If you are an employer who needs to fill an open position, the interview process can be nerve wracking.  Whether you have interviewed countless candidates in the past, or if this is your first time conducting candidate interviews, you may be unsure of how to utilize the time with each candidate to find out who would be the best fit for the job.

Perhaps you have hired employees before, but have discovered unpleasant surprises after the fact; maybe you feel that your hiring successes were lucky, since the talents you discovered in your new employees were not always the skills you hired them for.

Lack of preparation

The all – time biggest mistake employers make when interviewing is lack of preparation. Often the reason is simply being too busy to prepare, coupled with an honest confusion about how to go about preparing for an interview.

I know you are really very busy; but believe me, taking the time to prepare will save you time – and frustration – in the long term.

First, you need to define exactly what you are looking for in a candidate. This goes beyond the job description: you need to know what kind of personality you are looking for, what skills are essential and which skills could be learned on the job by the right person. Are there specific, measurable professional accomplishments that you would require or prefer in the right candidate? Write down a list of the most essential elements you are seeking.

Now, read the CV of your next candidate with an eye on your list. If your mind is set at rest regarding some items, but you are not sure about others, make a list of the issues you need to clarify with this candidate. If you do this right, the list will vary for each candidate. Use this list to prepare your interview questions.

Not preparing your questions in advance

Your time in an interview is limited; use it well. This means preparing questions that are tailored to each candidate. The best interview questions are ones that invite the candidate to share detailed stories about his or her professional life in an unrehearsed and spontaneous way.

If you are concerned about a candidate’s ability to accept authority, for example, you could ask them to tell you about a time when they felt that their superior was making a professional mistake, and what they did about it. Ask questions and get all the details about the story, including what the other team members felt and did, how their superior reacted to the intervention, and what actually happened as a result. You could also ask if there were any unexpected results from the interaction, or what they might do differently in retrospect.

Setting the wrong tone

An interview is not an interrogation. The best interviews are conversations, with both sides feeling interested and stimulated by the interaction. Since it stands to reason that the candidates will feel more nervous than you, and that they will expect you to set the tone of the interaction, it is up to you to put the candidates at their ease. You will then also get a better sense of what they would be like to work with, since once a new employee is hired they hopefully will not be nervous every time they speak with you.

The best way to set a candidate at their ease is to treat them with genuine interest and respect, as you would a colleague. What that means depends on your personality and style, but includes such courtesies as asking how their travel experience was, and making some friendly small talk before diving into interview questions.

Not utilizing all the tools at your disposal

Many jobs include specific skills that can be tested, either as part of an interview or before / after it. Think about ways you could actually test the candidates’ relevant skills. This could include role play, a writing or translation exercise, or a written test to determine the candidates’ level of knowledge in his or her field.  Incorporate any such tests or exercises into the interview process.

Another indispensable tool in the interview process is speaking to references. Don’t skip it! Usually reference checks come after an initial interview, so that you only need to speak to references for those candidates that you are seriously considering for the job. For more on how to utilize references, see References Available upon Request.

Sending the wrong messages

Interviews are a two way street. Perhaps one of the most frustrating things to occur in an interview process is to find the perfect candidate, only to have them refuse the offer.

One of the reasons this happens is because just as you are testing the candidate, they are testing you, trying to gauge what it would be like to work for you. If your behavior demonstrates a lack of respect, flexibility or patience, you may find your most attractive offer rejected.

One area where many employers fall short of courtesy in the interview process is in the follow up process. Every candidate, even one who is definitely not right for the job, deserves to know what to expect next. Tell them when they can expect to hear back from you, what the next step in the process will be, and thank them for their time and effort.

Another point to keep in mind in this context: today’s employment landscape is an uncertain place.  It is more likely than ever before that you may find yourself in the job seekers’ shoes; you may even find your positions reversed one day. Keeping that possibility in mind can help you to remember your manners even when under pressure to make the right hire as soon as possible.