This is the first in a series of interviews with Gail Rolls on critical HR topics.
AITS: Roughly when do you believe is the best time for a candidate to arrive for an interview? What does it say about candidates if they arrive “too early” or late?
Gail Rolls: I would say about 15 minutes early. Some places have security, in which you need to sign in and that can take some time. Too early, I personally don’t view that as much as a problem as coming in late. There is no reason why a candidate should come late, unless something happened unforeseen: accident, or something of that sort. If that happens, make sure you call. Please make sure your cell phone is charged and that you have a map to use as a backup to a GPS. Other than something unforeseen, there is no reason to be late. If you are early, you can always wait in your car.
AITS: Are there some overall categories of questions a candidate should prepare for going into an interview?
Rolls: Prepare for the dreaded open-ended questions: ‘Tell me about your strengths/weaknesses;’ ‘What was your biggest challenge and how did you handle it;’ etc. These are known as ‘behavior-type questions’ and are the hardest to answer. Candidates need to be prepared for these and always end them on a positive note. Other than that, candidates should research the company and be prepared to ask questions about the position and about the company. Questions are good, but don’t ask questions to which you should already know the answers.
AITS: What are the qualities or conditions that really make an interview a standout to you?
Rolls: The basics: good eye contact, firm handshake, engaging questions, sense of urgency in returning calls/emails and completing required documents, and ‘thank you’ e-mails. It sounds basic, but a lot of candidates don’t do this.
AITS: What are the best sorts of questions a candidate can ask an interviewer, and what do these questions illustrate about the candidates that make them so appealing?
Rolls: Good question. Personally, I like when candidates ask about the company culture. It shows that that is important to them and that they want a match, too. It also shows that they are serious. I also like it when candidates ask questions about the position, and when they do, they are able to explain why their skills match the job description.
AITS: What are the interviewing mistakes you see candidates make most often?
Rolls: Poor handshake and lack of urgency. Once in a while, a candidate will aimlessly talk about things and will not answer your question.
AITS: Do you prefer to ask behavioral or situational questions in interviews, and have you found that one is a better indicator of strengths than the other?
Rolls: I don’t really prefer one over the other, unless I am screening for something specific. My first goal, always, is to make the person feel comfortable. I dive into these areas in a non-threatening way. But that is me!
AITS: Do you try to “stick to a script” during interviews in order to stay on topic, or do you prefer to let the conversation naturally dictate the flow of the interview?
Rolls: In terms of ‘sticking to a script’ there are skills I need to vet. But, once I get through that, I prefer to let the conversation go naturally. If I do my job properly, I can let the conversation go naturally and still screen effectively.
AITS: What is one final tidbit of advice you would like to give anyone entering an interview?
Rolls: Firm handshake, dress properly, and remember the saying: ‘You can make a first impression only once!’
Gail Rolls also maintains The IT Entrepreneur LinkedIn group.