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Caveats and Red Flags

Finally, there are a few practical rules that you'll want to follow when you begin building rapport and a successful relationship with a candidate.

1. Hold all calls and interruptions as much as possible. Program your phone to go directly to voicemail without ringing, and if there's a call that you absolutely have to take during your interview, let the candidate know about it up front.

2. Don't keep candidates waiting. People are sometimes more nervous at interviews than they are at doctors' appointments, and you know what an unpleasant feeling that is. Stay on target schedule-wise, and if you're going to be later than ten minutes for any reason, be sure and introduce yourself to the candidate with a quick handshake and explanation of the delay, along with an estimate of how long it will be until you're ready.

3. Avoid controversial topics in your opener. Besides the ''Tell me about yourself'' common error, don't assume that politics or sports teams are areas for common ground, no matter where you both grew up or went to school.

4. Don't assume that you know the candidate's name just because you have a resume. There are plenty of Robert/Bob and Katherine/Kathy combos out there, and you can't know which one is which until you ask. Also, you never know when that Katherine actually goes by Katie or Kat or some other preferred name, so just ask to be on the safe side. Oh, and don't be embarrassed if you can't figure out how to pronounce a candidate's name. Simply ask for the pronunciation and jot down the phonetic transcription in the margin. 5. Finally, be wary of weaving potentially illegal topics into your conversation. ''How was your Christmas?'' is probably not a wise way to initiate an interview and could easily be replaced with ''How did you enjoy your holidays?'' Similarly, avoid references to personal or family situations that may leave a funny feeling in your stomach: ''Oh, I see that you're a soccer coach. Do you have kids of your own or do you just coach for the fun of it?'' Likewise, ''I see you speak Spanish. Did you learn that in school or is that your mother tongue?''

You'll find more on this topic of inappropriate interview questions in Chapter 18, ''Staying Within the Law: Interview Questions to Avoid at All Costs!'' Just remember that these rules extend to the initial ice-breaking conversations that kick off your interview as well.

A Final Tip

You've probably heard the rule that candidates should do 80 percent of the talking while interviewers should do 20 percent of the talking. That's true, but it's not simply a matter of percentages and content, it's also a matter of timing. Of course, you have to know what questions to ask and how to break down candidates' responses in order to properly assess the individual and keep the interview moving along. And that naturally comes from knowing what you're looking for, whether you're relying on a job description to ferret out intellectual, interpersonal, and motivational competencies or simply hiring based on your many years of experience.

However, you also need to know when to do your 20 percent of the talking versus when to listen. As a general rule, after your opener, the formal Q&A session begins, and that's certainly a time for you to listen—steer the conversation in the right direction, of course, but primarily listen.

Once you've addressed the appropriate interviewing questions and sections outlined in this book—experiential questions, counteroffer queries, salary expectations, and the like—then it's your turn to talk. More accurately, then it's your turn to sell. It can't be stressed enough that the best candidates always have the most choices, so closing them on your company and this particular position is very much an inherent part of the interview.

The problem is that many interviewers show their hand too quickly.

When you initiate an interview is not the time to discuss what you're looking for in terms of your keys to hire or overall expectations. If you show those cards too early in the game, the candidate will be able to customize responses based on the hints and tips you've provided.

Instead, make sure that the initial candidate evaluation—your questions and questioning techniques—focuses solely on the individual's experiences and qualifications. Once you've gained the accurate feedback that a well-structured interview is designed to provide and feel that the individual is worth pursuing, you can show your hand for as long as you like. In other words, save your 20 percent of the conversation until the very end. At that point, feel free to discuss your company's history, your tenure with the organization, why you originally chose to join, the success stories you've accumulated over the years, and the like.

Leave the candidate feeling wowed and excited, and that's the smartest ending to any interview. Just remember that your turn doesn't come until the very end, after you've discussed, uncovered, and analyzed everything you feel you need to know about this candidate. Only at that point do you have carte blanche to launch into a ''selling'' mode. Now armed with these interview openers and strategies, let's get right to the business of the book: identifying high-performance job candidates!

 
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