A Hiring Manager’s Guide to Interviewing

As a hiring manager, you want to surround yourself with the strongest team possible, and one bad hire can drag your team (and your profits) down dramatically. In the interview process, you only have so much time to get to know a person and try to make a judgment call about how well they will function within your team. So how can you make the filtering process as effective as possible, and leave yourself only superstars to choose from?

In this post, I want to share my hiring process so that you will not only avoid a bad hire, but make the best possible hires:

Give Yourself Plenty of Time

There is a reason why bad hires happen when a company feels pressured to fill the job quickly. A good hiring process is so much more than a couple of phone screens and a day of interviews. Give yourself enough time to set up effective screening systems, craft careful questions, and do thorough checks on potential hires. If you spend the time, you will be more confident in your hiring decision.

With that in mind, you still need to be aware that a position vacancy puts added pressure on other employees on your team. While you want to take your time, don’t leave your team in the dark thinking that you’re not taking hiring that seriously; communicate what’s going on with everyone involved.

If possible, make concessions for those bearing the brunt of the work until the new hire is made. Perhaps you can allow some flexibility for employees to work any needed extra hours remotely until the team is at full strength. And be sure to get team members involved in the interview process, by having them help you screen candidates or come up with a list of good interview questions. By acknowledging the strain on them and getting them involved, you’ll make sure the team knows you have their long-term success at heart.

Update the Job Description

An updated job description can save you and your candidates valuable time. Many people fall into the trap of updating or reusing an old job description, and while this might get the position listed quicker, it may not actually reflect the real requirements and responsibilities of the role. Do the duties accurately reflect the open position? Are your requirements really requirements, or just things you want to see on a resume? Look at your job description with a critical eye and make changes: The last thing you need is to sort through piles of applications that are written for a job that doesn’t really exist.

Updating the description is especially important when hiring for specific, technical roles. If the position requires proficiency in a particular programming language, make sure the candidate knows that language. Critical skills should be listed in the position description under “necessary” or “required” skills. There’s no point in considering a candidate who doesn’t have this skill; make that really clear in the job description so you don’t waste time filtering those people out.

If you don’t know what the necessary skills will be, check with an expert in the candidate’s specific field or with other people on your team who do that job. While you’re at it, ask the expert how they would test the candidate on these skills. His or her response might help you brainstorm questions to ask in the interview.

Consider the Details

Here’s a tip recommended by CEO of Hootsuite, Ryan Holmes: Hide an unexpected question in the fine print of the job description. As he explains, the most effective employees are those who take the time to read the details. He “hides” an unconventional request such as, “Please list three websites you visit frequently” in the fine print. Candidates are usually most alert during the initial hiring stage. If they can’t follow detailed instructions in the application, they probably won’t be able to do it on the job, either.

This can even be as simple as asking candidates to use a specific subject line when sending in their email. It doesn’t have to be complicated; just a quick check that they are paying attention.

Search Strategically

There are so many ways to post job listings: LinkedIn, social media, career sites, print media, online forums, and so on… but don’t forget the valuable resource that is your team, too. Your people are an incredible resource you can tap when looking for your next hire. Not only do they know what the job will entail, but they are likely also connected with other people who do the same kind of work they do.

Moreover, these employees are people that value your trust, and who you (hopefully) already trust yourself. They are not likely to make a recommendation that will ruin that relationship, nor will they pick someone who they wouldn’t be excited to work with (which will help the new hire’s transition be even smoother). Plus, if the recommendation comes from a team member who you know is a superstar, they have been pre-vetted by someone you know is great, and will more likely be a great fit for your team.

Check References

When pressed for time, one of the first things to get overlooked is the reference check. I get it — checking references is time-consuming and boring.

But skipping this step is a mistake. Checking references will give you valuable insight into the personality, work style, and integrity of your candidate. What’s more, it will help you screen your candidates for red flags.

If you’re really not interested in doing reference calls, Nir Eyal suggests skipping the call altogether, and instead emailing each reference. The message? Ask if the candidate was truly exceptional. If they were, then Nir wants to hear back. If they weren’t, don’t bother replying.

That strategy saves time and ensures you only hear back from people who feel strongly enough about the candidate to reply — which is a good sign.

If you’re doing a standard reference check call, though, try to ask questions that elicit real responses. Most people will simply say something positive by default, because they’re busy and don’t want to rock the boat for a former coworker; but you need to find a way to dig a little deeper quickly.

Questions to ask the reference:

  • In what kind of situations does [Candidate] shine?
  • Did you ever give [Candidate] critical feedback? If so, how was it received and how did [Candidate] respond?
  • If you were going to give advice on how to best guide this person, what would it be?
  • Would you hire [Candidate] again? Would you hire them for the role we are considering them for? Why or why not?

Look for Learners

Some of the best employees I’ve ever hired share the same quality: resourcefulness. These employees can adapt to changes and new environments. They are always learning and building off their current skills. They have a willingness to learn that can’t be assessed in a resume. But because this trait can’t be assessed easily on paper, an interview is extremely important.

Even if they don’t have every single skill you were hoping for, someone who is a go-getter can still be a fantastic hire, simply because of their drive to learn and grow. To assess this, try asking one of these questions:

  • Tell me about a time you had to learn something to do your job? How did it go? How long did it take you?
  • What is something you read or experienced that really helped your grow in your job? Ideally the candidate will describe a learning experience they had recently; and if not you can ask them for something in the last 6 months.
  • What are you doing to advance your career and your skillset? Good candidates will have lots of great ideas.

Attitude Check

A negative or egocentric employee can drag everyone else down. I look for candidates who are team players, who don’t get easily discouraged, and who seem genuinely interested in solving the problem we are working on. I can often assess this trait simply by watching how they conduct themselves in the interview. What kind of language do they use to talk about themselves, their past teams, and their work?

Set Them Up for Success

Once you do find the right hire, make sure they have the tools to do their job. Just because he or she was the most qualified candidate for the position doesn’t mean that they will be able to jump in, without training, and kick butt.

Do your hire the courtesy of giving him or her the tools necessary to succeed. Set them up with a mentor who can answer their questions. Check in on them yourself, and help them get integrated with the team by encouraging your current staff to connect with them. The sooner you can get your new hire the things they need to be happy and productive, the sooner they will be able to start shining in the role.

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