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Find the right employee: Interview strategies that will strike gold

Find the right employee: Interview strategies that will strike gold

By Katie Roenigk

For Eastern Idaho Business Report

When a business owner is interviewing a potential new employee, it can be difficult to tell whether the person is simply anxious about the meeting, or demonstrating actual personality traits.

Is the applicant wringing his hands because he’s uncomfortable in this setting, or is he nervous because he’s not qualified for the job?

Is she avoiding eye contact because she’s over-selling her work experience, or is she simply unsure how to connect with all of the people on the interview panel?

Hailey Mack, a career placement and recruitment coordinator at Eastern Idaho Technical College, says there are ways to avoid such confusion. She acknowledged that interviewees usually are nervous and probably aren’t acting naturally, but Mack says there are some clues employers can use to guide their decision-making — beginning with a handshake.

“I personally feel your handshake says a lot about you,” Mack said.

Note how each person sits in a chair, she continued, and pay attention to the clothes they have chosen to wear.

“How they dress is a big one,” Mack said. “Also if a person is very boastful, I think that’s not the best sign.”

Of course, in an interview it is natural to highlight one’s own positive attributes, but Mack said “there’s a good and bad way to do that.”

A lot depends on the kind of job the person is applying for, too. Tradesmen Staffing manager Jake Visser said he deals with workers interested in general labor, concrete, welding, roofing, carpentry, electrical, plumbing, and heating and air conditioning. If he hasn’t worked with the person in the past, he says a sit-down interview is the best way to gauge the individual’s abilities before sending them to a worksite.

“It’s easy for me to look at someone in person and see certain gestures,” he said. “I see the way they try to talk about things they’ve done work-history wise in certain trades. You sit there and quiz them. If they seem to know what they’re talking about, they’re a good fit.”

If the open position is in sales or some other industry that requires a lot of social interaction, the best candidate probably isn’t the one who has trouble formulating sufficient responses to questions.

“You can tell if they’re really shy and it’s hard to draw answers out of them,” Mack said.

One strategy for learning more about an applicant — particularly one who is stuck on mono-syllabic answers — is to keep questions open-ended, perhaps starting the conversation by saying, “Tell me about yourself.”

If candidates respond with personal stories about family, vacations and hobbies, without touching on professional experiences or goals, it could be a sign that their priorities are not work-related.

Another good question requires candidates to talk about mistakes they’ve made in the past.

“Tell me about a time that you did something wrong in your last job … What happened, and how did you handle it?” Mack said. “Nobody’s perfect.”

Applicants who try to skirt the issue or make excuses may have trouble taking constructive criticism.

On a potentially related note, Mack said it’s prudent to ask interviewees why they left their previous jobs.

“That’s always one that can trip people up,” she said.

Another question a lot of people aren’t prepared to answer has to do with future plans. Especially if an employer is looking for a long-term hire, it’s helpful to ask candidates where they see themselves in five years.

“That can be kind of tricky,” Mack said. “How do you answer that if this is a job I’m thinking I’m not going to be at (for long)?”

Mack is not a fan of the all-too-common questions about strengths and weaknesses, which often evoke “canned” answers that don’t offer much insight into a candidate’s individual talents. Instead, Mack suggests presenting applicants with specific scenarios that test their reactions to difficult workplace situations.

“You can hear (their strengths and weaknesses) as the interviewee is explaining how they’d handle the situation,” she said.

If interview questions aren’t leading to substantive answers, Mack said employers can always gather information from prepared résumés. She advises skipping over the rote objective statements that often appear at the top of the document, though. Instead, Mack says employers should focus on the skill sets outlined, keeping in mind that an applicant’s most relevant abilities may not have been learned in a professional setting.

“A lot of students don’t have experience in the field, but they do have education,” Mack said. “Or some skills could be from … doing community service.”

Finally, she said, interviewers can use résumés to flesh out quantifiable information about each candidate’s work history. For example, if a former waiter says he is organized and works well under pressure, try to find out how many customers he has served at one time, and ask about his experience functioning as part of a team.

“It’s really good … to ask questions from the résumé,” Mack said.