Twelve Keys to Polishing Your Interviewing Skills

Article excerpt

Why do we always emphasize the wrong stuff? During the two years I spent getting a Stanford MBA in the early '70s, I crunched a zillion numbers. But I never had 30 seconds worth of counsel about interviewing technique.

Subsequent experience as a management consultant confirms that there are lots of effective number-crunchers but damn few great interviewers _ Mike Wallaces of the business world, you might say. To state the obvious, what good are analytical skills if the information you're analyzing is skimpy or misleading?

Interviewing can be learned _ and is essential to the success of high-priced consultants and inquisitive managers alike. I've gleaned the following from 25 years of interviewing and watching superb interviewers at work: Don't overschedule. This isn't a horse race. Three solid, hourlong interviews are a full day's work. If all your senses are tuned into the person on the other side of the table, you'll be exhausted by a single interview. Five? Six? Forget it. Save the Big Cheese for last. Don't start by interviewing the CEO. She is likely to be impatient, and you don't know a damn thing. Save your most important interviews until you know the lay of the land. Find a comfy nest. The more pleasant, casual and neutral the setting, the better. The worst: Your chair on the far side of your subject's desk. The best: a plain, cozy room with a few armchairs, a blackboard, a coffee machine and refrigerator with cokes and tomato juice _ and no phone. Prepare. Study your buns off. Read everything you can, for example. (But try to avoid preconceptions _ you're there to be surprised, not confirmed in your assumptions.) Go into the session with several pages of questions. Will you get through such an imposing list? Heaven forbid! But it will give you a sense of security, guide you _ and, no small thing, give the perception that you're prepared. "Please give me an example." These are the five most important words in the interviewer's arsenal, and they can't be used too often. There is nothing worse than walking out of an interview and finding an extraordinary comment in your notes _ for which there is not a shred of supporting evidence.

The main purpose of an interview is to gather stories _ practical illustrations of how things work (or don't). Measure your effectiveness by the number of "sagas" an interview produces. …