Management Articles


Tips for Interviewing Candidates

By: Les Gore

Les Gore is founder and managing partner of Executive Search International, a Boston-based, nationally recognized search firm and a 23-year veteran of the "recruiting wars."

Did you hear the one about the hiring executive who asked a candidate, "Do you think you can handle a variety of work?"

"I ought to be able to," she said. "I've had ten different jobs in six months."

"Even the most elaborate hiring methodologies eventually boil down to one of the dreaded rituals of business life: the job interview. For most people, the only thing more painful than being interviewed is actually conducting the interview. Most executive interviewers come to the task unequipped, unprepared, and unenthusiastic," writes Peter Carbonara, in Fast Company magazine.

To make smart hiring decisions, you have to know what to look for.

Regardless of how strong a candidate's professional background or track record is, hiring decisions can be largely influenced on how well he or she comes across during the interview process. Whether you're discussing a manager, director, vice president, or president-level opportunity.

Finding out about prior positions, accomplishments, promotions and job transitions in a typical first, in-person interview--which on average lasts about one hour--is a challenge. There are obvious limitations on how much can be conveyed.

Limitations aside, there are key things that you should be looking for.

What is your organization looking for?

Fit with position. Does he or she have the experience and requisite skills base to do this job?

Leadership. Will he/she grab hold of the challenge, create a "success" plan and motivate the organization to execute? Identify and take advantage of meaningful opportunities?

Intelligence. Understand the complexities of the business? Is he or she able to "figure it out?" Have the ability to advance in your organization long-term?

Results. Will the candidate accomplish what he or she is brought in to do? Gain the support and cooperation of others in the organization? Remain focused on the objectives? Willing to go "the extra mile" to make it happen?

Team Player. Will he/she be part of the team or a lone ranger? Work well and get along with others? Is this an individual we can rely on? Be willing to give credit to others?

Chemistry. Is this someone we "feel" comfortable with? Would we enjoy working with him or her on a day-to-day basis? Communicate with easily and effectively? Do we have, or share something in common?

Cultural fit. Does he/she relate to, and embrace, the style in which we do business? Do we share many of the same values that have helped make us successful?

Potential. Does the candidate have the makeup to take on a larger, more responsible role with the organization?

Interest and enthusiasm. Does this person really want to work with us, or is he or she just interviewing? Is the candidate serious, asking particularly insightful questions? Is there real enthusiasm?

Value. Based on what we know about this candidate and others we have seen, do we believe the compensation package we are offering is appropriate?

Suggestions for the interviewer

You're responsible for creating a calm and respectful atmosphere, one in which the candidate never feels threatened. There is a direct relationship between how comfortable and secure a candidate feels and how much sensitive information he or she is willing to reveal.

Carefully re-read the candidate's resume before the interview. Make marginal notes where further amplification is indicated. Do not read the resume during the interview. Candidates may be offended if they suspect this information has not been reviewed earlier.

We suggest dividing the face-to-face interview into three parts. First, put the candidate at ease, i.e., "make friends"; second, evaluate by asking questions and responding to candidate's issues; and third, sell: your company, people, and opportunity--when appropriate.

Be sure to save at least 15 minutes of your allocated time for the candidate's questions. The type of questions posed will tell you a lot about the candidate. (You may want to tell the candidate at the start of the interview that he/she can feel free to raise questions as they come to mind throughout the interview. Then you can allow less time at the end of the interview.)

Building Rapport

Making the candidate comfortable is very important. The best interviews take place with the fewest possible inhibitors and power symbols. For example:

  • Encourage the use of first names.

  • Take off your coat, and encourage the candidate to do the same.

  • Share something personal with the candidate so that he/she will know you are a real person; you may want to start the interview with a brief (less than a minute) personal introduction (name, background, etc.).

  • Use information from the resume to identify areas of mutual interest; for example, "I noticed you are a runner. How often do you...?"

If the candidate is not relaxed, every reaction may be distorted. Putting the candidate at ease facilitates self-disclosure.

The Interview

Interviewing has everything to do with "artful listening." Most candidates arrive with a set of facts they wish to offer, and some they wish to hide. The less talking the interviewer does, the more time there is for the interviewee to get past the "programmed information" and into who he/she really is. Silence can be an extremely effective crowbar.

Too many "yes" or "no" answers may indicate that questions are not being phrased correctly. Starting questions with words like "Why", "What", or "How" should get the candidate to open up.

25 Sample Questions (10 listed here)

  1. Tell me about yourself. (Review past positions, education, early influences, and other strengths.)

  2. What do you know about (your company)?

  3. Why are you interested in becoming (your company) next (title)? How do your qualifications match the requirements of the job? (Note candidate's desire to work for the company.)

  4. What are the most significant accomplishments in your career so far?

  5. Describe a situation in which your work or you were criticized. How did you solve the situation and how did you become a better person because of it?

  6. How would you describe your personality?

  7. How would you describe your leadership skills, management style?

  8. How would you describe yourself as a (title/function)?

  9. How do you perform under pressure?

  10. What have you done to improve yourself over the past year?
For the full list of 25 interview questions, along with a ratings checklist, email me at

Federal and state legislation may preclude you from asking certain questions during an interview. This article is designed to provide general information and is not a substitute for legal advice.

© Copyright 2007, Les Gore

Other Articles by Les Gore

The author assumes full responsibility for the contents of this article and retains all of its property rights. ManagerWise publishes it here with the permission of the author. ManagerWise assumes no responsibility for the article's contents.


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