Whether you’re looking to replace a valuable staff member or grow your firm by adding new advisors, you’ll likely vet candidates through an in-person interview. Hiring the best person for the role can help make your firm stronger and more profitable, as well as stave off problems down the road.
But conducting a thorough interview that provides you (or the hiring manager) with solid, useful information can be more difficult than it may seem. That’s because any candidate who makes it to the interview stage is at least knowledgeable and qualified. But will they be a good fit for your firm and provide advice in a way that matches your firm’s values? Fortunately, a strategically designed interview can help you select the potential hire who’s best for the job at hand — it just may take a little more advance planning.
Having a clear sense of the position you’re interviewing for is the most important step in designing solid interview questions, says Sy Islam, an assistant professor of industrial organizational psychology at Farmingdale State College in Farmingdale, N.Y. Whether you’re looking for additional administrative help or bringing a junior advisor into your firm, make sure you have a concrete sense of the tasks, skills and knowledge your ideal candidate will possess. If a junior advisor won’t be discussing high-level investment strategy with clients then don’t waste interview time asking potential hires to analyze investments.
Once you’re clear on the position, Islam recommends coming up with a structured list of questions to ask every interviewee.
“Many interviews are unstructured, meaning interviewers will ask different applicants different questions,” he says. “This makes it virtually impossible to compare candidates’ answers. At that point, you risk letting personal biases, attractiveness and other non-job related factors affect your decision making.”
Avoid cookie-cutter questions
To really get to know a prospective hire cross the classic interview questions — What are your strengths/weaknesses? How do you work in a team environment? — off your list, says Neil Bondre, founder of The Interview Professional, a San Francisco, Calif.-based consulting firm that provides coaching services for clients in finance, as well as other industries. If you ask cookie-cutter questions, you’re likely to get rehearsed answers that don’t necessarily give you a sense of how the interviewee’s mind really works.
Getting a better sense of a candidate’s problem-solving skills or ability to work under pressure, requires thought-process questions, Bondre recommends.
“You can ask them to look out the window and estimate the valuation of the building across the street,” he suggests. You’re not looking for an accurate answer, necessarily; rather, it’s a way to see how your interviewee approaches a difficult problem. Asking them to think through a problem out loud lets you get a sense of their creativity, logical thinking and calmness under pressure.
Get a 3D picture
As director of talent consulting and assessment for Taylor Strategy Partners, a Columbus, Ohio-based human resources consulting firm, Marc Prine has helped clients in the financial industry refine their hiring process. He cautions against the typical “walk me through your resume” interview.
“You risk running into a situation where everyone’s resume looks similar and everyone’s biggest flaw is that they work too hard,” he says.
In such a situation, hiring managers often opt for the person with the most experience — even though that person will likely cost more to hire and may be more stuck in their ways than someone at an earlier stage of their career.
In order to get a fuller picture of prospective interviewees, Prine recommends assessment tools such as personality and cognitive assessments. These can also be a useful way to get a sense of a candidate’s potential strengths and weaknesses — though Prine cautions against relying on test results alone.
“You can use them as another data point to help you frame the conversation,” he says.
Prine also suggests tailoring your interview questions to focus on behaviors, not qualities. Rather than asking a potential hire about her best qualities, first determine the behaviors you’re looking for in your ideal candidate, such as calm under pressure or the ability to brainstorm with a small team. Then, ask the interviewee about a time when she did (or didn’t) demonstrate those behaviors.