After carving your career in treasury you’ve successfully reached your first career goal of becoming a treasury manager. You have everything in hand, correct? But then a vacancy comes up on your team and you now have to start the hiring process. Well that’s all fine, but what about the interviews?
You’ve never led an interview before. You’ve only ever been on the receiving end, never the one asking the questions. Where do you even start? What questions do you ask? What structure do you follow? Even if you are a seasoned professional and have carried out numerous interviews in the past, are you confident your interviewing technique is up to scratch?
In most cases, when professionals reach management level or are in a position where they take responsibility for managing and hiring their teams, there is no training on how to deliver an effective interview. This business-critical skill falls into the management training wasteland whilst other seemingly more important topics get the limelight – but what can be more important for a company than ensuring maximum return on investment from their employees?
One of the key ways to do this is to identify, and fill the business with, high-level performers – and this all starts with the interview.
The ‘funnel’ technique
The art of delivering a successful interview all lies in the power of the questions, so developing your questioning skills is absolutely critical to becoming a successful interviewer. One of the best questioning techniques is the ‘funnel’ technique. You start by gathering broad amounts of information and then filtering down to more specific details.
The first step is to ask lots of open questions to get the applicant talking. These are questions that can’t be answered with a single word and require some thought. They generally allow the applicant to express their opinions or feelings and allow you to gain valuable insights into their behaviours and personality. When asking open questions, try using the T.E.D technique: “Tell me about…” / “Explain to me…” / “Describe for me….” For example; “Tell me how you produced that report…” or “Explain your involvement in the system implementation project…” or “Describe how you handled that problem and what the outcome was.”
The danger with open questions is that it is very easy for the applicant to go off topic and focus on areas that are perhaps less relevant. This is then down to the skill of the interviewer to bring them back on track and a great way to do this is through asking probing questions – which brings us to the next part of our funnel.
Probing questions are still open in style as they require more than a one-word answer. However, they require the applicant to delve a bit deeper into their answer. Using ‘who, what, why, where, when and how’ can be great here – for example: “Who else was involved in the project?” or “What exactly was your role in the project?” or “What did you learn from the project?”
The final part of the funnel encourages the applicant to reach a final point or to clarify a certain situation. Here, closed questions work brilliantly, so questions require a short and focused answer. This may be a ‘yes or a ‘no’. Closed questions are also useful simply to summarize the applicant’s responses. For example: “So you led this project with a team of five others. You feel you have learnt a huge amount from the experience and are satisfied with the results. Is that right?”
Structured interview vs unstructured
Many interviewers are happiest getting a sense of a candidate through an ‘unstructured’ interview. This allows them to explore details of that individual that they think are interesting, pick questions at random, and steer the interview down whichever path feels right at the time.
Unfortunately, there is compelling evidence to suggest that unstructured interviews are among the worst predictors of actual on-the-job performance. So, although the importance of bringing in high performers to a business is understood, many companies are inadvertently putting this goal at risk simply by being too relaxed about the interview structure when assessing candidates.
There are extremes here; a truly structured interview ensures a standardized process is adopted amongst all candidates in order to eliminate any subjectivity. Each candidate would be asked the same set of questions, with the same wording, in the exact same order and would be assessed based on a standardized scoring system.
For many, this interview style will be a little too rigid and there will be a need for the interviewer to be flexible in their style and questioning, depending on the person they’re interviewing and the way the interview evolves. However, there are seven stages and elements to a structured interview which are key and should be adopted every time:
This is key both from a perspective of setting the standards of the interview and what you want to get out of it, but also for putting the candidate at ease. A job interview is often considered to be one of the most stressful things in life. This can be of course bad for the candidate, but just as problematic for the interviewer. By creating a comfortable and welcoming atmosphere you will be able to see the candidate’s best qualities. Think about how you greet them and where they will be sitting whilst waiting for the interview to commence. Ensure the interview environment is suitable; how does the room look and feel? Offer them a refreshment, think about your body language, how you introduce yourselves, and what distractions are around you that may interrupt the interview.
- Career history and experience
This is where the bulk of the interview should be focused. This is your opportunity to establish as much information as you can about the suitability of the candidate for your role. If you are following a truly structured interview, with your pre-defined list of questions, this is where you would start. The funnel technique will be critical here. Use open questions to start with, followed by probing questions and then closed questions to gather more specific information. A great opener question is; “Describe to me your career history to date starting from when you first moved into treasury.” You can then steer them down different paths depending the information they provide you. Key things you should be looking out for here include: What are their key strengths/weaknesses? What have been their main achievements? What aspects of their roles have they enjoyed/disliked? What have been their reasons for leaving previous roles? Are there any gaps or anomalies on their CV? How well do they communicate/present themselves?
- Aspirations and goals
This is a stage in the interview which many interviewers skip over. It is assumed, based on the very fact that the applicant is there at the interview, that the role is what they’re looking for. But by making that assumption, many bad hiring decisions can be made. By focusing on this and asking the right questions, you will be able to identify the applicant’s ‘true’ aspirations and goals, and whether these will be achievable within your business or in fact realistic ambitions altogether. Asking the right probing questions will enable you to see if there are any shortfalls here or how genuinely suitable the candidate is for the role. Any areas of concern need to be addressed at this stage as it will become harder further down the line. Some great questions here might include; “What does your ideal next role look like?” or “What are your career goals over the next five years?”
- Search status
The next stage is information gathering around the applicant’s search so far. Again, this is often a section which is missed by interviewers, but its’ importance should not be underestimated. Imagine a scenario where you have completed your interview stages, identified the individual you wish to make an offer to, only to discover they have just been offered another role which they’ve decided to accept. Or where an offer is made, the individual resigns and are then counter-offered by their existing business and decide to stay. Very frustrating! “How long have you been looking?” Is a great question to ask because it tells the interviewer how active the applicant is in their job search. If they have been looking for a while, why have they not secured a role yet? Does this raise any concerns?
- Personal details
This section focuses on specific details around current salaries, benefits packages and notice periods, as well as additional information which may impact hiring decisions or process. This information is vital and can have a detrimental impact on the process if the correct details are not ascertained. Be sure to discuss these details early on as if you’re not on the same page, things are not going to go much further.
- Job brief & sell
In many cases, interviewers opt to start the interview by giving the applicant an overview of the role they’re recruiting for in an effort to put the applicant at ease. The question here though is, how can you sell the specific aspects of the role that are relevant to that applicant, before you know what they are looking for? Not only that, but by describing the features, advantages and benefits of the role at the end of the interview, the candidate will be left feeling excited and engaged by the opportunity. The goal should be that every applicant you meet leaves you wanting the job. This does not mean that you adapt the nature of the role to suit the individual if they really don’t have the right skill set. But they should have had such a positive experience with you that they desire to be a part of your team or business. You must think like a salesperson here; this goes beyond just about the job they’re interviewing for. It is about perception and reputation.
- Next steps
The final stage of the process is what you do when the applicant leaves the building. It is very easy to focus your follow-up efforts only on those candidates that you’re interested in, forgetting about those that are not successful. Again, this is about perception and reputation. You never know when your paths may cross again. You don’t know who that person knows. Treat them how you would expect to be treated yourself. Always provide feedback from the interview and follow up when you say you will.
About the author
Laura White is operations director at The Treasury Recruitment Company.