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Interviewing — Less Talk

How To Talk Only 25% Of The Time

Do you spend more time talking than listening when you interview? Interviewing experts say that the most effective and efficient interviews are those in which the interviewer talks only 25% of the time!

After years of interviewing, I believe I finally have it right! I’ve learned to plan with the structure of a systems engineer, control with the underlying authority of a judge, probe with a surgeon’s finesse, listen with the thoroughness of a counselor, and assess individual skills and attributes with a photographer’s eye for nuance.

The hard part, of course, is to do all this while only talking 25% of the time and while doing the other 50 things I’m responsible for each day! We all know why we need to make time for interviewing - so we don’t have to keep doing all the jobs of those positions we haven’t yet filled! We also know why we should only talk 25% of the time - if we talk too much, how will we learn all that we need to know about the applicant. You do, of course, need to talk some or how will the applicant learn all that they need to know about the job and the company?

If you find yourself talking too much, examine the reasons - some of us talk too much during an interview because we didn’t plan the questions and assessment methods we’d use and are winging it. We figure if we just keep talking, the applicant will never know that we actually forgot they were even coming today – much less prepared for them! Some of us have had some pretty interesting interviews like:

These type of experiences tend to make us want to talk more so we feel in control. However, you can be in control and keep your talk time to 25% by doing a small amount of pre-interview planning.

  • Set criteria for the position (this could be your job description or job analysis - make sure to update it - or you can write a list of what you're looking for based on what they’ll need to do).

  • Gain information about the applicant based on the criteria before the interview

  • Save yourself and the applicant time by pre-interviewing by phone and mail. Ask questions like "What do you have to offer our company?" "If you had this job what would you expect yourself to be doing every day?". You'll get a better picture of this applicant than the standard, "Why do you want this job?" "Tell me about yourself" questions. Ask for and check references (check them before the interview and save time, plus you can use information from the references to probe).

  • Think about the time and the location - allow sufficient time so that neither you or the applicant feel rushed. Consider not only how long you’ll need for the interview, but also what time of day and what day of the week would be best. If you are super busy in the morning, you won’t get what you need from a morning interview. Now, if the applicant sounds like they meet your criteria, call them in for an interview.

  • Plan the questions you’ll ask and assessments you’ll have them do, as well as anyone on your staff you want them to meet and talk with (be sure your staff people plan their questions too), and anything you want to show them. Pre-interview planning—gaining information before the interview, planning the best time and place and the questions, assessments and others to meet—will allow you to control your percentage of time talking about the position and your operation, so you can spend as much time listening and probing as possible.

    The way to get the applicant to talk more? Ask as many open ended questions as possible. Instead of "Did you have a good attendance record on your last job?", try "What was your attendance record on your last job?". Instead of "Are you interested in learning how to use new equipment?", try "What new equipment are you interested in learning?" or "Tell me about the kinds of equipment you’ve worked with in the past and why you enjoyed using them?". Avoid questions that are leading or can’t possibly produce a truthful answer, like "How did you get along with your co-workers?". Only ask questions that are job related - i.e., that you "need to know" the answer to. There is a great deal of information we "need to know" about applicants. If we ask for this information using all encompassing questions, we may be asking for information we don’t need to know in order to determine if the applicant is the best one for the job.

    We need to make our questions more pinpointed - first by determining the essential functions of the job, then by designing questions that address only those issues. For example, if the job requires someone who is 21 or older, you don’t need to know how old they are – you only need to know if they’re 21 or older. So ask "Are you 21 or older?". If you ask "How old are you?", they tell you 42, and you don’t hire them, you run the risk of being accused that you didn’t hire them because of their age—whether you took that into account or not—and you’ll be in the position of proving that age had nothing to do with your decision. Save yourself time and money by asking only specific "need to know" questions. This will also indicate to the applicant that you’ve prepared for them and they’ll feel better about you and your operation!

    Record the applicant’s information as you gain it on a checklist of the criteria required for someone in the position. The job description or job analysis works well for this. Doing this will ensure that you’ll be comparing apples to apples when you make your hiring decision, and allows you to explain/prove why you chose one applicant over the other. Also, if you’re taking notes, you look more like a listener and you can’t talk so much!

    Be a great interviewer by talking only 25% of the interview time!

    -Carolyn B. Thompson
    Carolyn B. Thompson is the President of Training Systems, Inc., a customized training and HR consulting company that helps small and medium sized organizations enhance their ability to recruit, inspire and retain quality employees and improve performance through training. Training Systems, Inc. also provides training design and facilitation services to training companies and the training departments of large companies, and professional and trade associations. Carolyn B. Thompson is an experienced trainer and consultant knowledgeable in the challenging area of employee recruitment, inspiration and retention. She’s written and published a book entitled "Creating Highly Interactive Training Quickly and Effectively", wrote the books "Interviewing Techniques for Managers" and "The Leadership Genius of George W Bush" and is currently writing a book about on-the-job training, and co-authoring another book about using biblical principles to manage employees.
    ©Training Systems, Inc. 2000