Are You Putting Style Before Substance? 10 Interview Tips

Posted on Thu, Oct 24, 2013 @ 12:10 PM

interview tips“The first impression is the last impression.” It’s a common adage, one that has not only permeated our culture, but also the way many of us conduct interviews.

It’s an extreme example, but we’ve met self-proclaimed hiring gurus who believe so strongly in first impressions that they claim they can actually tell whether or not a candidate is going to fit by the posture he or she uses in the waiting room before the interview.

Thankfully, most of us are not this shortsighted—or ostentatious. Nonetheless, Laura Gassner- Otting, author of “Put Substance before Style during Hiring Interviews,” believes that many of us still allow first impressions to get in the way of making good hiring decisions. Here are 10 of her tips to help ensure that you put substance before style in your next interview.

Are You Putting Style Before Substance? 10 Interview Tips

  • The first time many of us have a substantive conversation with a candidate is in person, which is ultimately a loaded environment. Delay visual first impressions by screening all candidates over the phone first.  
  • Checking references can be time consuming, so many of us wait until we’ve singled out a candidate to begin making calls. Gassner-Otting suggests taking the time to make at least one or two preliminary reference checks before the interview. As you speak to the candidate’s references, challenge yourself to see him or her through the eyes of the previous employer.
  • We mentioned something similar in our last blog post, but it bears repeating: Job descriptions, not whim, should ultimately guide your interview questions.
  • Interviews are nerve-racking for both interviewee and interviewer. Use a warm-up period to give some levity to a stuffy situation.  Have a moment of casual conversation, offer a beverage and allow the candidate to get comfortable before diving in.
  • You can never entirely negate personal biases, but you can keep them in check. If you like a particular candidate, throw him or her some hardball questions; do the opposite with candidates you don’t like. Remember that their interview performance may be based on what they perceive you are doing.
  • How many times have you asked why a candidate left his or her previous position and heard, “There wasn’t any room for growth?” We hear this one a lot, so we’ve started asking the candidate to qualify the real reason for leaving by asking a few of Gassner-Otting’s suggested questions:
  • “What does growth mean to you? Is it a vertical climb, a lateral move that broadens your skills, or is money more of a motivator?” After you ask these questions, follow up with, “I want you to be honest about this. There is no right or wrong answer.”
  • Continue to be mindful of your own biases. At the half-way point of the interview, reevaluate your impressions.
  • Interview as a committee to reduce personal dynamics, or bring in potential supervisors or staff members to balance out your personal biases.
  • Online retailers and Barnes and Noble are all brimming with an ever-increasing library of interview books and online career strategy resources that encourage applicants to tailor their resumes and interview answers to each employer. These resources certainly make interviewees savvier, but they also turn interviews into a game of wits, strategies and defenses. What’s the best workaround? Frank conversation and open dialogue.
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