Business 101: Making Your Employment Interviews More Effective

"Warm body hiring!" That is what many contractors essentially do when they do not take the time to prepare to interview job candidates, no matter whether the job is for a general laborer or crew leader. While most contractors do not purposely set out to hire "mistakes" the same end result is experienced if proper preparations and planning are absent.

I want to help your next hiring decision, and this article will outline several proven techniques to accomplish this. Remember, preparing to interview should begin long before the first question is ever asked. Consider the following preparations toward improving your next interview.

1. Develop a job profile

You should identify the exact job requirements for the job that will be needed, including needed skills, experience and expertise. This is more than a job description and should reflect actual needs for the job. This profile should answer the question, "What will this person really do in this position?"

2. Consider the team mix

What sort of person will fit best with the existing team of employees? For example, let's consider that you are looking to add another crew leader to your company who has better verbal skills. Many of your existing crew leaders seem to be more passive, less vocal and not overly assertive. Adding a leader with a more direct nature to his or her personality would strengthen the balance of the team.

3. Set minimum/maximum pay levels

What is the very minimum starting pay that you'll offer and what is the maximum that you will offer? This part of the equation is often not seriously considered until we have already interviewed candidates. Setting your pay's "Min's & Max's" will provide you with a clear picture of whom you can seriously consider hiring. If a candidate's demands are higher than your max starting pay, then cease your interviewing of such a candidate immediately. Don't hire what you can't pay for!

4. Develop an interview process

Almost any process is better than no process if you are consistent. Decide early whether you will conduct one or more interviews before making an offer to a candidate. I strongly recommend that you conduct at least two interviews and have personally found that a third interview strengthens making better hiring decisions. For each interview determine a strategy that will be pursued. For example, on the first interview you might seek to find out what are the minimum technical skills and industry experience the candidate has. If they have the minimum needs met, then a second interview might focus on how they will fit in with your company's culture and the people with whom they will work. A third interview could involve a few of your other workers so that they will get a first impression of the candidate. Sleep on your decision one night before making the offer.

5. Prepare for a focused interview

While many contractors interview and hire candidates at jobsites, I have found this to be a precursor to making poor hiring decisions. At least one of the interviews should be in a more quiet and less active environment where there are few distractions. Such an environment can often produce some awkward moments of silence, something that is good for you to "read" the honesty and thinking ability of the candidate.

Now, if you will complete the above five preparation techniques before conducting your next interview, you will feel more prepared, confident and motivated to conduct the actual interview. Such preparation is 80 to 90 percent of the effort. However, to complete the interviewing effort let's now consider a few techniques that are worth your attention.

A. Present brief company information

The interview is for you to find out about the candidate. While the candidate needs to know something about your company, its future goals, etc., resist the temptation to paint too blue of a sky. Be proud of your company but don't make it easy for any candidate to think that working for you is the easiest thing in the world.

B. Prioritize Your Questions

You often will interview two or more candidates for a single position. It is good then to make a list of the questions you will ask all the candidates and to prioritize the questions in the order of how you will ask each candidate. Following such an order will enable you mentally to make comparisons between the candidates. Ideally you should ask very general questions to begin the first interview, focusing more on the candidate's industry knowledge, skills and experience. A few examples of questions might include:

  • Tell me about your technical skills. Give me two examples of how you have used these skills for your previous employer.
  • How has the concrete industry changed since you've been in the industry? Give me two changes that you've had to make.

Once you're comfortable with the level of responses move forward with the candidate to more behavioral, mental and people-oriented questions, such as:

  • Have you every disagreed with your past leaders? Give me a few examples of such a time and how you adjusted.
  • Teamwork is very critical to a successful project. Give me two examples of how you contributed to teamwork at your previous employer.

C. Emphasize candidate's past work history

You should have noticed in the previous section how I framed the questions. "Give me two examples …" Strive to pose questions or requests in such a manner that the candidate must answer with a response that can be confirmed. In fact, it's a great idea to inform your candidates that you will be calling their references so you are very interested in confirming their responses with what their past employer will say. Even using a simple question such as, "What will your previous supervisor tell me was your approach to work every day or to fixing a mistake?" can go a long way toward reducing the amount of lying that often takes place during interviews.

D. 'Run Silent' and take notes

After asking a question of a candidate … shut up! The interview is for the candidate to prove their potential value or worth for your company. Do not interrupt a candidate or try to clarify a point they may be struggling to make. Also, do not hesitate to let an unusually long period of silence be experienced. Such silence acts as another means to prod the candidate to take their responses to you seriously. Take notes on what responses the candidates give. Not only does it add to your memory in the short term, but it also sends a subliminal signal to the candidate that you are holding them accountable for their responses. Taking notes can be very intimidating to a candidate who is lying to you.

E. Real-life examples

The further into the interviewing process you go, strive to use more actual work examples in the interview. Stay away from "what if" scenarios and direct your questions to solicit actual examples of accomplishments from the candidates. There are really no bad answers to "what if" questions since an opinion is worth very little during an interview. What you are most interested in is getting the real candidate to shine forth.

Interviewing continues to be one of the weakest areas for construction leaders. Many of us are simply too busy trying to get work completed to take much time out to prepare for a thorough interview. Having a plan and being prepared can actually assist us in making fewer hiring decisions as we'll make better decisions earlier, selecting better candidates who will remain with our businesses longer.

Brad Humphrey is a former construction company owner and president of Pinnacle Development Group, a consulting firm that specializes in assisting construction companies in job planning, job costing, sales and leadership development. For more information about Pinnacle Development Group go to www.pinnacledg.com or e-mail Brad at brad@pinnacledg.com.

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