A newbie interviewer's guide to interviews

The first time interviewer’s guide to interviews

Written by on October 13, 2017

Death will be relief. No more interviews.”

Something tells me that Katharine Hepburn, a veteran of 44 feature films, 8 television movies, and 33 plays, wasn’t talking about the same kind of interviews but the remark still works.

Interviews are grueling, tough and any other word for ‘difficult’ that you find under synonyms in the dictionary. And that’s just for the candidate. As an interviewer, you’re expected to find the measure of a person in a short period of time and decide if they’ll perform their role well and fit in, in your organization.

Now imagine you’re a wet-behind-the-ears interviewer and recalculate that difficulty level.

If not guided properly, novice interviewers are liable to give a bad impression of the company to the candidate (“Are they not taking me seriously?”) and draw incorrect conclusions from the experience (“We had a fun conversation so we should hire him”).

This tip sheet is no substitute for on-the-job experience or hands-on training but I remember how nervous and unprepared I felt when I first interviewed. It took me months of observation and practice to graduate from “inept” to “not bad” and will take me many more years to get to pattern recognizer.  So, I thought I’d share what’s helped me in the past to help you, yes you a novice interviewer, hasten the process and feel more confident when you’re on the other side of the table.

Here’s the secret: The interview doesn’t begin and end at the scheduled time. Just like a candidate prepares to make a good impression, there’s a lot of pre and post production work to be done to provide a good candidate experience.

Pre-interview prep:

  • Write yourself a question bank. A good rule of thumb is to make sure to have a section for every major skill/requirement you have. For instance, when Girish Mathrubootham, CEO of Freshworks Inc., interviews, he checks for ownership by asking them what they’re most proud of, the challenges they faced, how they overcame them and what they’ve learnt from it.So, in his question bank, he has “What are you most proud of?” right next to ownership. A question bank has helped me in two ways:
  1. It provides the interview with a structure. When I have the questions written down, I’m able to guide the candidate through a path and make sure I’ve covered all the subjects I’ve intended to cover. I don’t have to spend time wracking my brain to figure out what I should be asking – I have my list.
  2. When I have the questions written down, I’ll be able to make sure that I ask every candidate I interview the same questions so comparing the performance of different candidates, even with all the other changing conditions, will not be as unfair.Also, please make sure to check with someone to see if your questions are appropriate and are phrased in a friendly manner. Asking about a candidate’s age/marital status/race/religion is illegal and can have serious repercussions. So, get someone, preferably from HR, to vet your questions.
  • Pen an answer guide too. Thoughts are fleeting. While you might be able to clearly remember your reasoning for every question you’ve jotted down even as you do them or the next day, they won’t be as fresh in your memory a couple of weeks down the line.
    I find it helpful to write down what I think are good answers for every question so that I can check my answer guide post the interview and easily figure out if the candidate is a good fit for the role or not.
  • Prepare for the interview. Read their resume, go through past experience and go in with more than an inkling. This way, you won’t seem like someone who got lost on their way to a meeting and decided to take an interview, just for the heck of it. Being prepared sets a good tone for the interview and assures the candidate that you are, indeed, taking them seriously.
  • Use the interview to discuss approach, not solve problems. If you want someone to solve a problem, take a test or write something, don’t do it during the interview. When you have the other person in the room, focus on asking them to explain their approach rather than spend time viewing their work sample.

During the interview:

  • Use small talk to put the candidate at ease. Ask them about their trip to the office. Talk about the weather. Offer them some coffee or water. Start slow and safe. Just because you’ve done your research and prepped for the interview, it doesn’t mean you should skip over all the niceties and start the drill. Give them some time to get used to you by just chatting about nothings for a bit.
  • Clearly explain the role. Make sure everyone’s on the same page by describing the role clearly to the candidate. When I say describe, I don’t really mean describe (And to think someone pays me to put words together for a living) – sell them the role and remind them why they applied. Get them excited to do a good job 
  • Take notes. Trust me. You’ll be thanking me for this one when you’re filling out the interview feedback form a couple of days later and can’t remember what impression you formed about a candidate’s work ethic.
  • Give them time to ask questions. In my experience, these questions are usually about the job or the work culture at Freshworks. I use them to refine my earlier job and company pitch so that every candidate receives the same information.

You’ve asked all of your questions, the candidate’s asked theirs, you’ve shaken hands and made your exit. However, it’s still not time to relax because the most important part of the interview is still ahead of you: the interview feedback submission time.

  • Ask for an interview scorecard. Or make yourself one by listing the qualities you’re looking for and giving a rating out of 5 stars. Most interviews consist of a conversation between the candidate and the interviewer. While this has the advantage of putting the candidate at ease, it poses a number of challenges while recording interview feedback.

    The trouble with conversations, however, is that they come hand in hand, with unconscious biases. Research shows us that an unconscious bias is just the brain using shortcuts (like prior experience) to make quick decisions. Like (and I am aware of the silliness), they look like my kindergarten math teacher and I never liked my kindergarten math teacher because she told my parents I was a cry baby. You might even reject them because of this uneasy prejudice. So, make sure you substantiate every score you hand out.
  • Give your whole impression of the candidate. When filling out the interview scorecard, don’t just write down feedback in support of your decision. List everything you can remember of the meeting so that the hiring manager and the recruiter have all the information they need to make the right decision. If you don’t end up hiring the candidate, anyone can use the information in the future when looking up the candidate.A sub point of this one is, make it about the issue, not the person. Watch your phrasing and make sure you’re describing the issue and not criticizing the person.There is a whole lot of difference between, “The sample is erratic and could have used some proofreading.” and “She is a poor speller.” [Something I actually wrote down once before realizing how harsh and untrue that was]. Remember that your feedback will be passed onto the candidate so be tactful and considerate.

I’ve been saving the best tip for last, though.

Don’t sweat it. It can be nerve wracking to be in the hot seat so just remember to relax and act naturally. Yes, you have a question bank but no, you don’t have to read out questions word for word. Don’t be pressured to fill the silence. Practice your I-want-to-make-you-comfortable smile so that your serial-killer eyes don’t accidentally show. Just remember, the person on the other side of the table is more nervous than you are. The interview’s about them, not you. Your job’s to just observe and participate. Good luck!

That’s all, folks. Tell us what you think in the comments below.

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