Leadership Skills 101: How to Actually Successfully Interview a Candidate

Leadership Skills 101: How to Actually Successfully Interview a Candidate
by Kaitlin King
Photos Stephanie Yang | August 09, 2016
Landing a leadership role at your ideal company—the dream, right? But how do you go about hiring and managing others when you haven't learned leadership skills yet? 
Fortunately, that's where we come in with our ongoing First-time Manager series. Today, we're covering how to interview a candidate. 

Getting the opportunity to be a part of a hiring committee is quite a big deal—you get to be a part of defining the future of the company and getting a say over the most important resource in the organization. So, first of all: congratulations, Miss Manager!

Before you sit down with a candidate, make sure you completely understand the job position that you’re interviewing to fill. Take the time to fully grasp what this person will need to do to be successful in the role (and the company). Then you can follow this is a tried and true 4-step formula that will be sure to cover the bases and give you the best possible idea if the candidate is right for the job. Because the best leadership skills aren't really that complicated. 

1. Break the ice by getting to know them off paper

It goes without saying that before you interview anyone, it’s important to review the person’s resume first (a LinkedIn review is an important addition as well). As you open the conversation, let the candidate know that you like what you’ve seen from their resume, but would like to start by getting to know more about the person behind the resume. A simple, “Tell me about yourself” to start the conversation can provide you with opportunities to connect outside of the professional sphere, and the open-ended question will provide telling insight about what is important to the candidate. You want to establish some rapport up front to lay the foundation for him or her to feel comfortable, and start to get a feel for the general cultural fit of the candidate.

2. Go through their work history and find evidence of leadership skills 

Once you’ve lightened the tension, pick up their resume and start talking through their professional testimony. Start from their 3rd or 4th oldest place of employment (or 10 years earlier, whichever is first), and have them expand upon their main responsibilities, biggest lessons learned, and why they left the company. Here is your chance to clarify concerns from your initial resume review, more deeply understand the business of their past employers, and go into detail about how they’ve grown professionally. This is also a great place to have specific questions about their technical abilities related to the job he or she is interviewing for, so as to better find evidence that this person could successfully complete the future job requirements. Feel free to dig deep to get the answer you need—this part is often the bulk of the interview time.

3. Discover what their career goals are

Now that you’ve got the past covered, it’s time to talk about the candidate’s future. Here’s where you begin to explore, with questions like, “What would be your dream job?” “What are three non-negotiable aspects of your next career step?” “How do you want to be challenged in your next role?” This is the perfect time to flesh out expectations on both sides. If someone wants to be a manager, but the role is strictly individual contributor, it’s important to acknowledge the disconnect. Use your awesome note taking skills to jot down the disparities, and be sure to pass along gaps in expectations to the hiring team.

4. Close with an open dialogue (catch-22, amiright?)

Now comes the “Do you have any questions for me?” moment where you flip the tables a bit. Hopefully, the candidate will ask to more deeply understand your company and the job vacancy; this is another great moment to tailor your description to address differences and compliments between what the job entails and what the candidate offers. If the candidate asks a question you don’t know the answer to, don’t fret—let them know you’ll get back to them with the answer or to whom they can direct their question at later. This final stage is also the moment to share your true excitement for your company and the role at hand—it’s great to leave the candidate pumped about working with you, even if it’s not the right time to do so!

The most important takeaway for your interview should be definitive answers to questions surrounding the candidate’s likelihood at succeeding in the future role. Be able to provide solid data that this person has the skill set and proper cultural fit to thrive. After all, a truly successful interview isn’t just one where you like the candidate or find someone to fill a spot, but rather discover someone who will make themselves, their peers, and the company better upon hiring. Go get 'em!
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Are you a first-time manager? What are some other questions you have? We'll answer them for you if you drop them in the comments.