I recently conducted an interview, as a panel member, for a technical position within my organization. The position requires a great amount of technical (IT) skill in SharePoint in order to be successful. I was provided a list of 12 questions the board would ask and use as a basis of evaluation. Each question was specific to SharePoint. In preparation for the application process, a general position description was advertised which contained a clear requirement to understand SharePoint from a developer perspective. In this case, the position was for a SharePoint developer, which is a niche skill. Many of the applicants were technologically savvy, communicated well, but just did not have the knowledge or experience as a SharePoint developer.
There are generally 2 primary styles of interviewing; technical and discussion centric.
This method should be used when the position requires technical skills that must be employed immediately. This could be a sudden vacancy in the IT department, internal financial review office, or other positions that require a specific certification (such as an OSHA hazmat specialist). In these cases, it may be more beneficial to conduct a more technically focused interview.
This method should be used in any case. At a minimum, getting to know the applicant by simply talking will put the applicant at ease, creating more relaxed natural responses. Once the person is relaxed, if needed, get into the technical aspect of the interview. Or, simply talk. Sometimes, it is better to hire someone you can get along with, who is motivated and has the drive and enthusiasm you seek, instead of a highly technical individual.
So, which is more effective?
It really just depends on the situation. Going back to the initial example of the SharePoint developer, we could have hired just about any of the applicants as they were technically competent. In that case, however, we needed a turn-key employee, someone we could hire, help him or her learn how the organization conducts business, and let them do their job. We could not afford to spend the time to train someone to do the job due to other constraints. If we could, we would have trained one of our existing employees.
There are a few questions to ask as you develop your interview process or overall style. First, can the skill you are looking for be developed internally? What skills do you require immediately? What does your organization value? What type of personality are you looking for?
Take this a step further. Why is the organization hiring outside of the organization for an essential position? Organizations should invest time in developing and mentoring their team. Cross-training should be completed at all levels. When a sudden need to hire presents itself, the organization should be able to promote from within. My personal goal is to work myself out of a job through SOP development, training, and automating repeating processes. If I can disappear for a month at a time and my team can carry on without being completely adversely affected by my absence, then I am doing my job. I push my team members to do the same. Many consider this ludicrous as it would seem that I am unnecessary. My job is to lead my team. My job is to motivate and inspire, mentor and train, and provide task and purpose for my team. If a single person becomes the point of failure or the “choke point” where everything stalls out, then the organization is doing something wrong.
Getting back on track and wrapping up, the most effective interview process is situationally dependent. However, I recommend focusing the interview on getting to know the person, and hire the best personality based on your organizational culture. Yes, consider their background, skill, experience, and technical prowess. But much of this can be learned on the job. Character and personality take a lifetime to develop. Which is the better investment for you and your organization?
Jared W. Snow