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How to be a good interviewer

It’s not grilling season, no need for the interrogation

If someone is looking for a job, they are already in a stressful situation. They may be out of work or are in a job that no longer makes them happy. Either way, something has brought them to the conclusion to find a new job. A good interviewer understands this is a life-changing decision for that person.

Accordingly, the worst thing we can do as interviewers is making that decision harder by conducting an interview that isn’t friendly or welcoming. As such, an interview should not be a ‘grilling session” of rapid-fire questions of all sorts. In fact, part of the responsibility of a good interviewer is to help the candidate feel at ease during the interview.

A good interviewer makes the candidate feel at ease

Of course, we have questions we need to get answers to.  We do need to know about their job history, their O365 experience, or their knowledge of firewall setups.  But how can we get that information in a way that the candidate will open up and really share what they know? Moreover, how can we get a glimpse into the kind of person they are beyond the interview?  There’s an easy answer: have a conversation with them.

Surely tech skills are important and we must make sure the candidate “knows what they know”. However, one of the areas often overlooked during interviews is: will this person fit our culture and our clients? When interviewing, I’ve found conversations to be a great way to pull that out of an interviewee.

In fact, I have a list of questions I ask when interviewing for our vScreening clients and only about a third of those are technical. The rest are questions that help me get to know the candidate as a person and potential co-worker.

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Honesty, one of my favorite questions is a series of questions:

“Tell me about the biggest mistake you’ve made in your IT career.  What happened? And what did you do when you realized what happened? How did you fix it, and what did you learn from it?”

A good interviewer opens up

At first, candidates are reluctant to answer these so-called ‘hard’ interview questions. When that’s the case, I say, “OK, I’ll go first.”

Then I launch into the time that I made a pretty big mistake with a server when I was young in my IT career. Throughout the story, I am smiling, explaining how awful I felt. I explain my walk-of-shame to go tell Allen (my manager back in the day) what happened and what I was going to do about it.

In doing so, my willingness to be honest with the candidate and share a less-than shining experience provides a safe place to tell their story.

Everyone has an “IT horror story” of something they did wrong. In reality, being honest and showing a flaw during an interview shows character. Their ability to be open and share a time they weren’t perfect is what a good interviewer looks for.

One size does not fit all

Likewise, I’ve used this same question when interviewing college students.  Despite their lack of workforce experience, their interview needs to gather the same information.  In such a case, we have a wonderful opportunity to find a young, fresh, candidate to be a part of our team and I want them to ‘stick’.  But how can I find out about this person who may have little to no real-world IT experience? Well, ask them about their favorite professor and why they liked that person. A good interviewer will inquire about a group project and what their role on the team was.  As before, ask about a time when they made a mistake on a project or assignment. How did they resolve the issue and what did they learn?  Again, take the time to tailor your questions to the candidate. After all, one size does not fit all.

Is it worth all the trouble?

At the end of the day, preparing for the interview is just as important for the interviewer as it is for the interviewee. Prepare in advance to have a conversation with this person. It will demonstrate the character of your company that you value their time and them as a person. Does this take a lot of time? Yup. But is it worth it? Absolutely.

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Brook began her career in I.T. as desktop support and progressed consistently through developmental roles as IT manager and server administrator before entering a leadership role as a virtual CIO responsible for project management and client relationships. Now, in her role as Vice President at Eureka Process, she supports MSP business owners who have felt isolated in their journey by validating their experience and providing the guidance they need to eliminate barriers to progress.