You have a packed day of interviewing ahead. But unless you are disciplined it will almost certainly over-run, making the company look bad and candidates uncomfortable.

As the interviewer you are the person in control, or should be.  You know how much time you have for each meeting and know exactly what you are looking for.  

You do not need to demonstrate how important or powerful you are to each candidate.  You should enable them to show themselves in the best possible light. But to do this they need your help and will really struggle if you are not in control.

So as you start, now is not the time for you to give him your autobiography, though many do.  If you start to do so, SHUT UP!!!!! (Sending out a job description before should remove the need for too much preamble.)

Give each candidate enough time to deal with the questions you want answers to, and move them on quickly when they get bogged down in some trivia about their early career.

You should know where you want to be at each point of the meeting, and not suddenly find that you’ve run out of time to ask the most important questions at the end.  

Stay in control, stay focused and above give everyone a fair chance.  You owe it to them, they have put themselves out to meet you.

Good luck.

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Recruiting is a difficult task, everybody tells me there is a shortage of talent. But sometimes there are a lot of candidates, and you have to bring several together to interview and compare.

But if you do so over several days or even weeks, how do you prevent yourself from making unfair comparisons between people you have just met to those that you saw say three weeks ago?

It is not easy, in the interviewing world “Absence makes the heart grow less fond”. People you met many weeks ago have faded in your memory, and their impact is no longer as positive. I have no idea why this should be, but let me assure you it is the way the human mind works.

So get yourself a system. I recommend that you mark each candidate on a scale of 5 for at least 5 and maybe 10 attributes or skills. And my scale of five is always the same,

1 = Fail

2 = Less than satisfactory

3 = OK

4 = Good

5 = Fantastic

It is not difficult to understand. If you are perfectly happy with somebody then they score 3, anybody who fails more than one or two of the headings possibly gets excluded from the process. What might those headings be?

It depends what the job entails. Assume it is for a sales executive. Your headings might be

  • First Impressions
  • Communication Skills
  • Appearance
  • Professionalism
  • Persuasiveness
  • Organisation
  • Experience
  • Potential
  • Technical Knowledge
  • Energy

I’m not saying these are the ideal headings to choose for a sales executives, but it gives you something to go on. Are they OK, Good or Very Good for each of those points, or do they disappoint or plain fail to come up to the standard expected?

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Or slightly less subtly, an interviewer might ask “Are you a people person?”

We all want team players. Even in what are relatively selfish, self-interested roles, such as sales, we still want people who can work together.

It all sounds a bit cheesy, but being a team player is really important, especially if you are being interviewed by the HR department. They do not like conflict too much.

So tell them how well you work with other people, how much you contribute to the team effort and add value. How you support your colleagues in their work.

The interviewer will be interested in people who share their knowledge and experience with others, especially if they help them achieve their deadlines and targets. Think about examples that show you were able to work successfully within a team. Explain how you were able to earn the respect of your peers and superiors.

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Or perhaps somebody asks you the slightly more leading “What do you need to earn?”

If you are insecure, a little unsure of yourself and not wanting to upset the interviewer, then you will find this a really difficult conversation to have.

I will make two points to you, what you need to earn and what you expect to earn may be different. And remember in any negotiation it is really difficult to go up in value if you are selling something, you’ll nearly always be coming down. So whatever you say now will be the highest salary you are going to get!

Hopefully you will have arrived at the interview with a fairly good idea of the earnings potential of the role. You clearly want to earn at the top end of the salary bracket, they probably want to offer at the lower end. How do you play it?

Once again, honesty is the best policy. There is no point in wasting everybody’s time if you want double what they are prepared to pay. Some gaps can be bridged, that type of gap won’t be.

Never forget that you are worth it! If you walk through the door knowing exactly what the ‘market value’ of your skills is you will feel more confident. Don’t accept less, unless you have a compelling reason to do so. Consider how important this role is in your career, and whether it is already a significant step up from your earnings potential at the moment. Because even if they get you cheap, it might still be a very good career move.

Don’t be shy when you answer this question – you know your salary requirements. So be convincing, answer in a clear and concise manner that sounds confident and says, ‘Because I’m worth it!’

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Many times I have sat with a client to help with their interviews. At the end of the process I say “What do you think?”

It often surprises me that things that are either blatant lies, or even hugely exaggerated claims are believed word for word. The naivety of a sometimes experienced businessman is often a concern. “Well he said he did it, and I guess I have to believe him”.

It may come as a shock to you, but some of the best candidates on the surface are trying very hard to impress. And in doing so some will exaggerate the truth, others embellish their history, some or will just plain lie through their teeth.

As an interviewer, you have to ask not what they are saying, but why they are saying it. Be sceptical, ask for proof and can they back it up. Say that you would like to check out their story. See if they have any figures with them, or can quote you figures that back up their claims.

Dig a little deeper, make sure their figures tally with what you would expect, always question if they are different. It’s not exactly Hercule Poirot, but it is an investigation of sorts and you have to expect to be lied to.

A healthy scepticism never did an interviewer much harm.

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We are all pressured, we are all rushed. For many nothing can be more daunting than the prospect of interviewing 10 candidates for the Receptionist’s position that you need to fill.

So we put off thinking about it until the time arrives.  We turn up almost late and point out that we have not got as much time as we would like to complete the interview.  

We have not finished everything before the meeting, so we continue to take calls.  Finally, as they leave we mumble something about seeing everyone soon – we will be in touch within a week.  The candidate hears nothing more.

How much damage is that doing to your company?  First of all the interview was probably been a complete waste of time, you could have spoken on the phone.

Secondly the candidate may have been wound up about this for days – in an already stressed situation he or she has had to put up with interruptions and less than your full attention.

Finally no contact or follow up after the meeting?  They think that you couldn’t care less. On the basis of these events, he is probably right.

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Some candidates have a real problem with this question in interview, especially if they haven’t considered it before. Their dilemma goes something like this, “If I say I have been looking at lots of jobs, they’ll think I’m always on the move. If I say I haven’t, they’ll think they are the only ones in the market.”

My suggestion? Why not be truthful? If you are looking at a number of different opportunities because it is the right time to make a move, then tell them so. If this is the only job you’ve looked at, because you are actually very settled but this one has really piqued your interest, then tell them so.

If you have experience that is in demand, it does no harm to show that they are not the only show in town.

But, if I may recall the spirit of Sir Bruce Forsyth, it might be best to whisper “You’re my favourite” or perhaps slightly less cheesily, “Your company is my first choice”.

Didn’t you do well? Good luck.

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Anti-discrimination legislation has been around for many years now. But people are often surprised at how easy it is to fall into the discrimination trap when interviewing.

So before you interview, just think of the types of question you are going to ask, the types of things you are going to say, and make sure that they cannot be interpreted in the wrong way. Because you cannot be seen to deliberately exclude a section of the workforce that is “protected” under anti discrimination legislation. That could mean Age, Sex, Sexual Preference, Pregnancy, Religion, Disability, Race as a starter – the full list is on the Gov.uk website.

And some of these can be quite subtle.

Most people would know that you cannot ask a female applicant about childcare, their plans for a family or even what their husband does. It is not something you would ask a male in the same situation, so it is automatically discriminatory.

But it is also very dangerous to ask an older candidate what their energy levels are like – do they get tired at the end of the day, can they cope with a stressful environment. It implies that you think that the older people get the less energetic they are. It may or may not be scientifically proven that that is the case, but by asking it you are automatically signalling that you don’t need somebody with those attributes, and therefore the older applicant is at a disadvantage.

And you my rant and rail against this “political correctness”, but for the economy itself it makes a lot of sense. Because everybody tells us there is a lack of talent out there, but most people recruit within very narrow boundaries.

But guess what? There is a wealth of talent out there, but you need to open your minds to precisely where these people can come from. They may not come from the traditional routes in the future, our society and the economy is changing so fast.

So by discriminating you are slowing up your recruitment process, narrowing your pool of talent and making your job much more difficult.

And you might open yourself to a discrimination claim. With unlimited damages.

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If you have interviewed for any length of time, or if you have attended any training courses, then you will certainly know the difference between an open and a closed question.

But if you haven’t, let me enlighten you now. Because you might just get frustrated with how often interviews grind to a halt, how they are just punctuated by a series of grunts from your interviewees.

Open questions make interviews flow much more naturally, closed questions tend to make them go in fits and starts. Because closed questions invite a short, even a one-word answer, open questions almost demand a considered response.

Think of it like talking to a teenager. If you ask “Tell me about your day at school today” then you might just get more than a one-word answer. But if you say “Did you have a good day at school today?”, don’t be disappointed if they answer no more than “yes”.

And so the same goes in interviews if you ask “Explain how your department performed last year” then the respondent needs to give you some information, needs to open a conversation, needs to engage. But if you ask “Did you hit budget last year?” it’s either Yes or No. And you have to ask another question.

Pretty well any question you can think of asking that is closed can be turned into an open question and prompt a conversation rather than just a grunt. People are nervous at interviews, and often they go for the safer one-word answer rather than explaining everything. And you need to bring them out of your shell.

Useful words like “Explain….” or “Take me through….” or “Tell me a little bit about” or even “Why did you….” are all good lead ins to open questions. And open questions lead to open conversations and you will get much more out of your candidates than a series of short answers.

Good luck

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I spoke to another candidate this week who was going along to an assessment centre. It is not unusual.  

For this one they had been asked to prepare a presentation on the 5, 10 and 15 year strategic plan for the motor industry. And we had a long chat about it, his thoughts and ideas were sound. He had done a lot of research and I think had put together a very cogent presentation, especially for a sales manager.

Except I did ask myself the question. Why are they talking about the long-term, when they really need someone whose focus is on this month’s figures? In football terms, it is great to see someone who can see the redeveloped stadium in five years time and a European Football League, but how are we going to win the game on Saturday?

In other words, if you are going to hold an assessment centre make sure you measure what is relevant to your candidate. You might judge on a great presentation and fantastic strategic awareness, but will they still be there at 6.30 on a Saturday night making sure you met your monthly figures? Will they be logging in at 6.30 in the morning to secure the best used cars on the manufacturer’s system? Will they be worried that Mrs Jones’ car is going to be six hours late?

Because those are the things that great dealer managers worry about and sort, they can’t really control the future of the industry and it doesn’t really matter if they understand it.

But good luck anyway, I hope the presentations go well.

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