guest commentary: How to Interview

If you are the IT manager for a growing firm that continues to expand its use of the AS/400 and related technologies, hiring and promoting skilled professionals is an increasingly important and difficult part of your duties. Along with all the other things on your plate today, you're interviewing a prospective employee. You've done this many times and know that finding and landing a capable candidate is getting tougher. You hope that the candidate is competent, interested and hirable within the salary range that you have to work. How well you conduct this interview today will be just as important for your company as all your other duties combined.

You know what you're looking for in a prospective AS/400 professional -- good technical skills combined with a certain set of personal traits and knowledge of your industry. You also know that you will have to compromise. The shortage of skilled professionals and the rapid expansion of companies like yours have made it an applicant’s market. It is important to both screen the candidates and impress them. What they think of your company (and you) is what they will tell their friends and colleagues. In the long term, your company's reputation is built, at least in part, on the way it interviews.

Since 1991 the team of recruiters at WESSYX (formerly WESTEC), have been arranging interviews for AS/400 professionals nationwide. They have some suggestions for interviewers based on feedback from those interviews. WESSYX’s manager, Steve Fitzgerald, puts it simply, "Companies cannot afford to lose even one good candidate or opportunity to tell the company story in the employment market place. Every interview is valuable for both purposes."

Historically it used to take five interviews on average to get an offer of employment. After those five interviews and an offer, the odds were 50/50 that the offer would be accepted. But that was several years ago. Lately, the number of interviews per hire has been declining due the lack of qualified candidates rather than from indecision on the part of hiring managers. Now, it takes longer to find and interview fewer candidates.

Hiring managers used to be able to hold 'beauty contests' and choose from a pool of qualified candidates, but those days are gone. Today, it is critical that the hiring manager quickly determines the suitability of a candidate and makes the hire/no-hire decision. The current market simply does not allow for a long decision making process. The pool of candidates (likely only two or three) that you are considering will evaporate rapidly.

Lack of candidates and brief time that they are available for hire is a large part of the other problem that today's hiring manager must solve -- candidates are becoming picky. Well-qualified professionals understand that they have options. The wiser ones use those options to develop their careers along their chosen course. Of course, each candidate has different preferences and priorities that are major factors in the hiring process. The culture of the prospective employer, dress code, work hours, etc. have always been a factor in making the right 'fit', except that now, it’s the employer who has to show flexibility in these areas.

While the superior to whom the candidate reports is the most important player, the other members of your team have a big influence on the candidate's decision and on what that candidate says about your company. Be sure to include others in the interview process and be sure that they are prepared to do their job in both screening and landing the candidate. They all need to understand that the decision might be a "no hire," but the candidate should leave with a good impression of the company.

Here are some simple rules to follow when conducting interviews.

  • Have the right person ready to conduct the interview.
  • Ensure that the candidate knows the company's background and how this position fits in.
  • Take the time to familiarize yourself with the candidate beforehand.
  • Dress for the occasion.
  • Ask the right questions.
  • Be ready to make the offer.

Today's business hiring atmosphere is different than it was just two years ago. Back then, the interviewer held the power. Today, qualified candidates have it. They are not awed. They look to see if the company is prepared to make them an offer and, they can reject that offer because they know there will be another.

Both sides should be well prepared for the interview. There are a number of resources available including best selling books and management guides. Recruiters, like those at WESSYX can help prepare both sides for an interview and can guide them to a successful hire.

In every interview you have an opportunity to improve your company’s reputation within the professional community. Whether this candidate gets the job or not, your conduct matters. During the interview you are the company. If the candidate never meets anyone else in the firm, you are his lasting memory. One day in the future when he again deals with your company, his approach will be based in large measure on the brief time he spent with you. Multiply him by the tens, scores, or hundreds that you may interview in your career, and that makes for a lot of opinion about the company, and about you personally.

George Knapp is a free-lance researcher and writer. A retired Army officer, he lives in Leavenworth, Kansas.