AN INTERVIEW IS NOT A ONE WAY CONVERSATION, IT'S A TWO WAY STREET.
Private Dining Room at Jansz, Hotel Pulitzer Amsterdam
I am not a Human Resources expert, my area of expertise is Room Division, but in my daily tasks I do have a lot to do with HR obviously. Interviewing and recruiting has been one of my duties as a department head and division head for several years, and it’s also something that I quite enjoy. Up to this point I have probably conducted a million interviews, so I know a thing or two about how to efficiently perform this task… or at least what I consider an efficient way.
Why do I say “efficient interview”? Because I have sat in situations where I was being interviewed, or where I was interviewing and letting someone else lead the conversation, and I had the feeling that we were not making a good use of our time.
I am not here to talk about interviewing techniques or HR technicalities, I will not get into what you are allowed or not allowed to ask, what is legally permitted or not, what basic questions you must ask and so on.
Instead I would like to share some tips that I discovered over the years, and that I found being quite productive while evaluating someone.
The questions you face are obviously quite different depending on what role you are interviewing for, but my tips can apply to any role, which is why I find them very useful.
Tip number 1: Find the appropriate counterpart to start the interview process.
I consider a good start of the process being able to assign the right person to begin the conversation. Sometimes junior HR roles such as coordinators or even trainees are sent to conduct the first interview for a mid-senior role.
Have you ever dealt with someone who was obviously too junior to interview you? It does not make you feel valued, does it? it makes you feel like the senior people did not have time for you today. Does this send out the right message?
Consider finding someone who is at the same level from the very start, it will give the candidate more confidence and will prompt a more senior exchange.
On the other hand, including junior people in the interview process is not a bad idea at all, once again as long as they are interviewing candidates who are not more senior than them! For example, I have asked entry level employees such as front desk agents, to join me and start the conversation when recruiting for other front desk agents roles. Why not? It’s a good exercise for them, and it might offer me some insights that I maybe would not have otherwise. My agent could get a good feeling for how the person would fit in the dynamics of the existing team. It’s also a good incentive for the candidate as they see their potential future manager is invested in teaching new things to their staff.
Tip number 2: Make the conversation light and smooth!
It’s not a secret that we all get a bit nervous when we are being interviewed, and the worst thing is to find ourselves in front of certain individuals who really do not help the tension.
You are not conducting a third degree or questioning the candidate, you are having an exchange of information. To start, introduce yourself! A simple who you are, where you come from, how you got to where you are sitting today is an easy way to break the ice and make both parties a bit more comfortable. Make a joke, smile, offer them a coffee, share some short funny stories and relate to their stories as well. You are trying to build a connection to see if there is potential to work together in a very limited amount of time, so don’t waste it by sounding authoritarian or by making the conversation awkward. Make it light before you start the serious talk.
Tip number 3: Don’t insist on the same question if you can’t get an answer.
I definitely catch people who are trying to avoid the question I just asked, and instead of giving you a direct answer they beat around the bush. Do I like that? Absolutely not, if I feel like you are avoiding my question, I will most likely go back to it again. However, I have been in an interview with a recruiter who thought it was a good idea to keep asking the same question over and over and over, when the applicant was not giving her the answer she wanted to hear. How does that help anyone? It still does not give you the answer because now you have made the person uncomfortable, and it just creates silence and embarrassment. It’s not easy for a person to recover from that and continue the conversation, so the rest of the interview is probably doomed.
Best to move on, forget about the topic, and do your considerations when the person is gone.
Tip number 4: Don’t waste time with what you can find on somebody’s resume.
Have you ever had people asking you questions that make you think “Did you even read my resume??” I know you have. I have.
Why don’t people take the time to go through our application? It once again does not make us feel valued; when we walk into a job interview we want to feel like we have an interesting profile that has been examined thoroughly, which is the reason why we should be there in the first place. Instead we have to explain point by point what can be simply read on our resume and it feels like a waste of time.
Why don’t you ask “Is there something you would like to tell me that is not on your resume?”.
So don’t ask what’s in front of your face, but ask to explain what is unclear or unknown.
Tip number 5: Avoid asking those “Interview by the book” questions.
It’s another factor that demotivates candidates, especially when senior people are on the other end and have heard those questions a thousand times. You do not want to sound predictable and trivial like you are reading a questionnaire. You want to sound like you genuinely care to know about the person in front of you and you will ask questions that are relevant to the conversation you two are having. If I hear one more time “Tell me 3 words that describe you” or “Where do you see yourself in 5 years?” or “Can you tell me about a time...?”...
Not that I think those questions should not be asked, but if you want to ask, perhaps use a less amateur and a more personal way. For example, instead of asking “What is your weakness” my former GM Joseph would say “What are you bad at?” and when an answer was not coming he would say “We are all bad at something, right?” and explain what he was bad at. That makes the question more relatable and relaxes the other person.
Tip number 6: Be open minded about what the candidate could do.
This is definitely something I have learned while doing pre-opening recruitment, but that I have applied in every situation after that.
When you are hiring for an opening, you are interviewing tons of people regularly; sometimes they are good for the job, sometimes they are not. And sometimes they might not be qualified or suited for the role they have originally applied for, but could they do something else? The best part of a pre-opening is that a very tight relationship forms between people from different teams, and the collaboration is stronger than it would be in other circumstances. We all look at content, information, people, not only with the eyes of our department but with the eyes of the hotel as a whole. If I have a piece of information that is not relevant for me, could someone else in the team use it? In the same way, if I have just interviewed a candidate for a role that’s not suitable for them, but I like the person, could I find them a spot in another team so that we don’t lose this great individual?
Tip number 7: When recruiting for entry level, don’t hire the experience, hire the personality.
This tip obviously does not apply to senior roles, where knowledge and competence is the main drive for us to even call a candidate, but when we are filling entry level roles I have always applied this mindset.
It’s easy to go for the people who already know the job, because we won’t have to teach them much and it will make our life easier. But between a person with great experience and little personality, and a person with great personality and little experience, who do we hire?
When I worked in London, the GM who interviewed me, hired me for a role that I had never done before, I was 25 and always remember when I asked him “why me?”, he said “I can teach you the job, but I cannot teach you the right attitude”. I have been going around saying and thinking the same way ever since. Especially in our business, which is 24/7 guest facing, we might want to give up the right amount of knowledge and expertise, and go for charisma, energy, positivity, and charm.
Tip number 8: Get to know your candidate a bit more personally.
You are obviously not going to ask anything too intimate and get yourself in trouble, but if you are genuinely interested in the person you are talking to, and you want to understand if they could be a good fit for your team (and not only for the job itself), you might want to venture in some personal questions. I always ask “What do you do for fun?”, it helps me picture some personality traits without asking the obvious question, and understand how the person would click with the other people in my team.
The same GM who asked “What are you bad at?” also used to ask another question that always made me smile: “If you could have dinner with anyone - dead or alive - who would it be?”. This could be considered a grey area question, so it's important to be careful how you approach it, and crucial to not be judgmental about the answer you are going to receive.
However it's a good example of a fun, engaging, stimulating question that connects you a bit more to the person you are evaluating.
Tip number 9: Promote what you are hiring for!
I purposely left this point for the end, for several reasons.
I consider this the most important tip to conduct a successful interview, I have become quite good at it, and unfortunately I feel like not everybody does it when it really makes a huge difference. I am proud of the fact that nobody taught me this, but it’s something I started doing on my own some time ago, when I realized how it was the deal breaker that would make me want to accept a job or or turn it down.
An interview is not a one way conversation, it’s a two way street. It’s a conversation between two parties that want to join forces. It’s not me choosing you, but us choosing each other. I am looking for the perfect candidate, and you are looking for the perfect job. Perfect job means a role that matches your competences and gives you a good challenge, in an environment where you are encouraged to do what you do best every day, in a company that allows you to achieve your goals.
If you need to sell yourself to me to be hired, I also need to sell the job to you and convince you this is the right step for you. This is especially true when I have a great candidate in front of me that will juggle between my offer and most likely a few others. It’s now their time to choose, so if I really want this person to come work for me, how do I convince them to choose me and not the competition?
That’s why if you interview someone really great with me, you will hear me go on and on about what a great team I have, what a great place to work this is, what we have achieved as a department, what we do that makes us better than any other organization, what I do for my employees, and why this is your best choice.
It’s almost like the other side is interviewing me as a candidate for the position of their boss, and the company for the position of their employer.
Do not forget this last tip, people follow people, they want to work for people and when they quit they quit people. If you promote yourself and your organization as the place to be, and you really mean what you say, the greatest candidates will know what’s the best choice when it’s their time to choose!
Did you find yourself in the situations described above?
Do you have stories that will bring some contributions?
Do you have good interview tips to share with us?
Let us know what you do or don’t do during an interview!