Getting Past the Fear

Here are 10 tips that can help managers conduct effective interviews and zero in on the candidate best suited for the job

During a typical job interview, there are two tough places to be: behind the desk and in front of it. Behind it, the hiring manager wonders what to ask next after the interviewee stops talking. In front of it, the interviewee is squirming.

“It’s like the blind leading the blind,” says Martin Yate, a professional development consultant, motivational speaker and author of Hiring the Best: A Manager’s Guide to Effective Interviewing. “All the manager wants to do is hire someone and get back to work.”

Much fear of the process results from employees who were promoted to managerial positions without being trained in the fine art of interviewing. The result? Bad hires. “Except in organizations where there’s more management training, many people are promoted simply because they do a super job as non-managers,” Yate says. “It’s sort of a mystical right — they’re ordained as managers.

“The big problem with this is that one of the first tenets of management is to get work done by others. And if you don’t hire the right person, you can never hope to manage effectively.” So what’s a manager to do? Here are 10 recommendations:

1. Forget about the legal job description. Too often, managers are forced to rely on a job description on which they never had input, and that may have been heavily scrutinized and rewritten by legal counsel to avoid lawsuits.

The result is often a “specifically vague document, full of weasel words, that comes down very firmly on the fence,” Yate says. Instead, managers should develop their own “internal” job description that hones in on what the person will actually do.

2. Embrace the recruiters. To avoid wasting time on fruitless interviews with poor job candidates, work closely with the human resources recruiter to develop ads that directly reflect the “internal” job description. “Recognize that human resources has a lot of value in writing job postings or advertisements,” Yate says. “They should recruit people with specific strengths to deal with problems A, B and C.”

3. Get out the highlighters. Before you read resumes, get out two markers. Use one color to highlight candidates’ strengths and the other to highlight weaknesses. This helps you explain to the HR recruiter why a candidate was suitable or unsuitable and serves as a quick reminder of important points about each candidate. “It’ll save you a lot of time if you don’t have to re-read all those resumes,” Yate says.

4. Hit the phone. Do telephone interviews first. “Very few in-person interviews last less than 30 minutes, and usually after 10 minutes, you know you wouldn’t hire the person on a bet,” Yate says. “The telephone interview is a much-underrated tool in terms of saving time. You go from hello to the first question in about 45 seconds. You can interview at least twice as many people, so you’re buying time to do your real job.”

5. Gauge suitability. Make sure the candidate can do the job, instead of projecting onto people the values you hope to find. “You want someone who understands how to do a specific job — someone who speaks the language and has a frame of reference for how things are done in your field.”

6. Avoid previous mistakes. Take cues from the behavior profiles of people who were successful and unsuccessful hires and use them to screen job candidates. “Recall who was the best person and why,” Yate says. “Maybe he or she was a good listener, had strong analytical skills, was patient and could establish rapport with people at various levels inside the organization. Learn from your mistakes.”

7. Don’t get snowed. “When you start to see the faint aura of a halo around the candidate’s head, beware,” Yate warns. “Ask the person to tell you about projects that didn’t go quite as well as the successful ones.” If someone shows signs of discomfort, be doubly careful.

8. Be a good listener. “Interviewers should live by the 80/20 rule: Ask questions 20 percent of the time and listen 80 percent of the time,” Yate says.

9. Ask the right questions. Ask open-ended questions that elicit more than yes and no answers. “Ask them to tell you about the time they had to solve a particular problem,” Yate suggests. “Talk about a specific experience. If you can determine how they behaved in the past, it’s a good predictor of how they’ll behave in the future.” To develop questions, think about the problems the candidate will face daily. “We’re all hired to be problem solvers within our areas of responsibility,” Yate says. “If you know where the problem areas lie for a job, you’ll be able to ask questions about it.”

10. Network with peers. Yate suggests managers join at least two professional organizations: one for management in general and one for the field in which they work. This helps them become better recruiters. “If you become connected to your profession, and attend conferences, you’ll be more knowledgeable, and you’ll meet and know more people,” he says. “It’s much better to fill a position with someone you’ve met, or through someone you’ve met who knows someone else.”

Aside from hiring great employees, there’s another benefit to becoming a better interviewer: Listening and communication skills are valuable in more areas than just interviewing. To learn more about Martin Yate, visit


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