Need to tune up those rusty interviewing skills?

Need to tune up those rusty interviewing skills?

Occasionally I’ve gone outside the boundaries of this blog and talked about management, not just pr and marketing. Since those posts always seem to get a ton of attention, I’ve decided to take the liberty of tossing in a few more for a  “management monday” post here and there. After last week’s jobs report it may seen odd to start with interviewing tips. But despite the report, many of my small business clients ARE hiring again (and I think we’ll see that reflected in the numbers later this summer). So if you’re rusty on interviewing after a couple years of working just to keep the ship afloat, small business blogger Clair Schwan offers up some great advice!

By Clair Schwan

Let’s look at some useful tips on interviewing prospective employees. More specifically, let’s look at how to make the best use of your time before interviews even start. Interviewing potential employees is time-consuming, and picking good employees is essential, so we need to make effective use of our time to ensure best results from this important effort. If we screen our prospects, we’re likely to make better decisions in less time. And, the time we save can be invested in the finalists we choose to interview.

There are two basic screening techniques that I like to use: 1) reviewing resumes; and, 2) asking questions over the phone. If the candidate looks good after these quick screens, I’ll make arrangements for an interview. If a candidate doesn’t seem to be a good match after the initial screening, then my efforts have saved me valuable time that can be applied towards other more productive matters.

The Resume

For most serious employment, and for experienced employees, a resume is a must. The purpose is to allow an employer to screen out misfits without having to conduct an interview. Use this opportunity wisely. Here are some of the things I look for in a resume:

Paid resume creation – many people think that a great resume increases their chances for a great job. It doesn’t. It only increases the chances for an interview. Look for resumes that appear too smooth and carefully engineered throughout. This can be the sign of having used a “hired gun.” I’d rather see something written from the person whom I’m going to interview, especially if what I’m looking for is someone who can write.

Job hopping – I’ve seen resumes with patterns of employment that almost look like they’re predictable, and sometimes they are. An outfit I worked for once hired a guy with many jobs on his resume – each one year in duration – and his employment with the organization lasted exactly one year and then he resigned. I tend to believe a pattern on paper will be reflected in practice.

Increasing responsibility – we all want to hire individuals who have demonstrated interest and ability with respect to increasing levels of responsibility. Even if you’re hiring for a position with limited growth potential, you’d probably like to know that the individual behind the resume can be called upon, if needs be, to take on greater responsibilities. If you’re aiming higher with respect to your employees, the candidates you’re considering ought to have some experience aiming higher as well.

Achievement orientation – this should be a no-brainer, but it can slip off the radar screen unless you’re looking for it in particular. Does the person desire to achieve, or do they simply desire a job? Achievement ought to be reflected in the resume. Candidates should have some experience managing, leading, coordinating, interfacing, planning and directing, instead of simply working at the direction of others. A big list of complex projects looks excellent on a resume, but serving as project manager, task leader, or showing an ability to get things done is better than simply being a “worker bee” with a good attendance record.

The Telephone Screen

If I have questions about a resume, I’m not the least bit hesitant to use the telephone to further screen the candidate. Calling them directly or calling a previous employer are both good ways to narrow down a field of candidates. Information gathered from phone calls can be interesting as well as entertaining.

Dust off the resume – this is what one candidate told me over the phone when he recognized that I was an employer to whom he had previously sent a copy of his resume. I hadn’t seen his resume in a couple of years, but had renewed my interest in some of his experience for a particular project. We had spoken before about employment, but nothing came of it. Instead of offering to send me an updated resume, he wanted me to dig through my files as if I might have a file cabinet full of hundreds of resumes that I reviewed over the years. What kind of ambitious job seeker wouldn’t offer to send me an updated resume? I figured it was one who wasn’t all that ambitious about finding a job.

No idea of what I want to do – this was a response I received from a direct question about what an individual had as a vision for their future. Better yet, he followed it up with, “I don’t think anyone really knows what he or she wants to do.” Well, I did then, and I still do today. Don’t you? And, aren’t you interested in someone who has a plan, a vision, or at least a general idea of what they’d like to be involved in when it comes to employment? If not, then what is the possibility of getting this prospective employee fully engaged in your enterprise?

Dodging direct questions – a sure sign that something is amiss. During a phone interview, I asked the same question about four times during an extended conversation. Each time, the question was skirted. After a while, it became clear that the interviewee either didn’t know the answer or didn’t want to give me the answer. That was enough of a warning sign for me to drop consideration of that particular candidate.

Refusal to offer detailed information – a technique used by companies to avoid potential lawsuits regarding employment matters. Some companies have a policy about former employees that only allows verification of employment dates, but doesn’t allow exchange of information regarding employee performance. If you really enjoyed working with the individual, wouldn’t you say so? I would. When faced with this type of roadblock, simply ask whether the individual is eligible for rehire. This type of question is usually among the ones that are permissible to answer. You might be surprised, and quite pleased, when the person on the other end answers, “Absolutely not” or “Absolutely, we’d love to have her back.” These types of responses are very helpful in sorting through the list of candidates.

Using both a good review of the resume and some well-focused questions on the phone can help you narrow a field of candidates to a limited number that are more manageable in terms of conducting face-to-face interviews. After all, you’ll want to spend lots of time interviewing the better ones – assuming you might select from that field of candidates – so you won’t want to consume valuable time with those who can be eliminated simply by looking at the resume and conducting a quick interview over the phone.

I think it goes without saying that this screening process is especially important if you’re paying travel expenses associated with interviewing candidates face-to-face, but it’s also important for local interviews. I’m all for spending lots of time recruiting a company’s most valuable resource, but there is no sense wasting time on low potential candidates when there are so many other things that require your attention.

When we meet again, I’ll offer some suggestions on conducting interviews. After all, now that you have your short list of candidates, you’ll want to meet them face-to-face to see if you can find a match for your enterprise.

Clair Schwan hosts where he encourages his readers to start and operate their own enterprise, and stop making money for others. He also hosts where he and his team of writers believe that a self-directed and self-managed life is key to personal achievement and happiness. And, what could be more satisfying than making your own way as one of the successfully self-employed?