Interviews are tricky, from preparation to the experience itself. You have to find the right people to participate, compare calendars to schedule and develop the questions that will yield the best insights. However, there are ways to simplify interviews and ensure they’re effective.
Here are some tips for making the most of every interview.
Attract and identify the right candidates for your hiring interviews
Research shows that high-quality candidates want to make a difference and be challenged in a role. They want to work for great companies, which is why promoting a great organizational culture is so key and landing on a few “best workplaces” lists can’t hurt either.
Writing the job posting itself will play a large role in your search for quality candidates. Use long-tail keywords to make it searchable and avoid cliches and buzzwords.
Promoting that job posting in the right places is also important. Use traditional job sites such as Indeed and Glassdoor, as well as promoting it on your company’s social media. Less traditional channels, such as email signature marketing, can yield impressive results as well, if you’re getting the attention of the right people.
From the start of the interview process, you want to ensure that you’re making the process as frictionless as possible. All communication and use of technology should help build the connection and break down barriers—from your emails, to your scheduling tool. The recruiting team at Stack Overflow uses Calendly to connect with candidates in record time with minimal admin work.
They email a scheduling link to interested candidates, asking them to find the time that’s convenient for them to meet and discuss opportunities. By eliminating any software downloads or technical knowledge needed to take part in the process, scheduling is no longer a barrier to recruitment and the interview process remains relational.
During the initial phase of interviewing, give the candidate a clear idea of what to expect and answer any questions they might have as openly as possible. When it’s your turn to ask questions, make time to focus on culture fit and other intangibles. Pointed questions about past managers, the dynamic of previous teams and how co-workers would describe the candidate reveal a lot about what they expect from a company’s culture, and what they will offer to it.
Knowing the soft skills that you’re looking for will also be essential as you formulate questions and qualify candidates. Behavioral interview questions ask a candidate to delve deeper into times they’ve used a skill. Working on the assumption that past behavior is a prominent factor in predicting how a candidate will perform on a job, asking these questions will reveal a lot about their character.
Throughout the hiring process, your strategy should focus on removing friction and roadblocks so that when you do make a hire you’re confident that it’s the right fit for both sides.
Research guests and prepare thoroughly for podcast interviews
When interviewing someone for a podcast, preparation is key. Clear and open communication with your interviewee before the podcast will be essential as you make sure that you’re on the same page. You should have a sharp idea of what you want to get out of the interview and what value your guest is providing to your audience.
Researching your guest so that you have a deep understanding of their story will set you up to steer the conversation in the right direction and to ask relevant follow-up questions. Award-winning designer and “Design Matters” podcast host Debbie Millman says she spends 10–12 hours researching each of her guests for their 1-hour interview. She wants to understand the entire arc of their life and be prepared to guide the interview exactly where she wants it to go to provide the best experience for listeners. No wonder the podcast has won so many awards!
Make sure to coordinate the time and interview method carefully, so that details are all ironed out to prevent any last minute scrambling.
When interviewing, there is no substitute for genuine listening and responsiveness. Have questions prepared, but don’t be afraid to break script and ask follow-up questions if there’s more of a story that you can draw out. Sometimes the best interviews will be the ones that head in unexpected directions. However, always keep your goal in mind and never let a tangent take away from the value your guest is meant to provide.
Crafting personable customer interviews that create valuable insights and brand loyalty
Interviewing customers can take many forms. Whether you’re looking to write a case study or conducting product research, harnessing the customer voice is vital to many elements of your business. While recruiting participants can be time-consuming, there are a few simple ways you can optimize your customer interview results.
If you’re a web-based business, you may want to embed an opt-in form on your customer portal. This ensures that your participants are warm and open to giving you feedback. When possible—to save money—do research in-house and don’t pay participants, but beware that finding participants can be very time-consuming.
The Nielsen Norman Group found that companies recruiting on their own spent an average of 1.15 hours for each participant. So if you don’t have a direct line to your customer base or you don’t have a designated research team, you may want to hire a participant recruiting agency to find your interviewees. While more costly, an outside team can be more efficient and will be able to sweep a wider range of channels and offer more targeted incentives than a startup or SMB can on their own.
Get permission to audio-record the interview and pay for a transcription service. Test your technology thoroughly before you start your research sprint. You do not want to go crawling back to your participants with your tail between your legs to ask for another meeting or clarification on their answers.
Be prepared to cover some standard topics like motivations, struggles and the value they perceive they’ve experienced from your product, service or brand. Don’t forget to also place an emphasis on learning how a product or a process makes a customer feel. The emotional aspect is often the most powerful and the most telling.
These are situations in which you want honesty, candor and genuine feedback so that you can make your company the best it can be. You don’t want this to feel like an interview. Instead, it should feel like a conversation. Getting responses and suggestions should feel natural. To achieve this, let your guard down, guiding your interviewee to follow suit. Do everything you can to make them feel heard, understood and valued.
This process starts right from the beginning of your interaction—when you first set up the interview. Open communication and clear expectations at all stages of the process will lead to openness and clarity during the interview itself. The insights you gain from honest, candid feedback will be invaluable.
So much goes into interviewing and gathering the insights you need to be effective in your role. From hiring staff to customer research, setting expectations and communicating clearly is key. Your strategy should focus on making the entire experience as pleasant as possible for you and the interviewee, resulting in a mutually beneficial experience.
Brad Beutler is the Director of Marketing at Sigstr. By enforcing brand compliance in the email signature and giving marketers the ability to insert dynamic call-to-action banners, Sigstr turns every employee in the company into a brilliant marketer that promotes relevant content to the right audiences.