Interview Candidates One-on-One

A colleague described his interviewing setup this way: “We work in a high-pressure environment. So when we interview, we sit 4 or 5 people across the table from the candidate, and throw questions at the candidate. If they can live through the interview, we hire them. The only problem is, we can’t keep people past a couple of years.”

Well, that’s one technique to make sure you hire only people who enjoy a fast-paced, no-time-to-think, competitive, antagonistic environment. Unfortunately, the software organizations I know require people who can think and collaborate together, as quickly as possible. My colleague is losing people because their interview technique discriminates against the very people they need.

If you want to know if a person can work in a fast-paced environment, ask behavior-description questions about how they’ve worked in the past. If you want to know how the candidate thinks under pressure, develop an audition, or even better, an open audition. If you want to know how a candidate works with other people, ask about their work relationships, pair work, or create an audition to see the candidate at work with people. You’ll hear better answers if you interview one-on-one.

If you work in pairs or in small groups, then yes, make the interview situation as close to a typical work situation as possible, using pairs or maybe triads to interview. But if you’re going to use more than one person to interview, extend the interview time for each pair to more than one hour, and make sure the pair discusses in advance how they will proceed in the interview. Which tangents will they take? How will they know? Pair interviewing is difficult, but not impossible.

Group interviewing is not the same as pair interviewing. Don’t do it. Especially don’t throw questions at a candidate sitting across the table from a pack of interviewers. You’ll turn off qualified candidates and let the candidates of unknown qualifications through.

One Reply to “Interview Candidates One-on-One”

  1. Just took a look at some of the material you write and offer to others, Johanna, and I like what I see. I’m in the outplacement business at the moment, and you’ve provided some nice stuff for my clients, many of whom will be hiring managers (again), and many of whom are in technical professions. Be sure that I’ll reference your book and your blog to my clients at Lee Hecht Harrison. Best regards, John

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