In order for your business to succeed, you need the right people filling each position in your workforce. Many business owners and entrepreneurs report that recruitment and hiring are the most challenging aspects of running and owning their companies. Whether you have the budget to accommodate a full-time human resources staff or wind up doing all the interviewing yourself, filling open jobs with the most skilled people who will fit in well with your company’s culture is definitely a complex process that presents many challenges and traps for the unwary.
Most business owners and human resources professionals utilize the traditional one-on-one, in-person interview in order to evaluate candidates and make that decision. However, the traditional in-person interview has both advantages and many drawbacks that can actually result in a poor hiring choice. Utilizing a few alternatives to the traditional interview format in addition to taking steps to shore up the weaknesses of that format can help you make the right hiring choice for every job opening in your company.
While in-person interviews present a great opportunity to assess a job candidate on a personal level, their usefulness can be offset by interviewer bias and myriad conditions that make applicants nervous or anxious.
Purposes of the Interview
A job interview has a number of purposes, but each of those purposes tends to boil down to this one precept: You want to get a clear impression of what the candidate is actually like, not on paper (i.e., the resume or CV) but in person. Face-to-face interviews help you gain a better idea of the applicant’s personality, poise and behavior, especially in the context of discussing business and the type of work you’ll need the successful candidate to perform.
An in-person interview also gives the interviewer a clear sense of each candidate’s ability to speak extemporaneously about the field, job and industry in question. You can assess how well the candidate has prepared for the interview by asking questions related to your company and what it does. A well-prepared interview also helps you gauge the applicant’s skill set, education and experience relative to the job in question.
One-on-one interviews that take place on the company premises also give candidates the chance to show their ability to perform under pressure and demonstrate how well they fit into your company’s corporate culture. The best candidate for your open job position isn’t simply the most qualified or skilled individual but also the one who can best align with your company’s workforce.
Types of Interview
Interviews can take place in a number of different contexts. The traditional format is a face-to-face meeting that takes place between the applicant and a single individual who asks the applicant a series of questions for the applicant to answer.
A variation of the traditional one-on-one interview is the panel interview. In this process, a group of current employees of the hiring company interviews a single applicant.
Interviews may also be conducted over the telephone, with either a one-to-one context or with multiple people participating on behalf of the hiring company. Finally, video conferencing technology has made video interviews more common in recent years.
These alternate forms of interviewing may make more sense for your company and your hiring needs. The right choice of hiring tools will depend on the nature of the open position, your business goals, your time frame for filling the position and your company’s available budget and technology.
Advantages of Job Interviews
Many aspects of the traditional one-on-one, face-to-face job interview and whether it is considered an effective assessment strategy or a waste of time depend on how specific details of the interview are managed by the person or persons arranging and conducting it. Moreover, many drawbacks of the job interview may be overcome by additional assessment and appraisal strategies.
Generally, you’ll probably find it’s easier to assess someone’s personality and interpersonal skills in a face-to-face meeting. The stress of the situation actually adds some value to the interviewer because it reveals how the candidate performs under pressure.
Additionally, the interviewer can read and assess other cues besides the spoken words the candidate chooses, such as body language, facial expression and other nonverbal cues that give you more information about the person’s true intent. This helps you assess how the person fits in with the environment and culture of your business.
A well-prepared interview is also a better way to appraise the true level of the candidates' interest in the position and your company. Does it go beyond mere employment or money? Do they really want to work with you and your team? The candidates' level of interest is easier to assess in person.
Drawbacks to Job Interviews
All individuals have biases. Moreover, age, race, gender and other key aspects of a candidate’s identity can trigger an impression that isn’t just wrong but may also violate the law if relied upon to make actual hiring decisions. Research shows that overall interviews tend to result in a disproportionate selection of minority candidates compared to nonminority candidates. As an interviewer, you must overcome those biases when evaluating the applicant.
In addition, first impressions can be wrong. Unforeseen events do occur through no fault of the applicant, even if he leaves additional time to account for such events, resulting in his arriving flustered or late to the interview. All too often, interviewers end up relying on a gut feeling as to whether the person they’re interviewing would fit in well with the workplace setting. However, gut feelings can be and often are wrong. What’s more, frequently the interviewer forms a snap decision in the first few minutes of the interview, with every observed response and behavior being interpreted as supporting that impression or otherwise being glossed over or ignored.
On the other hand, some people are excellent mimics, mirroring the interviewer’s posture and body language, agreeing with her opinions and parroting back exactly the answer the interviewer wants to hear. You may get a great vibe from this person, but in effect he's merely putting on a performance for you. The reality may well be quite different.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, a great interview doesn’t necessarily mean the applicant will be a great employee. A candidate for a position can interview beautifully due to strong interpersonal and communications skills and yet be a weak fit for the company’s needs. Moreover, some undesirable personality traits may be easily masked with a warm personality, some eye contact and a strong sense of confidence. It’s very difficult to uncover such traits in a 30-minute conversation, even a well-structured one run by an attentive interviewer.
Panel Interview Pros and Cons
A panel interview proceeds much like the traditional one-on-one interview with one key exception: Instead of a single interviewer, a group of employees (two or more but usually three to five) conduct the interview together.
A panel interview may incorporate many of the same advantages and disadvantages of the traditional single-interviewer format. For example, each person brings her own biases to the interview room. Additionally, the inherent weaknesses of the interview format still remain. Candidates with strong social and speaking skills can still paint a dazzling picture that doesn’t necessarily tell the whole story, while highly skilled but uncomfortable candidates are all too easily overlooked.
However, the panel interview may present a few distinct advantages as well. Most obviously, a panel interview overcomes the drawback of one person both questioning and observing the candidate. With multiple people participating, it’s easier to get a more thorough sense of the person being interviewed. Additionally, having multiple interviewers may help overcome the biases of any single interviewer. Each person asking questions and observing the candidate will undoubtedly pick up on different qualities and aspects of the candidate’s responses. This helps result in a somewhat more objective assessment of the candidate’s strengths and weaknesses. Panel members can compare their impressions and thoughts after the interview has concluded for a more well-rounded and fair assessment.
Due to the logistics involved in scheduling, panel interviews are better suited for a final round of interviews immediately before a decision is made than for initial meetings.
Pros and Cons of Telephone Interviews
The advantages of a telephone interview are mostly ones of convenience. For example, in a telephone interview, the interviewer can make better use of notes. Interviews can also be recorded in order to help draw more complete observations about the candidate’s responses.
The logistics of scheduling a telephone interview are generally much easier to manage. Candidates don’t have to travel, which makes adhering to a tight schedule more likely. Additionally, you can use telephone interviews to weed out weaker candidates from the start, allowing you to focus on stronger applicants with personal and panel interviews.
Telephone interviews have some drawbacks, of course. Some people simply don’t express themselves well over the telephone. Without the ability to make eye contact and evaluate body language, it can be difficult to fairly assess the individual’s true meaning, tone or intent. What sounds biting and rude on the telephone may have come across more lighthearted and humorous in person.
It’s also harder to establish a rapport with someone through a telephone call. This probably impacts the candidate more than the interviewer, but you should want your applicants to feel somewhat at ease during the interview, as it helps them express themselves more clearly.
A potentially significant drawback is call quality. With many individuals now relying solely on cellular telephones, dropped calls, static and other technical hiccups are common and can present a significant source of frustration for both the interviewer and the candidate.
To improve the quality and usefulness of a telephone interview, use a landline to conduct the interview. Have your questions prepared in advance and be ready to take notes if need be.
Finally, remember that a telephone interview is not a conversation between friends where the dialogue ebbs and flows equally between each person. Ask a question and then wait for an answer. Don’t speak over candidates when they respond or interrupt them with nonverbal vocalizations (“hmm” or “yeah,” for example). This will help maintain the quality of both the call and its recording, if any.
Advantages and Disadvantages to Video Interviews
Video interviews allow the best of both worlds, in a sense: the less-stressful atmosphere of a one-on-one interview, the ease of scheduling of a telephone interview and the ability to solicit input from numerous observers or interviewers.
Of course, they can also present similar challenges as well. For example, technology can present significant obstacles to a clear video interview, as it can with telephone interviews. Video conferencing software can and does fail from time to time, and glitches can be even more frustrating than dropped calls on a cell phone.
Moreover, many people still find it difficult to look at the camera and not the screen, making it hard to establish rapport and maintain good eye contact. Some skilled candidates may even be intimidated by the prospect of appearing on camera, which can negatively impact the impression they make on the interviewer.
To ensure a better experience with video interviews, first make sure your technology works and that you’re familiar with the relevant settings. Double check the strength of your internet connection and your technology settings. Perform a microphone and speaker check before placing the video call. Ensure you have a clear resulting image and microphone that picks up and transmits your voice clearly.
Sometimes video conferencing calls experience a bit of lag. If that happens, it’s especially frustrating in an interview. To compensate, try to remember to take a pause after you ask your question to indicate to the candidate that it’s safe to answer. At the end of the candidate’s response, take another pause to make sure the answer is complete. This will help you both avoid tripping over each other’s words.