Interview Strategies for Recruiting Top Performers

By David Freeman

Even though I work for an applicant tracking software provider, it’s no secret that in order to hire top performers, you need to be savvy in your interview strategy. No matter what recruiting software you use to source your candidates, your recruiting success depends on interviewing. The question is how. In my experience, there are a number or things you can do to help your organization interview better and more effectively, but there are three keys to interview success that I believe will give you the most bang for your buck.


Like anything else, good interviewing begins with preparation. Interview prep begins with analyzing the position to be filled. Assess what a candidate will need in order to be successful in the position. What skills, knowledge and type of experience are needed? What core competencies are important to their success, such as customer responsiveness, decision- making and problem solving. What does their attitude need to reflect? You’ll want to decide what types of interpersonal skills are important, and how they will fit into the culture of the company.

Once you’ve analyzed the position, it’s time to review the job. What would you observe a person in this position doing each day? Review the qualities of others presently performing the job, and review the performance evaluations of top performers in this role. Think about the dynamics of your team. What personality types make up the team, and are you missing a key personality that could benefit the team. Get input from existing team members, and find out what they believe it would take for this person to be successful. Sit down with them one and one and ask them to provide feedback.

Identify any additional job related information required to select the best candidate. What will you need to capture in addition to core competencies, and what do you need to ask a candidate to bring or require during an interview, such as proof of certifications, records of education and list of references. Ask for a list of names of people the candidate interacted with in prior positions they held, this way you’ll have references that will be able to provide helpful feedback, and not a list of neighbors and friends.

Now it’s time to build an interview team. Determine whom to include, what role do they play in the company, and what role will they play on the interview team. Examples of who to put on the team would include the hiring manager and a recruiter and/or HR representative. You’ll want members of the team who will have regular interaction with the new hire. These team members can also provide valuable insight and can help sell the organization to the prospective employee. Define a role for each person involved in the hiring process. Think outside the box; include a technical advisor, a team member involved in the cultural fit of your company, and another who is keyed in on customer responsiveness. Set an interview schedule well in advance so all players are able to participate.

The next step is to construct a well thought out interview guide, preferably one that is specific to the role you are hiring for. While this task may seem daunting, it is no longer good enough to have the same guide for every position you hire for. A customized, focused guide, lined up specifically for each position results in finding a better person for the position, increased retention and better productivity. An interview guide will help keep less experienced members of the interview team from asking illegal questions. It allows the team to provide feedback in a structured format, and will enhance the applicant experience, so the candidate doesn’t have to answer the same questions over and over. Lastly, it will help you identify interpersonal skills and cultural fit. The guide should have traditional and situational questions such as greatest strengths, and why the candidate feels they would be a good fit. You should have cultural fit questions such as what motivates you, and what made you pursue this type of career.

Conducting the Interview

The second key to your interview success is conducting an effective interview. And to be effective, you should utilize behavioral and competency based interview questions, because past behavior and performance are still the best indicator of future behavior and performance. There are three parts to a good behaviorally based interview question; the lead phrase, which is often neglected by the interviewer, but one of the most important parts of the question because it lets the candidate know what will be expected of them in this role. The behaviorally based interviewer asks the candidate to provide specific information about a real situation vs. a hypothetical scenario and includes an expression of desired behavior within the question. A properly structured behaviorally based interview question would look something like, “In the customer service department we often receive calls from customers who are unhappy with their dining experience. Tell me about a time when you had to deal with an unhappy customer a work.” Then you can add follow-ups, which further guides the candidate to provide the types of responses you are looking for, like “What was the specific situation? How did you handle it? What was the outcome?” The response you are looking for from the candidate involves specific situations, based on real life experience, outlining specific actions, resulting in a desired outcome that aligns with the skill/knowledge/core competency that you have identified.

This is sometimes a little difficult for candidates to understand and many will try to give you answers in a hypothetical way. It is important to redirect the candidate and explain that you are asking them to provide real life examples. Sometimes it may take a few redirections for a candidate to give you what you want. Often, they may have difficulty coming up with specific situations. The key to good interviewing is patience. Give them the time they need and don’t let long pauses make you uncomfortable. With persistence and patience, most candidates can come up with the examples you need to properly evaluate them, and if they can’t, then they clearly don’t have the experience you have defined as key to the job.

Post Interview Review Meeting

The last key, vital to a successful interview is the post interview summary/review meeting. This establishes a formal process for finalizing the interview process and gives each interviewer the opportunity to share feedback and make a recommendation, and brings the interview process to a close. It also allows quick communication with the candidate, which leads to a satisfactory candidate experience whether hired or not. Post interview meetings should be scheduled prior to interviews being conducted, either on the same day or day after. Each interviewer should be asked to prepare an interview report prior to the meeting. The format of the interviewer’s report should include yes or no on hiring the candidate, a report on interpersonal skills, cultural fit, and what was learned from competency based questions and technical knowledge. Each report should take no longer than 5 minutes, and no open discussion should take place during reports. The primary decision maker/hiring manager should give the last report. I think it’s best to leave an open discussion about the applicant until after all reports have been given.

So, the secret’s out. If you give yourself the time to effectively prepare for the interview process, your odds of hiring a top performer dramatically increase. Put the three keys together and it becomes a win-win situation. By assessing the position to be filled and developing a picture of what you expect from a candidate you get the ball rolling. From there, assembling a strong team to conduct the interview and providing them with a well thought out interview guide sets the play in motion. You’re ready for a productive interview, for both your team and the candidate. By taking time to establish effective behavioral and competency based questions that help you identify how closely a candidate matches the position to be filled sets up the perfect play. Once you conclude your post interview meeting, it should be clear to you and your team which candidate is the best fit for your organization.

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