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Mastering Interviews: Best Practices for Hiring the Best Candidates

As a seasoned Human Resources executive, I understand the pivotal role that effective hiring plays in the success of any business, particularly small ones. Hiring someone who isn’t a good fit is a costly mistake. According to a study by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), the cost of a bad hire can be as much as 50-60% of the employee's annual salary for entry-level positions, 150% of the annual salary for mid-level positions, and up to 400% of the annual salary for high-level or specialized positions.  These costs can include recruitment and training expenses, lost productivity, decreased morale among other employees, potential negative impact on customer satisfaction, and the cost of termination and finding a replacement. Additionally, there are intangible costs such as damage to the company's reputation and culture.

In this article, we’ll explore essential interview best practices that can significantly impact our ability to attract and select the best talent for your company.

Create a structured interview process for your most common positions. Having this process in place not only saves you time, it also provides a consistent framework for evaluating candidates for the same role. This ensures that each candidate is assessed on the same criteria and makes it easier to compare and contrast their qualifications.

Obtain multiple, diverse perspectives. While one-on-one interviews can be a good way to get to know someone, you miss out on the insights that other interviewers bring to the table. You also run the risk of interview bias. It’s best to have at least one other person meet with the candidate, especially when interviewing for higher level positions. Panel interviews — in which two or more people assess the candidate — are a great way to level the playing field with multiple perspectives. The panel should be diverse — in race, gender, experience, even geography — to provide a more holistic view, minimize individual biases, and ensure a well-rounded evaluation.

Consider experienced-based interviews. With this interview approach, rather than sitting in front of a panel, the candidate is placed in the work environment, provided with tasks, and observed. For example, if the role requires exceptional presentation skills, ask the candidate to give you a presentation. While this method can be time-consuming, it allows the hiring manager to see the person in action, and it allows the candidate to get a true feel for the environment and the role. If you do ask the candidate to prepare a project or presentation, you may consider paying them for their time.

Ensure that the candidate aligns with the role and your company. Before the interview, make sure you clearly understand the role you’re trying to fill and the needs of your company. Tailor your questions to both the unique demands of the position and the company’s culture and values. A candidate who has the necessary skills and resonates with your company’s mission is more likely to contribute positively to the team.

Keep questions professional. Avoid asking about their personal life and anything not relevant to their candidacy. Refrain from any questions that could be used to discriminate against them, such as their age, whether they have kids or are married, their religion, a disability, and so on. A quick google search will provide a more comprehensive list of questions as well as how to structure them, it’s worth the read. 

Ask open-ended questions. Encourage candidates to elaborate on their experiences and thought processes. “Tell me about a time when you…”.  Open-ended, situation based questions promote genuine responses, giving you a deeper understanding for their skills and personality. Don’t be afraid to ask them why they left their last job and why they are interested in working at your company. Understand their motivation and what is driving it.

Think about the future. Consider how well a candidate can adapt and contribute to the company’s future growth. Assess their potential for professional development and long-term commitment. Do their professional goals align with the company’s plans?

Leverage assessments. Supplement interviews with skill assessments to validate a candidate’s proficiency in key areas. This adds an objective layer to your evaluation process. Also, explore personality assessments to gain insights into a candidate’s working style and compatibility with the team. These tools can help identify candidates whose personalities align with your company’s values.

Mastering interview best practices such as these is key to successful hiring in companies of all sizes. Remember, investing time and effort into a robust hiring process pays off in the long run, preventing the costly consequences of hiring the wrong candidate.

Originally published in  Small Business Monthly's April's issue of 2024 by Julie Tuggle-Nguyen, EVP of Human Resources