By the time you come face to face with potential hires, you’ve already reviewed their resumes and perhaps even finished an initial phone screening.

Today is the in-person interview and it is pivotal. It’s when you separate the wheat from the chaff, or the good hires from the not-so-good hires. This is crucial because hiring someone who doesn’t work out can cost your business in a number of ways.

When conducting interviews, how can you ensure that you choose good long-term hires with the personality traits and skill sets you’re looking for?

Lay the foundation

Research begins long before you start conducting interviews. Start with a razor-sharp job description: Make sure it lists the required skills, educational prerequisites and any other special certifications or qualifications critical to the position. When reviewing resumes, consider only those that dovetail with your desired skill set. Without this step, you deprive yourself of the one thing you most need to compare candidates: an objective standard to base your conclusions on.

Learn how to write a job description that will attract the best talent for your team.

Ask the right questions

Your top candidates will be prepared for the interview and so should you. Writing down questions beforehand that you want to ask when conducting interviews will keep you focused on your goal. But don’t be limited by your questions. If the conversation leads to a new relevant topic, letting the diversion run its course could give you some revealing answers.

Here are some types of questions you might consider asking:

  • Open-ended: Questions that aren’t looking for a simple “yes” or “no” answer allow you to determine a candidate’s personality traits, as the answers often reveal attitudes and opinions. Example: “How do you multitask and juggle tight deadlines?” Use open-ended questions often, but be careful: Make sure you intercede if the candidate veers too far off track.
  • Hypothetical: These require the candidate to resolve an imaginary situation. Keep in mind that they’re most useful when framed in the context of actual job situations. Example: “If you had an interpersonal conflict with your manager, how would you handle it?”
  • Off-the-wall: They may seem bizarre, but oddball questions can prompt very informative answers about the candidate’s personality. Ask these sparingly — once per interview is plenty. Example: "What animal would you say you most identify with and why?"

Interviews aren’t everything

Be aware that interviews can be extremely challenging and nerve-wracking for many candidates. Some personality types simply don’t shine when they're put on the spot. Just as a good interview/bad hire is possible, so is a bad interview/good hire. If you sense the interview isn’t going well, try these tips:

  • If a candidate isn’t forthcoming, slow down your questions and give the candidate some space and time to get warmed up.
  • If the candidate talks too much or too fast, try to deliberately speak calmly and see if he or she follows your lead.
  • If the candidate has all the right answers, try throwing out a curveball or two to make sure you’ve found a good candidate — not a smooth talker.