With the exception of referencing, a personal interview is the single best means of evaluating the qualifications of a potential new hire. It is a time to critically assess how well the candidate's qualifications meet the position specifications and how his/her personal style dovetails with yours and that of your organization.
Preparing for an Interview
Set aside one-and-a-half to two-and-a-half hours for an interview. It can take 30 - or even 45 - minutes to establish rapport. Without rapport, the candidate never relaxes. And, unless the candidate relaxes, you may never see the "real person."
Limit distractions -- especially telephone calls. Consider conducting the interview off-site to ensure an uninterrupted meeting.
Proper preparation increases the likelihood the interview will be thorough. Carefully re-read the candidate's resume just before the interview (reading the resume for the first time during the interview is a "no-no"). Using job responsibilities and accomplishments as your guide, critically evaluate each candidate's strengths and weaknesses. Develop hypotheses. Design questions to test these and to probe areas of special interest/concern.
Opening the Interview
Make every effort to put the candidate at ease. If the candidate is tense, you will not get to know the real person. Take off your coat and encourage the candidate to do the same. Come out from behind your desk and encourage the use of first names.
Share something personal with the candidate in order to establish rapport. In addition, consider using resume information to discuss areas of mutual interest. For example, "I noticed you are a runner. How often do you ... "
The Body of the Interview
Divide the personal interview into four parts: first, put the candidate at ease, i.e., make friends; second, ask your questions; third, answer the candidate's questions; finally, as appropriate, sell.
Too many "yes" or "no" answers may mean that you are not phrasing questions correctly. Starting your questions with words like "Why", "What" or "How" will usually get the candidate to open up. Asking a question which starts with "How" is particularly effective, as it requires an expansive reply. In addition, ask the candidate to respond to a few hypothetical questions relating to your organization.
Make notes in the margin when responses are unclear or further amplification is needed. Don't forget to ask why the candidate left previous employers and why he/she might leave a current employer. Note accomplishments or the absence thereof and prepare to probe. Always look for legacies, i.e. how he/she made things better.
Try to evaluate the candidate's self-insight (where he/she has faced adversity), honesty and humility. Ask the interviewee to describe his/her weaknesses and then follow up with a question about steps taken to overcome these. If a candidate has never faced adversity or has no weaknesses, you may have the wrong person.
Suggest that you will check references extensively prior to extending an offer. Ask "What will we hear from your detractors?" Also inquire about "skeletons in the closet" (i.e., things that would be better discussed now than uncovered in the referencing process). Do not be surprised if these questions are followed by protracted periods of silence. Let the candidate speak first.
Examine turn-ons, i.e., identify peak experiences at work and at play. What does the candidate brag about? What is his/her passion? What would he/she do during a hypothetical 12-month sabbatical? Are these team things or solo adventures?
Identify deviance or defiance. When has the candidate flown in the face of convention? Look for curiosity and/or productive "kinkiness." Assess energy levels by asking the candidate to describe a "typical day."
As appropriate, combine a face-to-face interview with a tour of your facilities. This gives you and the candidate a chance to talk in different settings and provides an opportunity to get his/her "on-site" reactions.
Closing the Interview
Be sure to save time for the candidate's questions. The quality of the questions will tell you a lot about the strength of his/her candidacy.
At the end of the interview, determine the candidate's level of interest. This is best accomplished by asking questions about the position -- i.e., which responsibilities best fit his/her experience? Which will cause the candidate to stretch?
Finally, thank the candidate for taking the time to meet with you. Be sure he/she knows that you appreciate his/her interest in the position. Let him/her know when to expect to hear from you... and be sure to respond by that time.
Review your notes before they age. Trust your instincts. Make a "Ben Franklin" balance sheet (plusses and minuses). List potential concerns, i.e., questions to be addressed during reference calls and/or as part of a second interview.