How to Master the Art of Interview Conversation

BY Kathy Crosett
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In some organizations, it’s becoming trendy to screen job applicants by asking them a proscribed set of questions and nothing more. Other organizations are in such a rush to get people into positions that they fail to discover how well a particular person will do at the company. You can head off hiring trouble by using a smart strategy. Try asking one key question and expanding the conversation from there. Jeff Haden describes how this process works in his recent Inc. column.

The Limits of Closed Interview Loops

Maybe the candidate has passed your behavioral screening tests with flying colors. Maybe you’re using the DISC system and you’re hiring for a programming position. The candidate may have a strong C element to their personality and that attention to detail is just what the position calls for.

Don’t assume that this candidate has everything you need based on those results. You need to draw them out about how they see themselves making a positive contribution to the success of your organization. Remember that an entry-​level employee could develop into a team leader or senior manager a few years from now.

Using a Key Question

When interviewing a coder, your key question might be, “What project have you worked on that contributed most to your success so far?” Don’t let them slide by with a one-​sentence answer like, “Developing an app for a client that wanted to help customers track daily sugar consumption.” Dig deeper and find out why your candidate referred to that project. Did they like the coding challenge? Did they feel their work was contributing to the greater good? Or maybe they enjoyed working with a variety of staff members across different departments.

Expanding the Conversation

The more you engage in a question and response exchange on this topic, the more you’ll learn. The candidate might reveal that they found the coding so challenging they worked late some evenings to get it to work the way they’d imagined. That answer tells you this employee won’t be afraid of a little hard work. 

If you interview a candidate who’s new to the field or the workforce, you can still start a conversation that will reveal details that aren’t always uncovered by the standard questions. Candidates who have listed team sports on their resume should be able to explain the challenges they faced and conquered in that context. 

As Haden points out, you want every employee to be engaged and to care about the bottom line. Take your time in an interview to explore why a candidate wants to work for you and how they see themselves succeeding. The few extra minutes you spend can help you hire the right kind of people.