attribution or stereotyping biases may influence the subsequent retrieval of information (more about biases here).
“Focus solely on what is verbally said or observed behaviors (non-verbal cues). The challenge here is to avoid taking notes based on subjective impressions or opinions”
Taking notes is also helpful to avoid primacy and recency effects: the tendency to better remember information provided at the beginning and the ending of the interview, at the expense of potentially valuable information supplied during the lengthier middle. (1)
In addition, notes will help produce and justify a candidate’s rating and, overall, reduce variance (disagreement) across evaluations of several candidates.
Notes should be taken in the vicinity of the interview question/s where verbal cues or behaviors took place. That is, using a standardized form.
Focus solely on what is verbally said or observed behaviors (non-verbal cues). The challenge here is to avoid taking notes based on subjective impressions or opinions. Don’t write down impressions that are not backed-up by job-related facts or use subjective language. You can take a moment after the interview to elaborate on your notes and to make sure they are as fact-based as possible. An example of a subjective note is “the candidate is very unstructured in her answers”. One way to put it objectively could be to pair the observed behavior with required competencies: “The role requires organization and prioritizing skills. The candidate did not display the ability to present arguments in a structured and concise manner”.
It is advisable to inform the candidate at the beginning of the interview that you will be taking notes. Doing so not only demonstrates an interest in the candidate but might as well buy you some credit later if you struggle to strike a balance between note-taking and active listening (keeping eye contact and engaging in the conversation).
With the few recommendations we have shared here as well as in previously referenced pieces, you should be now ready to conduct the interview.
Although simple on the surface, it is easy to drift away from them as candidates in the pipeline add up and you find yourself operating within a limited time frame. It is for this reason that, as stated at the beginning, preparation is key: only after a while the process will become second nature to you.
(1) Campion. M.A., Palmer, D.K., & Champion, J.E. (1997), A review of structure in the selection interview. Personnel Psychology, 50, Pp. 665-702.
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