If you’ve been tasked with recruiting and interviewing job candidates, you’ve likely been burned a few times by a new hire that made a great impression during the interview but didn't work out once employed. If you haven’t experienced this yet, just wait.
In my consulting work, I spend a lot of time discussing staff management issues. There are a lot of areas around training, managing and developing employees that can lead to significant improvements in work performance and job morale. However, much of your success in managing employees depends on getting the right people from the start. Underperforming employees who are simply unclear on job expectations or need more training are often ‘fixable’ in work environments where supportive management exists. Hiring someone with a personality or mindset that clashes with your office culture is often much harder to fix. You can save yourself a lot of time and expense (and headaches) by implementing hiring and interviewing strategies that improve your chances of hiring someone who will be a great long-term fit for your practice.
Below are several suggestions for improving your interviewing skills. These suggestions take into consideration some of the most common interview mistakes and oversights that often lead to bad hires.
• Focus on behavior. Previous experience can certainly be a valuable asset, but many employers in service-based industries will tell you that attitude and behavior is equally, if not more important. Behavioral-based interviewing has grown in popularity. The premise behind this interview technique is that the best predictor of future success is past performance in similar situations. Traditional interview questions such as “Tell me about yourself” or “How would you handle XYZ situation” allows interviewees the ability to give answers based on what they think the interviewer wants to hear, possibly even fudging their answers. Behavioral-based interviews focus on how you responded to specific situations in the past. For example, “Tell me about a time you had to deal with an angry patient”. In a behavioral interview, it’s much more difficult to give responses that are untrue to your character.
• Don’t provide a roadmap. How many interviews start out like this - “This job involves wearing multiple hats so we are looking for someone who can multitask and learn quickly. We need team players that can work well with others. Also, we believe in providing great customer service for our patients so we need someone who has a great personality and likes working with people.” What’s the problem with starting an interview this way? This information allows a job candidate to tell an interviewer exactly what he or she wants to hear, leading the interviewer to believe they’ve found the perfect candidate! The details and qualifications of the job are important, but communicated at the beginning of an interview can result in less than genuine answers from a job candidate. Withhold this information until later in the interview process.
• Perform reference checks. Ok, you don’t really have to do the reference check! You can if you want, but many companies are reluctant to be fully transparent with reference checks for fear of liability. However, there is a hiring tactic called the “threat of a reference check.” This is where you mention to the candidate that you intend to do a reference check. When you ask questions like “Tell me what your previous boss would say about your work ethic”, people are more likely to be honest and transparent when they believe you are really going to contact their boss. For good measure, ask the interviewee about their previous boss’s title and the spelling of their name. Why else would you ask for this information if you weren’t really going to call?
• Avoid hypothetical questions. Hypothetical questions get hypothetical answers. I’m more interested in what a potential employee has actually done, not what they say they are going to do. “Are you able to multitask” will get a different answer than “Tell me about a time you had to multitask in your previous job.” If they struggle to find an answer, this tells you they either lack the skills you are asking about or have not been asked to implement these skills in the past. Not necessarily a deal breaker, but good information.
• Sell the position! Interviews involve observing. Is the candidate presentable, friendly, professional, able to carry a conversation, etc.? Employers are observing these qualities during an interview and taking notes. But also consider that the interviewee is observing you as well. Does this look like a nice place to work? Does the staff appear friendly? Do you look like a good person to work for who will value me as an employee? These are questions the candidate is attempting to answer. Clients often tell me they interviewed a great candidate but they accepted another offer. When interviewing someone you deem to be a great candidate, sell him or her on the position! Focusing on all the things you require for the candidate to work for you without discussing the reasons they will love working at your practice may cause you to lose a great candidate to a competitor.
Taking the above into consideration, remember that being interviewed for a job can be a nervous experience for many people. To put the candidate at ease, start the interview with some light, casual conversation. People are more apt to be candid and forthcoming when they are relaxed, and you’re less likely to get “burned” when you are able to interview the real person, not the person the candidate wants you to think they are.
Dr. Vargo serves as Optometric Practice Management Consultant for IDOC. A published author and speaker with more than 15 years clinical experience, he is now a full-time consultant advising ODs in all areas of practice management and optometric office operations.