Your Browser Is Out of Date :(

Some sections of this website won’t display properly in your browser.
For the best experience, please update to one of the newer options below.



The Secrets to Getting the Most Out of Candidate Interviews

A step-by-step guide for hiring the employee you really want

You’re lucky to be in a position where you can hire some help, but interviewing candidates is a lot like detective work. Somehow, you’ve got to go beyond pat answers, polished resumes and perfected covers to uncover the real truth: Is this the right person?

Use these tips from workplace experts to stay focused on what you need to know, not just what your applicant wants to say, which is crucial if you want to make your next hire your best.

1. Know the Offer

The first step is on you: Know what you want. “Be able to clearly and quickly articulate the goals of the role and what a typical day looks like,” says Susie Hall, president of recruiting agency Vitamin T.

“If you know what you really want, then you’ll know what’s important when it’s time to decide if the candidate you’ve met fits the bill.” It also helps to run these goals and expectations by others in your department ahead of time to make sure you’re all on the same page.

2. Do Your Homework

There’s a good chance your candidates are researching you and your company, so why not get a little intel on them, as well? These days, many people have easily-accessible profiles on LinkedIn and Facebook—and if it’s public, it’s fair game.

But don’t just look for dirt; keep an eye out for interesting and relevant hobbies, writings and in the case of LinkedIn, professional recommendations. Even if you only go by your candidates’ resumes, don’t just wing it; prepare questions in advance.

“Have your questions ready to go so that you can make an informed decision once the interview has concluded,” says David Gaspin, senior director of talent & human resources for InRhythm. “Was this editor role really more of a writing position? Who decided what and how much content [the candidate] produced?”

This also takes pressure off you during the interview. “If you’ve done your homework, you shouldn’t need to think on your feet too much,” Gaspin says. “This allows you to pay attention to the interaction itself.”

3. Don’t Focus Solely on Skills

What a resume is to job skills, an interview is to “job fit.” Josh Tolan, CEO of Spark Hire, says organizational fit is easy to overlook during the interview, “but impossible to ignore if an employee is unhappy in the workplace.”

Tolan recommends asking candidates to describe work environments in which they thrive, as well as those in which they feel uncomfortable. “You don’t just want a qualified candidate—you also want a candidate who’ll be productive and passionate about the work they’re doing,” he says.

Jim Roddy, president of Jameson Publishing, agrees there’s more to a candidate than his work experience. “Interviewers often become mesmerized by experience and fail to recognize flaws that should disqualify a candidate,” he says. “You’ve got to know if the candidate is the right fit for the position and your company in every respect.”

4. Give a Real-World Assignment

There’s one tried and true way to know if an applicant can handle the job—give her a taste of it. Danya P. Bushéy, president of Carte Blanche Marketing, tests prospective employees with sample assignments.

“We typically give the candidate a project, such as a product launch or grand opening, and ask them to devise creative ideas for it, write a press release and then pitch it to us as if we were the media,” says Bushéy. “This method has served us well in weeding out candidates who don’t meet our standards.”

If the job requires writing, don’t just rely on past clips. Ask for articles or ideas that relate to your specific business or mission. And, if your candidate balks at such a test, it’s likely that he’s either not passionate about the opportunity or unable to complete the task. In either case… next!

5. Ask About Job Transitions

A resume covers what happened during specific jobs, but little or nothing about what happened between them. Caroline McClure, principal at recruiting consultant ScoutRock, LLC, says that information is valuable.

“Find out why the person changed roles or employers. If a transition doesn’t make sense, then probe more deeply.” These probes can reveal a disturbing pattern of conflict or an admirable chronology of ambition.

Nicole Williams, founder of WORKS by Nicole Williams, agrees it’s important to focus on what’s NOT on the resume. “If someone’s been interviewing frequently, chances are they can give you a well-rehearsed monologue on each section of their resume,” she says. “The trick is to catch them off guard.”

This means you shouldn’t be using the resume as a roadmap for the interview, either. Set it aside. Remember: You’re interviewing the candidate, not the resume.

6. Remember the Job, Not Just Who Wants It

It’s easy to forget about your specific job requirements after meeting some very nice, professional and charismatic applicants, but that could be a crucial mistake.

“After the interview, re-read the job description,” says Gaspin. “Then, one by one, assess all of the candidates against your own criteria to see who’s going to be your best hire.”

7. Stop Talking

There’s so much interviewers like to share with interviewees: the company’s history, the nature of the workplace, their personal backgrounds, the state of the industry and—oh, yes—the job requirements. But how are you going to learn about the candidate if you’re doing most of the talking?

Do yourself a favor and put a cork in it, unless you’re the one answering a question.

A job interview isn’t an interrogation, but it is equal parts assessment, observation, match-making and guessing-game, so at least make sure you’re paying close attention from beginning to end.

Or, to borrow a popular phrase in carpentry: Measure twice, hire once.

Find the perfect candidate for your open position by posting a job on the Mediabistro job board.

Like what you’re reading? Sign up to get our best career advice and job search tips.