Before even getting to questions, interviewers often talk too much. As the host and the one “in control” of the conversation, they fill gaps by talking about the business and the role and the skills and the attitude they’re looking for, providing applicants all the clues they need to answer any questions in the way the employer wants to hear. At the same time, a relationship forms where the interviewer enjoys being listened to and feels a sense of reciprocity – a social exchange with not much flowing back to the decision maker outside of the likeability of the applicant.

Interviewing each other

We do however agree that candidates need to be as aware as they possibly can be of the employer’s ways of working, culture, the role, expectations, conditions and anything else important to them. For that the applicant should also be interviewing the business so they can make a committed choice that is likely to see them engaged in their work for some time. However, the time for this is after the candidate has responded to the questions put to them, not before.

But, even then, there is another useful step before that – ask the applicant what they would like to know. This will help you to see what is important to them. We often hear questions about training, equipment, support, permanency and career growth, and sometimes nothing at all. There is no doubt money and flexibility are also important – some applicants can be embarrassed to ask as they don’t want to be seen as greedy or selfish so you might need to bring those things up.

We don’t know what we don’t know

There is also the chance that applicants won’t have thought of what they wanted to know – they are often unprepared for this, and by being focused on what the employer wants in the interview, and then seeing themselves in a way that appears to meet those needs, they spend little time thinking about what they need. To help them, we let them know they can call us back if something comes up for them, and if we get to a second interview we always ask specifically what might have come up for them since we last spoke.

A second interview is also a chance for us to think more about things we’d like to know more about. We often follow up on earlier answers and let applicants take us back down that path, looking for consistency (lies are hard to maintain) and staying genuinely curious. This is a great chance to fill in the gaps – if we look for them.

This concept also flows through to our assessments, where there are no right or wrong answers, but it is usually easy to see where people have tried to give us answers they think we’d like to hear, which in turn tells us about their honesty. It all comes back to the same concept – the role of the interviewer is to ask, ask and ask some more, and to learn from every answer – and question – that comes back to them. As with any skill, interviewing takes planning and practice, but once mastered is invaluable.