Interviewing Different Types of Job Candidates

All candidates want to make an excellent impression during an interview, but some fall far short of this goal. When The Creative Group asked executives to name the strangest things they had ever heard of occurring in a job interview, the examples included one person who called his parents on his cell phone after the first few questions to tell them things were "going well," and another who got up to leave just a few minutes after the meeting had begun to check on the dog he left in the car.

As a hiring manager, you may not have encountered situations as extreme as these, but you’re bound to conduct interviews that go less than smoothly. Following are some candidates you might meet while you’re trying to find the perfect match for a job in your department—and tips on how best to interview them.

The Quiet Type. It’s 20 minutes into the interview, and the candidate has only provided you with one-sentence replies to your questions. While her portfolio is outstanding, you feel you need to glean more information in order to assess whether she’ll be a good fit for the job and the department. Your inclination may be to fire more questions at her, but try to resist. This person is probably shy and nervous; bombarding her with additional queries will likely cause her to clam up even more. Instead, allow this person plenty of time to expand on her comments. Some people simply take more time to formulate responses. Also ask open-ended questions so she has to offer you more than a one-sentence reply, and do your best to find a topic the person is excited to talk about. This is where seemingly less important questions, such as, "What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?" can help ease the way to more meaningful conversations and make the candidate feel comfortable.

The Nervous Talker. He’s the complete opposite of the quiet type. In fact, it’s difficult for you to get a word in edge-wise. Like the silent applicant, this candidate probably suffers from anxiety. Try to put this person at ease by being personable and not being a "fast talker" yourself. If you’re deliberate and calm when you speak, he’s likely to take a clue from you and relax a bit himself. You also might find that this individual slows down during the course of the interview. If he doesn’t, there may be a bigger problem. After all, you don’t want to hire someone who’s so busy talking that he can’t listen.

The Sensitive Type. This candidate wears all of her feelings on her sleeve. When you comment that you like the pieces from her portfolio but wonder why she included one particular example, she wilts before your eyes. As you get into the thick of the interview, she mentions she would have done many things differently in her pieces if she’d had her way. When interviewing a sensitive type who seems to take her work personally, it’s important to determine how this applicant will take direction. For example, you might ask her about a time when her work was criticized, how she reacted and if she took any steps to prevent similar feedback in the future. If you’re not satisfied with her answers, tread carefully. You don’t want to hire an individual who isn’t receptive to others’ opinions. You also don’t want to be forced to take care of her fragile ego.

The Smooth Talker. When you ask this person what his biggest weakness is, he promptly replies, "Being an overachiever." He answers every question perfectly, as though he’s rehearsed his responses many times. He comes across as slick, an attribute that may work for sales, but if you’re interviewing for a graphic design position, your best approach is to try to get him to speak outside of his talking points. You might ask, "What’s the office environment you’d be least comfortable working in?" or, "Tell me about a challenge you faced at work that you weren’t able to overcome and why." If he continues to stick to his interview script, he may not be the best fit for your organization.

As you’re interviewing candidates, keep in mind that the process is nerve-wracking. Whether shy or slick, try to make each person feel comfortable enough during the meeting to reveal what sort of employee he or she would make. Be forgiving of behavior that’s likely due to anxiety—some of the best professionals may not interview well. Above all, remember that talent alone is never enough reason to hire someone.

The Creative Group is a specialized staffing service placing creative, advertising, marketing and Web professionals on a project basis with a variety of firms.