I’ve probably chaired or participated in nearly 50 interviews since my employment at the University of Westminster.
I’ve done all right and I’m proud of the team I have created and the staff who have been recruited by me. I also enjoy interviewing. I enjoy the opportunity of giving someone a fair deal, if they’re good, they should be recognised as so, and get their foot in the door.
I used to be part of interview panels in former positions but nothing quite prepared me for the intensity of, ‘finding the one’, than at the University of Westminster. It’s a big organisation – over 2,500 staff so the churn of temps and permanent staff is constant. Like at most universities, the benefits are good; 35 days leave and for third sector jobs it can, for those who choose it, be a comfortable and undemanding place to be. Not me. I can’t sit still and I like dealing with things which come at you out of the blue. Besides, the Higher Education landscape is changing rapidly and the luxury of complacency will soon be a thing of the past.
Getting a good ‘fit’ is important. Asking the right questions and sniffing out personalities which work and those, which don’t, is just as important as having the requisite skills; so how do you do it? It’s taken me a long time, firstly to trust my instincts, and secondly to know how to shape the interview.
So back to the question; how do you interview someone to know if they’re right and how far is too far in an interview?
There are some things you can’t do;
- Don’t ask about relationship status
- Don’t ask age
- Don’t ask about family
What you can do, however, is find out how someone thinks, and you can see this in the way they respond. Is this going too far? I don’t think so but it does mean you need to think differently about how you ask questions. Here are some responses that provide clues in how a candidate responds:
Resentfully; did you ask a question they couldn’t answer and they didn’t like it? How would that translate in the job? Is it reasonable to behave that way?
Honestly; “I don’t know the answer to that”, said without panic and said with confidence certainly shows an upfront nature without attitude – could you work with that?
Friendly; are they smiling, is their body language and intonation open. Can they hold eye contact and talk directly at you in a non-disarming manner?
You get the picture, it’s all about emotion and behaviour. If you get to the end of the interview and you’re unsure, then you haven’t got the answers or the impression you need to make a decision. That’s frustrating; it’s no good for you and no good for the candidate. You can claw it back, at the expense of running over but it’s worth it.
One way of doing this is to be honest and state that you want to probe a bit further, perhaps on a previous question. Turn the question into something about how it makes the candidate feel. It might go something like this:
“I’d just like to refer back to one of the previous questions we asked in the interview. We discussed how you deal with conflict situations. Could you just tell me how it makes you feel when someone gets angry and starts shouting?”.
It may disarm the candidate a little, but you’ll get an immediate reaction and that’s worth reflecting on. The ‘feel’ part of the question is key.
Something I also do is to get my team members on interview panels. Being on the other side of the fence can be just as daunting if you’ve never done it before and eliciting responses which inform your decision can be far harder to do in practice than on paper. We also reflect on how the interview went, it’s very productive.
Interviews are tough enough, so being honest in your approach and questioning, albeit at exposing yourself and the candidate, is in my view the fairest and optimal way in finding, the right person. You could of course join a dating agency and practice!