Any manager would want to hire the best person for the job, but sometimes it is very hard to decide from just a few interviews which candidate would fit best and who would perform well.

Most managers develop their own interviewing style based on their personal experience or from gut instinct. Common remarks are: “I’ll know the right one when I see him/her” and “I can tell within the first five minutes whether the candidate can fit in or not”.

It is important that managers learn how to conduct interviews properly to avoid common problems and errors. One such error is that managers tend to rate candidates based on likeability. The more they like the candidate, the higher the rating.

Some interviewers also tend to think that candidates who communicate with charm and eloquence will be the best performers, when this is not always true.

And in some instances, a minor defect in the candidate could be penalised disproportionately, with no bearing on the candidate’s other skills and ability to do the job.

Typical interviews involve a manager taking candidates through their resumé, asking what they did in their previous jobs, their reasons for moving, what they liked or did not like.

This kind of interview is based on what the candidate puts in his resumé, and may not accurately reflect his competencies.

Competency-based interviewing or CBI would help to avoid such problems with a clear and structured approach.

CBI is sometimes known as capability-based or behavioural-based interviewing.

Competency refers to the skills, traits, abilities and behaviours that contribute to a person’s performance on the job.  Measuring a candidate based on clearly defined competencies would help the interviewer select the person with the best match of skills and qualities for the job.

To find the best candidate for the job, the manager must first have a clear idea of what he or she should be like.

This includes a clear job description and a write-up of what qualities the ideal candidate possesses, including minimum experience, qualifications, skills and other personal attributes.

The manager should also distinguish what qualities are essential and what are desirable.

Questioning skills

Closed and open-ended questions, used appropriately, will elicit the information required. In general, asking questions about real experience rather than hypothetical questions will help the manager collect evidence about the candidate’s ability. Good questions typically start with:

* Tell me about a time when…”

* Describe a situation where you had to…”

* Give us an example of when you had to…”

Managers should learn to ask probing and specific questions, focusing in on the candidate’s own tasks, actions and results. Ask for more examples and hone in on the details. Sometimes, it is good to ask about failures too, or a situation where they did not achieve the desired results.

This helps the manager to get a more detailed view of what the candidates can do well, as well as what they don’t do so well.

Here is an example of assessing sales competency and the related questions:

* Broad open-ended question: “Tell me about your biggest deal last year.”

* Task-oriented question: “What was your role in the crafting of this deal?”

* Action-oriented question: “What specific action did you do to help the team clinch the deal?”

* Question about results: “How much was the deal worth in relation to the company’s revenue?”

Here are some examples of probing questions:

* Take me through step by step how you handled the customer’s issues.”

* That’s a broad statement. Please tell me exactly what you did.”

* Tell me more about that meeting and what you did.”

* When you said there were fewer problems, how many exactly?”

Avoid leading questions

Avoid questions starting with “What would you do if…”

These questions are of little use as the candidate can easily second-guess the intention of the question. Leading questions are also fairly useless as the candidate will easily tell you what they think you want to hear.

Here is an example of a leading question:

“Time management is important in this role. Are you good at managing your time?”

A better question would be:

 “Give me an example of when you had to manage your time.”

Also avoid asking:

* Overly broad questions: “What are you most proud of?”

* Psychology questions: “If you were an animal, what would you be and why?”

* Self-assessment questions: “How good are you at handling a difficult people?”

* Discriminatory questions: “When do you intend to start a family?”

Use your instincts

While objectivity is important, instinct and gut-feel also have a role to play.

If the interviewer has a negative impression of the candidate, perhaps his instinct is telling him that there are potential problems and it is important for the interviewer to probe further.

With a list of competencies and a set of standard questions, the manager will be able to compare each candidate in a more objective manner.

A structured approach will ensure that candidates are assessed based on the competencies required for the job and not on other subjective variables.