Thursday, March 27, 2008

The art of conducting a successful interview

By now, the secrets to a successful interview have been committed to memory: dress well, arrive early, bring plenty of resumes, think before speaking.

But what if you are on the other side of the table?
Most of the preparation related to interviewing focuses on the applicant. Yet, in an economy where young people are promoted into middle management at a rapid clip and many companies find themselves in a hiring frenzy, employers are increasingly formalizing their own interviewing processes and offering training to those in the position of asking the questions.
Illustration: Malay Karmakar / Mint
Illustration: Malay Karmakar / Mint
“The interview is the least effective way to recruit,” says P.B. Nageshwar, head of human resources (HR) with the real estate consulting firm Jones Lang LaSalle Meghraj. “The chances of getting in wrong are higher than getting it right.”
So, now Jones Lang LaSalle has two people that sit in on every interview—the line manager that the candidate would report to, and someone from HR. The manager looks more for hard skills, while HR looks more for soft skills.
And those who will be interviewing go through a full day of training before they can assess candidates.
When you have to gauge a candidate through a short general discussion rather than through assessment tests, you have to be clear about what you are looking for, suggests Nageshwar.
Prashant Bhatnagar, director of hiring at Sapient Corp., a business and technology consulting firm, says the company has a formal process in place to train interviewers also.
First, eligible Sapient employees attend a training session that outlines the dos and don’ts for an interview. Then they sit in on a few interviews, so they can watch how it works. Then they get certified to do it on their own.
Generally, employers agree that the candidate should talk more than the interviewer. Second, the Jones Lang LaSalle interviewers are told to focus on behavioural patterns, and ask open-ended rather than yes-or-no questions.
Candidates are asked to describe a challenge they faced at their previous jobs and how they dealt with it, or what they consider are their three biggest career successes.
Entry-level interviews are usually several rounds of half- hour sessions, the higher up the position, the longer the time frames.
Training also dwells just as much on the questions not to be asked: age, caste, marital status, what their parents do for a living.
But as much as someone is trained, interviewers should also rely on their sense of honesty and openness from the candidate, says Sumeer Sudhakar, manager (HR) at RDM India Pvt. Ltd, which specializes in information technology for the aviation and travel industries.
“I am seeking a certain level of earnestness in their answers,” he says. “Interviews have always been somewhat an intimidating task at any level. I have found so many applicants whose tone and answers was more earnest and clear than it was confident, and I have selected them. Today, they have built that confidence and are doing extremely well.”
Sudhakar likens the employer to a buyer and says the same rules for consumers apply: don’t mistake quantity (as in years of experience) for quality. Ask for specifics: if the candidate says she would apply progressive discipline, ask, “What is progressive discipline?”
Sapient shoots for 60-90 minutes for the technical/area expertise part of the interview, and 45-60 minutes on the softer skills/cultural fit part.
One thing Bhatnagar focused on was the interviewer being a “brand ambassador” for the company.
“Make sure the impression you leave is something they are excited about, irrespective of if they hired,” he says.
Sapient translates this idea into tips like, “respect time” —the company asks its interviewers to show up either on time, or a few minutes before the scheduled interview. It also advises against getting into an argument with the candidate.
Other tips the company stresses are, help the individual articulate their current interests and career objectives, and pick out traits that resonate with “Sapient culture”. Bhatnagar describes that as being able to give and take feedback, and not shying away from difficult conversations.
But the company’s biggest tip for interviewers is still a gut check. Would you want them on your team? If the answer is yes, says Bhatnagar, they’re hired.
Inquiry and listening tools for interviewers
# Follow the 70/30 rules. This means that the interviewer should listen 70% of the time during the interview and only talk 30% of the time.
# Use echoes. Paraphrase the interviewee’s answers to show that you are listening and understand. This gives them the chance to better explain if they need to do so.
# Be conversational! An interview should not be like an interrogation!
# It is important to give the interviewee a realistic and positive impression of the position, department. Remember, you are looking for the person who is the best fit and the applicant is looking for the same. Misleading the applicant will not benefit anyone.
# Don’t use phrases such as “as long as you do a good job,” or “until you’re ready to retire”.
As told to Megha Chhabra by Ankit Chaturvedi, project assistant at Asia-Pacific Management Consulting GmbH.

Good to see my name:)

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