Interviewing, Spambots and Recruitment

In an earlier post I touched on the subject of interviewing, in response to a commentator's question. This turned out to be a really popular article, with a significant number of unique visitors and email correspondence generated. Thank you all for your comments.

I'm going to revisit this subject today. Our internet logs tells us that quite a lot of people are searching for information such as 'interview questions' or 'how to conduct a service desk interview' and I want to write an article that might help. However before that I want to talk about spambots and recruitment firms.

One thing the earlier post did was generate, after a period of about a week, a very large number of calls from recruitment firms – all asking for either 'Pete' or 'George', all adamant we were looking for a new Service Desk Manager, and all very, very persistent. At first we didn't understand this, but then someone explained it to us. There are a significant number of what I will call spambots that are looking for vacancies on websites, and clearly they've been crawling ours (bots are programs that read all of the pages in a website). These bots are clearly trying to read the text, and then sell the 'opportunity' to recruitment firms. However in this case the bots seem to have misread the post.

OK for the benefit of bots: please do not call us, this post does not mean we have a vacancy smiley

Now on to the subject of interviewing. It's always surprised me that most people who are interviewing have had no training, and very little guidance. Presumably you are meant to learn the technique from the times you've served as the interviewee. What I'd say is that if it's your first interview, don't be afraid to role-play with a colleague (it's best done with a peer). Get your colleague to sit with you playing the role of a candidate, and afterwards discuss with them how the interview went. This will help you get into the swing of things, and act as a nice rehearsal.

For the rest of this post, I'll adopt a do/don't format.

Do: Try to bring the interviewee into the interview as early as possible. In other words, don't make them sit there and listen to the history of the company starting from when your founder was born. State a little bit about the job and try to get them talking. Assume they've done some research.

Do: Use the CV as a talking point. Most people will have projects listed on their CV. Try to get them to talk about their projects, focusing on what they did and their role in the project. Ask them about what worked, and what did not. Ask them what they learned.

Do: Give people a little time to compose themselves. Once shown to the interview room, I ask if they'd like tea or coffee. Regardless of the answer, I leave for just a few minutes (note: not 5 or 10 minutes, just 2).

Do: Keep your questions open-ended and allow the interviewee to come in as often and as frequently as possible.

Don't: Start with areas of discussion or topics that are likely to be controversial. Leave these towards the end when hopefully you've built up a rapport. Personally I avoid arguments – if someone states a fact which I am certain is incorrect, I just say 'are you sure about that?'.

Don't: Bombard them with fact-based questions like they are sitting an exam. Just drop these into the interview. Don't turn the interview into an ITIL Q & A.

Don't: Paint an overly rosy picture. True story: a colleague of mine here at Serio (years ago) got a job as an IT manager. He had the foresight to ask during the interview 'why is the current IT manager leaving' and was told 'he's started his own business' which seems fair enough. After starting my colleague found out the truth: the company was 2 years old and had burned the 3 previous IT managers. The first suffered a nervous breakdown in the office after 9 months (crying, shaking), the second was fired after 4 months, and the third had just got up from his desk one day and walked out never to return. When he found out, my colleague was, of course, deeply unimpressed.

Don't: Assume the qualifications and references are all genuine. I've been surprised by the extent to which false information is placed on CVs – check things out carefully.

Do: Be careful about 'Why?' and 'Why did you do that?' as it will unsettle some people – making them feel like 'they've put their foot in it'. If you can, preface such questions with 'that's interesting' to make people feel more at ease.

Do: Finish with 'Are there things you'd like to talk about we have not mentioned?' and/or 'Do you have any questions for me?'.

Don't: Be secretive. Someone has taken their time to see you, so tell them about the recruitment process. Don't assume the agency (if they have come through an agency) has told them anything.

Do: Ask relevant questions for the job (naturally), following the advice given above (although question is the wrong word, it's more like 'topics for discussion').

In future posts next week I'll suggest some questions topics for you to use for a few typical Helpdesk or Service Desk roles.