You’re sitting in front of a candidate for an opening on your team. You’ve taken our advice about asking behavioral interview questions to assess whether this candidate will be one who may be more resilient in the face of chaos. However, you’re not sure you know what kinds of responses are the ones you should be looking for. In this article I’ll offer some guidance on interview preparation. And, more importantly, how to evaluate responses to interview questions when conducting an interview.

Like many things we’re asked to do at work, there’s an inherent assumption that we already know how to do certain things and don’t require any training.

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For instance: working in a team, communicating effectively, leading others.

You know – those things that seldom come naturally and are deceptively hard to do.

Similarly, just because you’ve experienced an interview – it doesn’t mean you’re adequately prepared for conducting an interview. Or that your interviewing techniques will help you select the best candidate for the job in a fair and methodical way.

In this post, I will offer some tips for things to do BEFORE conducting an interview. Implementing these tips will help you select a solid hire.

Preparing to conduct an interview

Identify a standard set of interview questions to ask.

Remember the interview questions need to be job relevant. So, you can’t ask things like what magazine subscriptions they have. (Unless you’re conducting an interview for a magazine company) Or, what kind of animal they’d be if they had the chance.

Also, you need to ask the same questions of everyone. You don’t want to be in a situation where a candidate is contesting a hiring decision and you have to tell HR that you asked different questions. The not-hired candidate may be able to make the argument that you asked him/her more difficult questions and that is the reason they weren’t hired.

Identify one or more other people to sit in on the interview

While most people dread the panel interview, the reality is that they can be much fairer than a single interviewer. The others who participate may hear or notice things that you don’t. Also, the other interviewer(s) may provide a perspective or insight that you don’t have.

Create pre-identified criteria for the kinds of answers that you’re likely to get when conducting an interview.

This takes some thought, and I seldom see it done. But, I think it’s well worth your time to do it. And, thinking about desired answers will reduce some of the subjectivity when you start comparing candidates.

For instance, what kind of answer would you want to hear if you asked:

Describe a time when you had to interact with an angry customer or stakeholder. How did you handle the situation? What was the outcome?

Excellent answer:

  • Demonstrated empathy or understanding of why the customer or stakeholder was angry.
  • Self-reflected on how they were responding to the customer to determine if they were contributing to the anger or if their emotions were getting in the way of trying to identify a win-win.
  • Attempted to understand what the customer wanted/needed.
  • Identified a solution that solved the problem the customer initially had even if it was not the solution the customer initially wanted.

Good answer:

  • Attempted to understand what the customer wanted/needed.
  • Identified a solution that solved the problem the customer initially had even if it was not the solution the customer initially wanted.

Bad answer:

  • Explained to customer why they couldn’t have what they asked for. Period.
  • Did not describe how they tried to understand the problem or what kinds of solutions might work.
  • Belittled, complained about, or bashed the customer when describing the situation during the interview (e.g., This person was just an idiot.).

Discuss the criteria with interview panelists before conducting an interview.

Although a standard set of questions is becoming more common place, the idea of using pre-identified criteria is not. So, it’ll be important to talk to panelists in advance. Come to some understanding of what kinds of answers would be good – and those which would not be. Even better is if you can provide a checklist like the one provided above.

This is also a good time to discuss who will ask the questions (or if each person will take turns). And, whether follow up questions can be asked. As well as what kind of follow up questions.

If you’re seeking to hire someone who can manage chaos, you’ll be listening for stories or words that indicate whether:

  • Their emotions get the most of them. Were they unable to manage those emotions?
  • How well they manage things that are frustrating or overwhelming.
  • Whether they have worked in chaotic environments before and thrived.

If you’re preparing for a job interview and want tips for successfully responding to behavioral interview questions, download our free interviewing guide. When you request the interviewing guide, you’ll also be signing up for our weekly newsletter which sends you advice on shaping your government career.

Also, check out our article on how to ace a panel interview.