Simply Said
Simply Said
Simply Said is the essential handbook for business communication.

Uncovering the Real Person Behind the Resume


The difference between a candidate as presented on paper versus in person can be very different. Faced with hiring time pressures, many managers approach interviewing haphazardly. Without a consistent and systematic approach, they often miss important information about the candidate's suitability for the job.

"What happens in a face to face interview is perhaps the most important step in the evaluation process," contends Merna Skinner of Exec-Comm LLC, a New York communication training and consulting firm that trains managers to be better interviewers. She adds, "Yet most managers don't adequately prepare for the meeting nor pay attention to how they budget their time during the interview. The result is that they spend way too much time talking and not enough time listening to the candidate for important clues."

Skinner recommends a pre-interview strategy session during which all managers involved in the selection agree on:

  • A full functional description of the position
  • A statement of any educational or technical credential requirements
  • A statement of the 3 most important skills that the position requires

Once the actual interview begins, she recommends probing candidates in three main areas:

1. Are they willing? Determine if the candidate used the necessary skills enthusiastically in the past and if they are strongly motivated to do so at your company. According to Skinner, "You are looking for the individual who is talented but also interested in using their capabilities". A prospective employee, for example, may have excellent analytical skills and a proven track record doing sales analyses but may really want to work in a marketing group. Hiring such a person to do something that does not interest them will have a direct impact on their future performance.

2. Are they able? Probe to see if the candidate has the top three skills necessary to do the job. Skinner warns, "The difference between saying you can do something and actually citing specific examples when the skills were used in the past are two very different things." A keen interviewer will learn to probe past a candidate's first response to get at the heart of an answer. For example, someone may claim that they are quite capable of leading groups. Asking questions like, "how did you interact with your group?", "what specifically did you do?" or "how did group members respond to you?" are good ways to probe for specific information. Such questions help uncover the facts behind a candidate's claims. The candidate who cannot furnish real proof of using the skill in the past is unlikely to start using it at the new job.

3. Are they a match? Assess if the candidate will fit into the company's culture and if there are any major "red flags" in their backgrounds that would make them inappropriate for the position. Short tenures at past positions are worth researching to see why a candidate may have left different types of organizations. Similarly, asking questions like "what type of work environment appeals to you most?" or "how do you like to work?" will determine if their preferences will match the style of your company.

A good interviewer will probe to get positive answers to these questions in three important areas: the candidate's work, educational and personal/social life. If leadership is a key skill, for example, the interviewer will want to hear concrete examples of when the candidate demonstrated leadership capabilities in their past-either at work, in school or in their social life. If the candidate reveals that she successfully led a student group or civic organization, then you can feel confident that she can transfer these skills to the job setting. Similarly, if another skill requirement is presentation skills, the interviewer should uncover examples of when a candidate made successful new business pitches or sales presentations. The fact that this same candidate may also be a reader at their place of worship further supports demonstration of the skill in other aspects of their life.

Skinner aptly summarizes the interviewing process: "The right candidate has to be all three-willing, able and a match. Just settling for two out of three of these criteria will inevitably lead to a wrong choice and force the hiring cycle to start all over again."

Contact: Bradford Agry
(212) 501-8045

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