Three times in the past month I have had the unfortunate experience of overhearing job interviews being held in a café. Apart from the inappropriateness of holding such a vital exchange in a public and often noisy area, I have to tell you my overwhelming judgement has been the interviewers themselves have been terrible!
It got me thinking whilst there is plenty written about how to be a good interviewee, little in contrast is offered to managers about how they should undertake an interview. And I know not many people are aware that interviewees have a right to take a potential employer as far as an employment tribunal if they feel badly treated in an interview, citing various rights including the Equality Act (2010).
The first thing I learned from these chance encounters was everyone should find the right time and place for an interview. A noisy and public shared space just isn’t good enough. The single focus must be on the transaction taking place, and should not be diluted by environmental distractions or stifled by a lack of confidentiality. People perform better when they feel safe and comfortable.
Commonly interviewees are told to research the organisation they want to work for, dress appropriately and make good first impressions, but do interviewers take as much care I wonder? Interviewers need to be equally prepared with answers to likely questions about the organisation, making sure they make a good organised and competent impression, and taking care in their presentation. All of these factors increase the likelihood of a candidate accepting an offer if one is made. People join organisations to work with people, not businesses (also the same reason they leave).
An interview is a two-way conversation. In all of the interviews I have witnessed this month, the interviewer has dominated by talking as much as 80% of the time. The opposite should be the case 20% you, 80% them. I observed too many closed questions requiring a yes/no answer, and a lack of quality listening.
The basis of an interview is a series of questions to be answered by the candidate. Questions need to have a single focus, be open ended, and test out values whilst offering a chance to share examples of past and relevant experience and future approach. And the questions need to be listened to aurally and visually (body language). Once again, I am reminding leaders and managers to prioritise listening skills.
Don’t be afraid of awkward silences. Be interested in the candidate and encourage them to think and speak about themselves. As a psychotherapist, I have been trained to value silences – they are thinking time for both sides. Candidates’ brains will be working at speed in what is a high pressure environment, so silences are very helpful all round. Breaks in conversation can offer time to think of further or sub-questions, and to process the answers already given.
The stakes are really quite high. Team members are your biggest resource and your largest expense. So taking time and care is a great investment. I believe the better the interviewer, the better their recruits.
A version of this blog was first published in Teach Early Years Magazine.