How to Run an Effective Interview in Only 30 Minutes

March 2, 2016


Hiring good people can be difficult, time-consuming, and costly. If you're in a constant cycle of hiring like most growing organizations, I don't have to tell you about the time warp it can cause-- but what about the cost?

The more of your time that's absorbed in lengthy interviews the more likely you are to take shortcuts and make mistakes. According to Dr. John Sullivan the hiring process is getting even harder:

Aggressiveness, the need for counteroffers, higher rejection rates, and a renewed focus on recruiting the currently employed will all return to prominence.

What if you could be more efficient with your time and get the information you need to make a decision for next steps in about half the time you're currently committing?  The advantage of reducing your hiring time will add to your bottom line, perhaps more than you realize.  A 2014 report from UrbanBound illustrated the time demands, and how costs can add up.  

Onboarding can be an extremely time-demanding project. It can cost up to 1/3 of an employee's salary to onboard and train new hires, especially when that employee's job description does not have to do with onboarding. Therefore, if a small company has a flawed onboarding plan, they risk having a bad retention percentage which can be extremely costly.

It makes sense that organizations should spend less time on first interviews in an attempt to invest more time with top candidates later in the process. So how would you reduce overall costs and run a more effective interview in the process?

How to Run a Fantastic First Interview in 30 Minutes

Thirty minutes isn't a lot of time and probably seems really short when you are trying to find the right candidate. If you structure a concise agenda, prepare the right questions, and are disciplined throughout your time with each candidate you'll be able to identify who's worth a closer look and who's not.  Let's start with time management.   

Managing The First 5 Minutes - Set Expectations

If you're going to pull off an effective interview in 30 minutes or less you have to be organized and efficient. You'll want to start strong and there's no better time than the first 5 minutes.

4 Points for the First 5 Minutes

  • Introduce yourself:  "Hi, I'm Eric.  I'm the Managing Partner of Revenue River Marketing. We're a growth company and I'm looking for the very best marketers in the country."  
  • State your intent:  "We're hiring for position XYZ and I'm looking for a specific type of candidate. I'd like to move quickly so we can both decide if there's a good fit between us."
  • Set the agenda:  "I'd like to spend 10 minutes asking you a few questions, then I'll give you an equal amount of time to ask me anything you'd like."
  • Confirm buy-in:  "How does that sound?"  If they say anything other than 'absolutely' or 'I'm ready', I'd be concerned.  Anyone who just starts rambling clearly isn't picking up on your goals.

The Next 10 Minutes: Only the Critical Questions You Need Answers For

If you're going to make the most of this 10-minute segment you need to prepare.  Outline a set of direct questions and count on the candidate being perceptive enough to answer with brevity.  I think it's a good idea to move just a little faster than candidates are expecting to see how they react.  

I've noticed that observing how candidates handle the pace of this section can be very telling.  If the candidate decides to grandstand during replies to your questioning, it's a clear disqualifier. 

Instead of interrupting to get through your questions efficiently I advise you let them go.  They'll cost themselves the chance to answer the remainder of your questions, and clearly demonstrate to you that they didn't really understand or respect the discussion you had in the first 5 minutes.  

Conversely, a good candidate understands that you'll ask follow up questions if you want more detail. Some of our very best hires have quickly and artfully answered my most direct and pointed questions with quick-witted responses.  I really like candidates who can think for themselves and react on the fly and the pace prevents them from reciting rehearsed answers to 'standard' interview questions. 

The Secret Sauce - Focus Questions on Character Qualities

1) Are They Coachable?

Employees that aren't coachable struggle to get through tough times, and those who are receptive to instruction improve quickly.

Hiring for coachability can help you find those individuals with the traits necessary to becoming long-term valuable members of your organization.Derek Lauber, Lightbox Leadership

Example Question - what would you do if you found yourself struggling to meet your objectives after 90 days?

2) Are They Transparent?

You can substitute in the word "honesty" here. I love asking questions that allow the candidates the chance to prove they're not honest.  A transparent workplace is important in maintaining a positive culture, and you don't want to let any bad seeds take root.

When one person is not aligned with the organization, it is significantly more likely that everyone below them will be out of line as well. Jessica Miller-Merrell, glassdoor

Example Question - why shouldn't I hire you? (please don't tell me because sometimes you care too much) 

3) Do They Have Enough Drive & Desire

People that really want something for themselves work harder than people who just want to live a life of leisure so I look for people who are hungry.  These are the people you want in your organization, pure and simple.  

High potentials aren’t just high achievers. They are driven to succeed. Good, even very good, isn’t good enough. Not by any stretch. They are more than willing to go that extra mile and realize they may have to make sacrifices in their personal lives in order to advance. - "Are You a High Potential?" by Douglas A. Ready, Jay A. Conger, and Linda Hill

Example Question - why is this position the direction you want to go with your career?

4) Do They Have Strong Organizational Skills?

The modern workplace is a massive game of dealing with distractions-- organization creates efficiency and that means better productivity.

Planning is a needed workplace skill, and it is particularly important as person advances into more supervisory or managerial roles.Organizational Skills in the Workplace, by Rick Suttle

Example Question - how do you plan your day/week and what tools have you used to do so?

5) Do They Have Humility?

The best players on any team have humility-- ego and selfishness can cause cancerous behavior that can destroy the organization.

Humility is more than an important characteristic for leaders, but for employees as well. It is this trait which allows leaders and employees to work well individually and as a team. A humble employee is aware of his own limitations and is willing to accept – and give – help as needed. - John Baldoni, Harvard Business Review

Example Question - those are some impressive results, what do you owe that success to?

Additional Questions & Comments

You'll also want to spend a couple minutes on some resume specific questions.  You should prepare a few direct questions about their resume you can mix in with the others.  Here're a few questions I like to ask to see if I can get someone to complain, make excuses or show inconsistencies for the character traits I'm targeting at this time.  

  • Question - why have you left so many positions after less than 2 years?
  • Question - how was your relationship with your boss at this job?
  • Question - which of these positions do you feel held your career back?

These can be clear indicators of disqualifiers for your position and are the truly important things to understand about their work experience in my opinion.

Giving Them 10 Minutes to Pass the "Test" 

Now it’s time for the candidate to ask you anything they want.  It's important to note that they're getting the same amount of time to ask questions as you just took.  I firmly believe each candidate should get the opportunity to impress you with their prepared questions.

Your goal for this 10-minute segment should be to see how prepared the candidate is and how much they want this job in particular.  You want to know if they're looking for ‘just any job’ they can find or if they're truly interested in a career with your organization.  

Good candidates prepare well. They study your website, your bio, your team, and your offering.  They have a list of specific questions that demonstrate their understanding of your business, hopefully even some observations on how they believe they can add value.  Many candidates won't realize how important this segment of the interview is and they'll reveal something about themselves you missed previously.  The candidates that used active listening during the first 5 minutes will operate at the same pace you did and respect the agenda.    

Insight to Gain during Candidate Questioning

  • Did they study your website? Test them on it.
  • Do they understand what you do? Ask them questions about it.
  • Are they more interested in compensation or job duties?
  • Are they more interested in benefits and vacation or company growth trajectory?

Remaining 5 Minutes: Wrapping Up With Next Steps 

Finally, it’s time to close and establish next steps.  Something to remember during this initial interview is that the goal is not hire but to qualify for next steps. Each candidate is either ready for another interview or they're being ruled out. You're not hiring them today, so don't overdo it. Just get through the critical questions you think need to be answered and wrap things up.

Let them know your plans for next steps and let them know your expectations for follow up.  If you're used to telling them 'you'll be in touch' I’d like to recommend you consider another approach.

Follow up should always be the responsibility of the candidate and never on the executive.  I've been surprised by some great interviews that were followed by poor follow up and their assignment to follow up allows them to demonstrate their skills further, one way or another.  

With Practice Comes Perfection

After you’ve went through this 30-minute interview script with a few candidates you’ll perfect the process and refine your style.  Once perfected, cutting your initial interview time in half with these concepts will save time and money while improving results during this step in the hiring process.

Start by spending a little more time setting up your own script and you’ll be sure to benefit once you’ve applied these tactics.  Happy hiring.


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