People Management: Coaching session

Q I'm a new manager, about to interview for senior posts.What tips do you have for good interviewing?

The first tip is that interviewing is not a game. You're not there to trip people up.

Always remember that interviews are a two-way process. You want to find the best person for the job, but you also want that person to feel enthusiastic about you.

Of course, you could pick up some of those 'How to Do Interviews' books and find lots of silly interview questions. Bizarre examples include: "If you were a roundabout, what song would you want to sing?" or, "If this organisation were an animal, what particular sort would it be?".

Even worse is the high-pressure, puzzle-based interviews that now pervade top companies in America. Microsoft is famous for its withering barrage of brain teasers and unanswerable question: "If you are in a boat and toss a suitcase overboard, will the water level rise or fall?" This assumes that people who can solve puzzles under stress make better employees than those who can't.

Unfortunately, we know that the traditional job interview can be rather hit and miss. I favour asking the short-listed candidates to come along with a prepared presentation on a subject closely related to the job.

For the interview itself, the approach should be based strictly on testing the competences you require. Rather than airy-fairy questions, you should get the candidate to talk specifics of how they have used their skills.

Do be careful with old chestnuts like: "What are your strengths and weaknesses?" Most savvy applicants have already practised the answers to such questions.

Use the interview to get a real understanding of career history. Past performance and achievements are a good guide to potential.

Consider allowing an opportunity for candidates to visit the office and, if appropriate, meet people. You might even have a one-to-one informal session before the interview. Remember that you don't have to fill the post if you're not completely satisfied.

Finally, perhaps the most infamous advertising interview question of all time was: "How many uses can you think of for a hedgehog?" I can manage 11 - how about you?

Stephen Bubb is chief executive of the Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations (Acevo). Send questions to stephen.bubb@haynet.com.

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