Interview Guides: Three Simple Steps to Improve Your Interviews

Like most, buying a new vehicle is a big purchase for my family. Not only is it a significant financial decision, there are all sorts of considerations (and opinions). My wife wants a vehicle that is safe and practical for transporting our two young children. I want one that gets good mileage, has decent acceleration (a safety feature I argue), and that my buddies will still ride in. On top of this, there are certain non-negotiables like it must fit in the garage, seat at least four, and not cost more than $X. 

Those requirements are pretty reasonable but if you’re not careful, this list of considerations can become long and confused. The more you talk about it and the more vehicles you check out, the more you start to add criteria like: needs a sun roof, cupholders, built-in GPS, dark interior, easy to vacuum out, is blue, etc. And as I’ve learned, if you don’t agree on a few key requirements before walking onto the car lot with your spouse and children, you’re in for a bumpy ride. 

What the heck does buying a new vehicle have to do with improving your interviews, you ask?

Hiring, like buying a car, is a big decision. Not only are you going to work with this person every day but how well they do their job and fit into your culture can have dramatic effects on your business and other employees.

If you’re not clear upfront about exactly what you’re looking for in a prospective employee and how you’re going to evaluate it, you’re very likely to end up with the sports car when what you really needed was a minivan. 

As an example, I recently spoke to a small CPA firm that had made a hiring decision a few months prior that just wasn’t working out. The manager I was speaking with was shocked that someone with 12-years of experience at a large, reputable firm could fail so badly. 

Digging deeper it became apparent that there were fit issues. As we talked about their interview process it also became apparent there were red flags that were either ignored or not even considered because the criteria for evaluation simply did not exist. Instead interviewers became enamored by impressive credentials. Hello shiny sports car when you need a minivan.

A recent study showed that 82% of hiring managers reported ignoring subtle red flags during the job interview process that led to hiring mistakes. Top reasons included being too focused on other issues and being pressed for time. Interview guides are a solution that mitigate the impulse shopping behavior that so frequently occurs in interviewing and hiring. 

What is an Interview Guide?

At the most basic level, interview guides are templates that help define what needs to be evaluated and provide sample questions.  

The real goal of an interview guide is to focus the scope of an interviewer’s questions on evaluating the most relevant characteristics of a candidate. There are three components of an effective interview guide:

1. Evaluation criteria: This tells the interviewer what they’re evaluating and why it’s important.

  • Clearly present and define the topic that the interviewer is responsible for evaluating.
  • Provide examples to help clarify the criteria being evaluated.
  • Help interviewers understand what they are evaluating, why it’s important, and how it relates to the job.
  • TIP: Limit evaluation criteria to 1-2 topics per 45-60 minute interview to allow more in-depth examinations of the assigned criteria.

2. Supply interview questions:

  • Supply interview questions for each assigned topic. Having selected interview questions helps save the interviewer preparation time, but more importantly, ensures that relevant questions are being asked during the interview.  
  • Follow-up questions should also be included to help the interviewer understand what to probe into during an interview.  

3. Scoring Rubric: A scoring rubric provides guidance on what constitutes “good” vs “bad” responses and helps interviewers narrow in on what to listen for during an interview. Having a defined scale will also help promote consistency in how candidates are evaluated. For example:

  • POOR: Does only the minimum required. Does not feel compelled to fix problems within their control. Is completely oblivious or displays blatant disregard for the impact of their actions.  
  • MIXED: Does only what is required. Motivation is dictated by what is required, not by recognizing a need. May or may not be privy to how their actions impact others. 
  • GOOD: Goes above and beyond but only within the scope of their job.  Always feels compelled to fix problems that are within their control.  Knows how their actions impact others.
  • EXCELLENT: Goes above and beyond the scope of their job. Always feels compelled to fix problems even when it may not always be within their control. Knows definitively how their actions impact others.

Click here to download a sample template for creating your own interview guide. [Word doc]

Implementing Interview Guides

While designing an effective interview guide takes thoughtfulness, the really hard work starts with implementation. Here's some items to consider that will promote adoption:

Don’t duplicate work: Streamline your current process to avoid duplication of work. Adoption will be easy if it fits seamlessly into your process.

Make it a resource for interviewers:  Build high-quality and relevant content in your interview guides. Adoption of interview guides will hinge on whether interviewers perceive the tool as a resource or an additional administrative burden. 

Invest in training: Just because you build it, doesn’t mean that people are aware of its existence. Training gaps are a common problem we’ve encountered with companies. You’d be surprised how often employees are unaware of resources that exist. Good training will not only focus on helping people understand the benefits of the interview guide but also how the tool is applicable at each step of the process.

Measure results: Hiring mistakes happen when people cut corners and don’t treat hiring as the serious business that it is. Provide metrics and routinely calibrate ratings collected from your scorecards. Use these metrics and ratings to engage leadership and hold people accountable to the process.

Accessibility: Make the interview guide easily accessible (i.e. don’t bury it on the intranet). Consider efficient ways to deploy the interview guide that make it easy for interviewers. This could be as simple as always including the guide as an attachment or link with every interview meeting invite. If you use an applicant tracking system (ATS) that allows it, consider integrating interview guides within your ATS.

About the author:

Joe Shao is a co-founder at Perfect Loop who loves tackling big problems and eating good food.