When interviewing job candidates, get off the stage

Richard thinks he’s a pretty good interviewer. He has a list of 15 questions he asks every candidate—same questions, same order, every time.

He takes notes on their answers, and even asks an occasional follow-up question. He’s friendly, humorous and excited about his company. As he tells the candidate… in detail…for hours. Then he wonders why only a small fraction of his hires pans out.

The purpose of the interview is to get the candidate talking, and talking, and talking. I’m sincerely happy you like your job, admire your boss and love your company. But don’t let this adoration lead to an interview in which you talk three times more than the interviewee!

I’ve never really understood the interviewer who thinks telling the story of his life is pertinent. Why do some interviewers do it? Part nervousness, part inexperience, but mostly because they have the mistaken notion they have to sell the interviewee on the company, rather than the other way around.

There are instances and reasons why this may be necessary: periods of low unemployment, a glut of particular jobs and a dearth of qualified candidates, or a candidate who’s so desirable you know you have to outsell and outbid your competition for his or her services.

But don’t make it a rule to turn the interview into a sales conference. Under most circumstances, let the candidate do the talking—and the selling—and sit back and decide if you’re ready to buy.

What’s ideal? I doubt there’s a definite answer or one based on any systematic study, so I’ll just lay out my own opinion: If you interview someone for an hour and spend more than 15 minutes talking yourself, you’re letting them interview you.

The more you find yourself blathering on about the wonderfulness of everything from the cafeteria to your newly acquired file cabinet, the less likely you are to ask the open-ended, probing questions you need to identify the right person for the job.

So make it a habit to ask beautifully broad, open-ended questions at the start of every interview. Get them talking and keep your tongue on a leash.

— Excerpted from Ask the Right Questions, Hire the Best People by Ron Fry, author of more than 40 books, including the bestselling 101 Great Answers to the Toughest Interview Questions and 101 Smart Questions to Ask on Your Interview.