Four Types of Comments Used in an Interview

As you conduct your selection interview, your attention won’t be riveted by every candidate.  Yet you owe it to all of them not to let your mind wander while they are answering questions you’ve asked them.  It may help to note that you cannot summarize back to the candidate what they said to you unless you are paying attention.  If you train yourself to comment on what people say, it forces you to listen.  This is more important as a discipline for you than for its effect on the candidate, but the effects can be very positive.  By commenting you are also giving the candidate feedback.  Candidates realize that what they are saying is being understood and processed.   Casual comments like “I see,” “Great,” “That’s interesting,” or grunts like “uh huh” have limited utility.  Try instead to use the following four types of comments that are most useful in the interview:

Restatement.  Restatement is simply a summarizing back to the candidate the essence of what they said to you.  It is not difficult, but make sure not to add or subtract anything, and not to reveal your opinion of what the candidate said.  Give a neutral, accurate summarization.

Pat on the Back.  Don’t try and give candidates compliments, or worse yet, suggest that they’re just what you’re looking for.  That sets up expectations that may or may not be met.  You can achieve the same advantages by giving a “pat on the back.”  The candidate has told you about some everyday accomplishment.  Make it known that you recognize it required going beyond the minimum.  The recognition of little things in passing gives candidates the sense that you’re truly processing what they’re saying and that you understand where they’re coming from.

Downplay the Negative.  There is nothing to be gained by telling a candidate, “Well, if I understand what you’re saying, it sounds like you were rather ineffectual in that role.”  That may, in fact, be an accurate restatement of what they just told you, but it will be a negative comment nonetheless.  Better to downplay it.  You might respond by saying you appreciate the candidate mentioning it, that it must have been difficult for him at the time, and that you are sure he was more successful in a subsequent position.

Reflect Feeling.  If you are going to get a candidate to be open with you, you should acknowledge their reaction when you notice them reacting strongly to something.  A simple statement such as, “I guess it must have been disappointing that the project you put so much time and effort into was not mentioned in your performance review and that you had to mention it yourself,”  lets a candidate know that you understand the position he was put in by the incident, and how he felt about it.


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