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One Simple Way to Be a Better Interviewer
Tuesday, Mar 22, 2016

A few years ago when I was an entry-level employee in my first full-time job, I was given a great opportunity to supervise my own intern, and was tasked with interviewing a pool of candidates. As someone who had been an intern not long before that, I was not only intimidated by the idea of supervising someone, but I was also quite apprehensive about being an interviewer. Until that time, I had always been on the other side of the table, and had no experience interviewing others.

As the interview day approached, I did a great deal of Googling to find tips for interviewers. I had my fair share of poor interviewers in the past, and was insistent on making a good impression on the candidates. I was also determined to structure the interview in a way that would showcase the best-suited intern. Unfortunately, most of the information available online was for interviewees. Although I eventually came across some sample questions to ask, I had trouble finding concrete advice on how to lead a successful interview.

With what little guidance the internet gave me, I was determined to find the strategies of a great interviewer in order to identify top talent. As I interviewed more and more interns every semester and later full-time employees, I went through a series of trial and error, and eventually became very comfortable as an interviewer because I followed one simple tactic.

Be Prepared, but Adaptable

During my first round of interviews, I came prepared with many questions and went through each, one after the other. Doing so caused the interviews to proceed awkwardly, and I likely came off as stiff to the candidates. According to LinkedIn, this is a common misstep of interviewers: “Often, interviewers are too focused on the next question on their list and don't realize an even better follow-up question is right under their nose.” Without a doubt, sticking to a script was not an effective method.

For the next set of interviews the following semester, I tried another strategy: completely winging it. I did quickly glance over the candidates’ resumes, but I didn’t have any plan for what I was going to do or say, and I just hoped the interviews would move along fine. This approach was not very successful either. Despite my best efforts, I was clearly unprepared and did not portray the company in the best light.

During our next round of intern hiring, I once again tried a new plan. I studied the candidates’ resumes closely, and jotted down topics that I wanted to discuss. Unlike earlier interviews, I didn’t stick to a script or wing it; rather, I found a happy medium where I was prepared with discussion points, but open to letting the interview flow in a natural direction. This approach proved to be the most successful, and allowed me to connect better with the candidates given that I was prepared, but adaptable. Similarly, Forbes asserts, “Let’s stop interviewing people like they’re sitting for a citizenship exam or undergoing cross-examination on the witness stand, and start talking with them like human beings. You don’t need an interview script.”  As I led more and more interviews with topics in mind, rather than scripted questions, I discovered that I was able to have a natural conversation rather than a Q&A session. In fact, LinkedIn states, “A successful interview is one that is more of a conversation that flows from one topic to the next.”

Although it took me quite a while to discover an efficient way to conduct interviews, the struggle was well worth it because I not only became more comfortable as an interviewer, but I connected with candidates more effectively, which aided me in identifying top-talent. Most importantly, if you put a lot of effort into conducting interviews, you will very likely get a lot out of them.