How to conduct a job interview

Most of us have been through thoroughly horrible job interviews, and unfortunately, some of us have conducted these terrible interviews. But, interviews don't have to be terrible and difficult. When you're the hiring manager, conducting a good interview increases the likelihood that you'll get a good hire. Here are some tips:

Conduct a job analysis before you start asking for resumes. The first step to good interviewing is knowing exactly what position you are interviewing for. The Economic Research Institute just published a new white paper on conducting a good job analysis. They suggest you first interview the person who is currently in that position to find out what they really do. You may be surprised at how much someone does that the boss doesn't know about. If that's not possible, break down the job's elements and look at everything from working conditions (inside, outside, at a desk, on your feet, hot, cold, loud, etc.) to responsibilities (both specific tasks and level of accountability). Is this job one that deals more with people or more with data or more with tangible objects? Is it customer focused or internally focused?

Write up a thorough job description. Most job descriptions are terrible. They are full of fluffy language about striving to reach potential. Forget that. What you really need is a description of what a typical week in this job looks like. Note if there are seasonal stress periods. For instance, retail is going to be harder in December. Accountants will work 16 hour days leading up to April 15.

Write down the negative stuff too. Yes, you want to convince the candidates that this is a great opportunity for them, but the reality is, you want people who will be a good fit. And that means telling people what to expect.

All of these seem to not really be interviewing instructions -- after all, everything above is about interview preparation. But, why waste your time talking with people (and even reading resumes) if you haven't got everything above done? With the actual interviews here are some tips:

Explain the position thoroughly. Let the candidate know as much as is practical in a few minutes time. Don't hold back on the boring parts. They are part of the job too.

Ask the candidate specific questions about their qualifications. Don't just ask them to rehash their resume. Pick out things from their resume and ask them more in-depth questions about that. Get a good handle on what they did in their past jobs, so you'll better be able to tell if they will be likely to have success in the new position.

Tell the candidate the biggest challenge this job will face and ask what his plans would be for fixing it. Granted, not all problems are predictable, but find out about challenges. If it's a complex problem, consider sending your candidate an email a week or so before the interview with the problem laid out and ask them to come and present their ideas. You'll find out how your candidate will help your business.

Don't focus on things that aren't important. Your customer service manager needs to be able to be a good, verbal communicator, and able to diffuse angry customers easily. Your back end IT person doesn't need to be a great verbal communicator. She needs to be able to fix the computers and manage software. Don't disqualify an otherwise qualified candidate because the interview doesn't sparkle.

Get a second opinion. We often make judgments based on our biases, so make sure you have more than one person interview the candidates. This can be a recruiter or a peer. In fact, many companies have 3 or 4 people interview each candidate. While some companies feel it's best to do it in a panel setting, others find it better to do one-on-one interviews so that each evaluator can form an independent opinion.

Let the candidate ask questions. Don't take offense if the candidate asks you, for instance, what you hate about your job. Be honest. And if the candidate doesn't have any questions, don't assume that's a bad thing. It may well be that you've explained everything.

Take notes. If you're interviewing 5 candidates for a position, by the time you get to number 5, you may well have forgotten what numbers 1, 2, and 3 said. Write it down. But, remember that your comments can be used in a lawsuit. So don't write down anything that would indicate an illegal reason for your decision. References to race, gender, age or (in some states) sexual orientation, can all be evidence of your illegal discrimination. It doesn't matter if you wrote "Mexican" simply to trigger your memory of which candidate was which -- but if you don't end up hiring that person, it can be used to show discrimination.