Interviewing for Managers | Don’t Start the Interview on the Wrong Foot

by | Jul 11, 2011

The first few seconds of the job interview set the tone for the whole discussion. Sure, you’re in control of the meeting and the candidate is normally the one choosing his words with extreme care. However, your first impression as a manager and a representative of your firm is also very important.

Why? Well, you certainly want to impress promising candidates with the high quality of your company and its employees. Even more importantly, you want to set a tone that will help you get honest responses and an accurate sense of the applicant’s ability to do the job.


Don’t Play Intimidation Games


Some managers take pride in being tough interviewers. They start an interview by intimidating the applicant with a rude attitude and/or confrontational or difficult questions. They believe that this will help them see how a job seeker responds under pressure.

For most job seekers, the fact that they’re walking into a job interview to be judged is enough to create plenty of pressure. Factor in that some may feel their career prospects and financial livelihood are riding on the meeting and you’ve got a recipe for stress. You will accomplish very little by additional mental torture.


Set the Right Interview Tone


That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t ask tough questions. You should. But first, take a few moments to make your guest comfortable and set expectations.

Start with a warm professional welcome. Put the candidate at ease and explain how the interview will be conducted.

Your first question should be a bit of a warm-up question. Ask about something the candidate knows well. For example, you can begin by asking about their day-to-day duties in their current or most recent position.


Don’t Tell Me About Yourself


Many hiring managers fall back on the popular, “So, tell me about yourself” to get things started. It may seem like a nonthreatening way to open up the discussion, but it throws many unprepared candidates off.

It’s a completely open-ended question and can prompt a long, rambling answer that can cause the interview to drift far off course. I’ve heard candidates share personal descriptions more suitable for an online dating profile or launch into a ten-minute overview of all of their previous jobs since birth.

I train my job seeker clients to look at “Tell me about yourself” as an opportunity to start the interview strong with a concise summary of their most compelling professional strengths (customized for the position at hand).

However, I also advise my hiring manager clients to start their interviews with a more focused and specific question.

That first question will set a tone for the interview and help the candidate relax enough to think clearly and behave in a way similar to the way they are likely to behave on the job.


Why Make it Easy for the Candidate?


Later in the interview, you will ask some tough questions, probe for details, and otherwise, test your interviewee. That’s fair and appropriate, especially in an interview for a job that requires calm under pressure.

However, if you start the interview with negativity, intimidation, or trickery, you’re unlikely to get a true sense of the person in the other chair.
You’re likely to dismiss potential superstars who aren’t used to the third degree. In fact, those who do well in intimidation interviews are often either good actors or highly arrogant.

Smart employees can learn to perform better under pressure, but you can’t teach an egomaniac to be a team player.