While there's plenty of advice on how to prepare for a job interview, these discussions are usually geared to the interviewee — not the interviewer. But for new managers who are not quite confident in their roles yet, figuring out how to conduct an interview can sometimes be just as stressful.
Sure, being the one to ask questions might seem like a breeze, but it can take some practice to learn how to ask the right questions and seek out the strongest candidates. So how should you prepare?
We chatted with seasoned interviewers Lindsey Walenga and Jenny Houser. Walenga is the cofounder of Siren PR, based in Royal Oak, Michigan, and Houser is an operations manager at Bryr Studio in San Francisco. The two shed some much-needed light on which questions to ask in an interview, what to avoid, and what they wish they'd done differently when they first started interviewing others.
The most important thing new managers should consider when preparing to interview someone:
Walenga: "Believe in yourself as a leader. If you’re new at building a team, you might feel the need to be overly friendly or, on the opposite end, too authoritative, as you’re getting used to the idea of being the boss. Both of those can cause problems when building a team. Instead, new managers should go into interviews with calm confidence and a clear picture of what high performance means for the position. Doing so will give candidates greater clarity on their fit for the role, and a foundation of trust will be started."
Houser: "Shadow as much as possible. Learn about hiring for culture, sit in on interviews with more experienced hiring managers, and practice with them in the room, as well. Gather feedback; the best thing you can do is be consistent in your interviewing, push through the discomfort, and stick with it! The more calm and relaxed you are in an interview, the more the candidate will be — and that's how you'll get to know them best."
Go-to interview questions (and what to look for in an answer):
Walenga: "A question I like to ask is: 'Tell me about a time you offended someone, whether that was a client, your boss, or someone on your team. How did you offend them, and how did you handle it afterwards?'
"I’m looking for honesty, authenticity, and boldness in the applicant's response. High performers on my team are people who are bold enough to sometimes get themselves into trouble. If you’ve never offended someone, then you’re not taking the risks we need you to be taking. But I also need to see that you can clean it up and navigate conflict with compassion, admitting when you’re wrong and coming out the other side with the relationship intact."
Houser: "My favourite interview questions are ones about feedback, such as: 'Tell me about a time you received critical feedback from a manager or supervisor.' This is a really telling question. I also love hearing about big success moments and experiences."
The best way to approach a job interview as a manager:
Walenga: "Kind and firm is the best approach for interviewing. It shouldn’t be an interrogation, but you’re also not there to make friends — yet."
Houser: "Really know the culture of the company. What are the most important attributes and qualities for team members? What kind of employees do they wish to have at their company? Your interview questions should be based off of this."
What new-ish managers should make sure to avoid:
Walenga: "Avoid leading the candidate’s answers. If you’re someone who likes everyone to get along, you might feel like you want to explain more or give examples to help make the conversation easier. That will hurt you in the end, because you need to see who this person is at their rawest, without your help. Awkward silences are okay. Sit in the discomfort. There is valuable information to be garnered when you let people stumble."
Houser: "Avoid agreeing or disagreeing with anything the person says. You can certainly clarify, but a big skill to learn is the practice of asking questions and then listening. Don't be afraid of silence, and don't ask leading questions. Allow the candidates to think and to speak."
What these managers wish they'd done differently when they first started interviewing people:
Walenga: "When we first started our firm, we were so excited by what we were doing that we were sometimes overly optimistic in our description of the roles. Our enthusiasm contributed to some unrealistic expectations on the team, which caused resentment down the road. I wish I had known what I know now: Tell it like it is, and don't sugarcoat it. You want team members who will rise to whatever challenge you put in front of them — not people looking for just a fun and easy ride. It can be hard to admit the tough parts about a job you’re recruiting for, but when you’re honest with yourself and your candidates, you’ll end up with a stronger team."
Houser: "When I first began interviewing people, I was nervous and I had a hard time keeping my tone casual and conversational. It certainly gets easier, but it probably took over 100 interviews for me to feel truly comfortable with the process."