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Interview Tactics

What do you really want to know?

As the employer, you have reviewed the applications, completed the initial screening phone interviews and are setting up face-to-face, albeit virtual, interviews. From there you will move quickly to applicant assessment, background and reference checks, the job offer and then hiring. You have done this before. It is a process. You have your list of standard, job description-based, questions. No problem.

 Big Problem

The Balance Careers website, and many others, list their ‘ideal’ interview process as screening interview, phone interview, 1st interview, 2nd interview, 3rd interview, dining/social interview and final interview.

In my >25 years of recruiting and interviewing in several corporations, across numerous verticals, my experience is that this is mostly not the case. My synopsis is closer to fewer steps in the process, time constraints, ‘panic hire’ tendencies, lack of preparation, acceptance of information at face value, lack of ‘cultural fit’ gauging and, minimal probing of the actual work environment and expectations suitability.

What does the screening interview, reading a pre-formatted resume, asking a flurry of standard questions and contacting premeditated references provide you with? Essentially you end up with quantitative, mechanical information and a bunch of biased opinions. You know a bit about what they have done, but not too much about the circumstances or how they did it, i.e. not too much context. 

So what do we do?

I have learned the hard, and expensive, way. Market volatility, increasing change, technology development and growing platform connectivity manifest in the modern workplace as anxiety, tight (and moving) deadlines, quick decision making and necessitates an agile approach of some sort. This led me to become increasingly more interested in how candidates functioned under pressure, whether they could actually make decisions and a good ‘cultural fit’, rather than the regurgitation of pre-rehearsed positions held, qualifications, strengths, weaknesses, etc.

What do you really want to assess? Will they fit in and add value in an effective and healthy way? I had to re-think my approach. These are some of the things I implemented.

  • Arrange the interview during business hours. This may seem rather conventional. If the candidate however requests that the interview rather be conducted outside of business hours, this tells you something about loyalty – at best, and leave management – at worst.
  • Change the appointment to an unconventional time (if the candidate did not). The candidate’s response will tell you something about their commitment.
  • Ask them to perform a difficult job-related task within a specific time. This must be pre-prepared. Brief the candidate, make sure they understand the requirements and give them 20 minutes on their own. For example, give a sales candidate a value proposition and several prospects (Actual people in the company who have been ‘prepped’.) Ask the candidate to qualify the prospects and recommend how the sales stage status should change. How they approach this, rather than what they produce, will tell you something about tenacity and their ‘willingness to fail’.
  • Ask unconventional, unrelated questions. “How do you eat a hamburger?” for example. The answer is not very significant. Getting a quick response versus the candidate first asking a few questions does however tell you something about their inclination to explore context before ‘jumping in’.
  • Interrupt them (with an apology) a few times. How they deal with this will tell you something about how they cope with distractions.
  • Appear to disengage. Mid-sentence, say, “I don’t think that this is going to work.” If it is a F2F interview, stand up. If it is virtual, remain silent. If the candidate apologises and thanks you for the interview it tells you something. If the candidate re-engages and asks for an explanation or context, this tells you something about how they manage unexpected rejection.
  • Include an obviously non-job-related colleague in the interview. The receptionist in a sales position interview, for example. Introduce the person. They never speak. Whether the candidate enquiries as to why this person is in the interview, or not, tells you something about their ‘mapping the room’ and ‘first mover’ skills.
  • Have the relevant team members and colleagues in the room. Ask them to share their experiences in a brutally honest manner. This will give the candidate a sense of what they will be dealing with.
  • Have a weighting and rating system. You need a meaningful way of scoring each candidate and comparing candidates. Set up criteria and weighting based on the job description and the KPIs, and agree on a rating convention. Keep it simple. Ask each company participant to complete one per candidate. Here is an example for a sales position.

Rating Convention: 1 = Unacceptable, 2 = Acceptable and 3 = Outstanding

Scoring Table:
Criteria Weight (w) Rating (R) Score (W x R)
Ability to sell (Task) 9
Ecosystem knowledge 8
Confidence 7
Communication skills 6
Offering/product knowledge 5
Impression 4
Languages 3
Preparedness 2
Enthusiasm 1
Total (Max. = 135)


Happy interviewing!
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