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Evaluating Candidates Made (A Little) Easier

Things to consider when you’re conducting a job interview

Shawnice-MeadorShawnice Meador’s corporate background provides an added benefit to the students of MBA@UNC. They get the unique perspective of a career professional who really knows what an employer is thinking.

In 2012, Meador joined UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School as the director of career management and leadership development of MBA@UNC an online MBA program that caters to working professionals. In addition to her passion for helping others succeed, Meador came to Kenan-Flagler with several years in talent management and leadership development with Progress Energy under her belt. Today, Meador uses her corporate leadership know how and her personal experience as a former MBA student to help the student population thrive. When asked, she graciously offered to share her expertise on evaluating candidates.   

How can an interviewer assess intangible qualities like motivation and passion? What about the candidate’s ability to work well with others?

When assessing intangibles, it’s important to pay attention to not only what a person says and how they say it, but also what they choose not to say.  Ask questions about things they have committed to in the past and look for a spark or for them to light up—this will give you an idea if they have passion for the work or the ability to commit.

Behavior-based questions are a great way to assess how someone handles a situation, such as “Tell me about a conflict that involved a coworker and how you resolved that issue.”  This provides the interviewee the opportunity to take direction, and explain their approach.  Simple or vague answers can also tell you something—we all have instances of tension in the workplace that we can recall, and you can look at how they explain their story for insight into their ability to work well with others.

What should raise a red flag during the interview process? Answers to certain questions and/or behaviors during the interview itself or during the interview process?

Watch for canned, rehearsed, or surface level answers.  If you can tell there is more to the story that they’re not telling, or that they’re not being transparent in their answer, it should be a warning sign.

Behaviorally, look out for people who have a nonchalant attitude—from body language, to their tone, to how they’re dressed.  There are several things to pay attention to in order to tell how serious someone is taking the interview.  You also want to watch for people who are over-confident.  People should definitely carry themselves with confidence but if they present an attitude of cockiness, it can tell you something about how they work—they may be more competitive than collaborative, or they may not be open to feedback.

You also want to be careful of people who ask too many “me” questions during the interview, especially early on.  The majority of their questions in an early stage interview should be about the work itself, the team, and the company, and less focused on vacation time or travel opportunities that only benefit the individual.

Whether they are conscious or unconscious we all have biases. Sometimes this is referred to as the Halo Effect and Horns Effect where we allow one trait either good (Halo) or bad (Horns) to overshadow other traits. How can an interviewer prevent these biases from affecting his or her perception of a candidate?

Before you even start interviewing candidates, make a list of the top five things you’re looking for, and a short list of absolute deal-breakers.  Write down both skills and behaviors that outline what an ideal hire would have and not have.  Then, share that list with the other people that will be participating in the interview process.  I’m a strong advocate for involving more than one or two people in the hiring process in order to offer more perspectives.  Make sure that everyone involved in the decision agrees on the top attributes you’re looking for in a candidate.  After all the interviews are performed, compare notes against that list, which should remove any sort of individual bias outweighing others.

Do basic questions like – “tell me about yourself” and “what is your greatest weakness?” or “tell me about a time when” – still viable? Or is it time for something new?

These are absolutely still valid.  The point to asking open ended questions like this is to get to know how a person thinks.  They help you learn about a person and how they would do the work based on their explanation.  They also can shed light on how self-aware a candidate is, and how they work on improving themselves.   Although it is a question about the past, “Tell me about a time when…” gives insight into how a person might handle a situation with your company in the future.

What are the biggest mistakes interviewers make during the interview process?

The first mistake interviewers make is rushing the process and not spending enough time with a candidate.  This doesn’t mean you need to take five weeks to vet someone, but it’s worth investing the time to dive deeper and get to know how they think and what they would be bringing to the table.  Sometimes we may be hasty in our decision because a person looks right on paper.  Taking the time to make a personal connection and get to know the “real” person is crucial.

Second is not involving multiple people in the hiring process.  Just as you want to have several candidates to compare and contrast, you also want to have multiple people on the interview team.  This can be a panel or three separate discussions but the more people involved in the interview process, the more you can remove that unconscious personal bias.

You also need to be consistent with all your candidates.  This doesn’t mean ask them all the same checklist of questions, but have a shared understanding between the interview team of what you’re looking for –  in skills, abilities, behaviors and potential.  You want to give everyone a similar experience so that it’s easier to compare notes afterwards.

Lastly is getting too focused on past accomplishments, and not think enough about potential.  It can be easy to be wowed by what’s on the paper resume but you don’t want to overlook elements like cultural fit or potential for future growth.  Often managers think about hiring to fill a certain set of responsibilities but it’s important to consider how a person could fit within the company longer-term and their ability to grow.


About Annette Richmond, MA

Annette Richmond, MA, CARW, CCELW, is a Certified Resume Writer, Certified LinkedIn Profile Writer, and former recruiter. Her career advice has been featured by Huffington Post, The Chicago Tribune, Forbes, Business Insider, Monster, Vault, and WSJ. She helps motivated, senior level professionals tell their unique career story. She also serves as executive editor of career-intelligence.com.


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