Interview Etiquette for the Interviewer
I’ve been involved with technical communications for over 15 years in various capacities: technical writing, user education, training, documentation management, product management, and mentoring. For many years, I’ve interviewed hundreds of junior to senior technical writers. I wanted to share my experiences on both sides of the fence. This article provides tips on how interviewers can find the right candidate with the proper screening, observation, and insightful questions.
Interviews are a two-way street: candidates are searching for their dream job, or simply a job, and interviewers have a job opportunity that needs the right candidate. As the hiring party, you not only have to screen candidates based on cover letters, resumes, and perhaps an initial phone interview, you also have to prepare your questions and conduct the interview.
Here are some ways to help you get the most out of your interviews.
1. Sixty Second Application Screening
- Create a checklist with keywords for the ‘must-haves’, ‘nice-to-haves’, and ‘deal-breakers’. You can save these keywords in a document and then scan for them in an electronic copy. ‘Must-haves’ might be a particular experience with a popular software application. A deal-breaker can be something as simple as a typo or misspelling. For example, I once received an email submission with the title “Techncial Writer job”. On my must-have list was ‘attention to detail’. You get the idea.
- If you only have paper copies of the resume and cover letter, you will need to train yourself to scan your checklists quickly.
- In both cases, try to limit yourself to one minute for the first pass.
- Create your piles of ‘yes’, ‘no’, and ‘maybe’ interviewees. Spend a bit more time scanning through the ‘yes’ and ‘maybe’ piles to ensure that the candidates have been categorized correctly and fairly.
2. Prepare Your Questions
- You’ll need to decide how long the in-person interview will be. For example, I sometimes like to conduct a 90 minute interview where the first 60 minutes are interview questions and the last 30 minutes is a written test. 60 minutes is ample time to ask and field questions, and the test helps evaluate basic but necessary skills like grammar, attention to detail, and problem solving scenarios.
- Compose your list of questions. Use online resources, ask your organization for a list of mandatory questions and/or requirements, or make up your own as they apply to the job. Make sure your questions are reasonable and, if possible, suitable for the candidate. For example, if you are interviewing a recent college graduate, you may have a few questions geared toward their final class project. For an intermediate writer, you could ask them to describe a situation where they had trouble obtaining information from a subject matter expert, and how they resolved it.
- Plan your agenda down to the minute. The first 5 minutes could be general introductions. For every question you ask, decide the maximum amount of time that a candidate could spend on answering.
- If there are multiple interviewers, decide who will focus on which questions and whether the interviews will be conducted one-on-one, or as a panel.
3. Get-to-know-you Phone Interview
- From your ‘yes’ pile, contact the candidates via phone for a brief chat; no more than 20 minutes. You could ask some of the questions from your prepared list in the previous section, or keep it as a simple ‘get to know you”. This call should be used to get a general sense of the candidate’s interest in the job, their availability, and anything else you’d like to initially discuss based on their job application.
- Spend a few minutes describing the job in more detail, the work environment, and providing your expectations of the successful candidate.
- By the end of the call, if you want to bring the candidate in for an interview, make sure to let the candidate know that you’d like an in-person interview. Up-front information helps everyone plan ahead when it comes to scheduling interviews.
- If you are uncertain of the candidate, but still want to interview them, or, if the ‘yes’ candidate did not pass your initial screening via phone, then repeat these steps with your ‘maybe’ pile. You may be pleasantly surprised during the phone call!
4. Prepare the Interview Room
- Make sure that you’ve reserved the interview room (if office resources are scarce) or at least have a quiet place that is equipped with some essentials: table, chairs, plug-ins for laptop, phone, webcam, and projector for a remote interview or teleconference, etc.
5. In-person Interview
- Greet your candidate with a smile and a handshake. Part of your job as the hiring party is to create a welcoming environment that helps good candidates choose your company as the employer of choice.
- A nice touch is to offer your candidate a glass of water. It’s natural for candidates to have nervous energy, and as both parties will be doing a fair bit of talking, a glass of water will help to relax the interviewee.
- State your agenda up front. Let the candidate know that you’re planning to ask a few questions, have a Q&A at the end, and that the interview will have to end promptly at a certain time. That information helps everyone keep on track.
- Have your questions ready and make notes when necessary.
6. When the interview is not going so well…
If you have the feeling during the interview that the candidate will simply not work out, try to evaluate the candidate on suitability for another position, if possible. Failing that, try to end the interview after you’ve allowed the candidate their own questions.
7. When the candidate asks for feedback on the interview…
If this is possible, please consider doing so. You would be doing the candidate (and perhaps future interviewers) a great favour by providing some constructive feedback. Keep the feedback simple and in this format: clearly state one or two items that you think requires improvement in order to succeed in the job, and close with an encouraging note. In part one of this article, I mentioned that we are a relatively small community and the opportunity to cross paths again is a strong possibility, so it’s best to keep on good terms.
It is our responsibility as managers and experienced writers to help foster an encouraging environment for other writers. Technical communications as a career choice has grown through the efforts of community building. Let’s try to help each other whenever we can – the interview is a perfect opportunity to do this.