As the war for talent rages on and is expected to intensify in the coming years, more companies are under pressure to optimize their entire recruiting lifecycle – from sourcing candidates, to interviewing, selection, and onboarding.

The most valuable metric of any recruiting function is the quality of new hires. And many companies – perhaps even yours – have stepped up efforts to promote their brand and to improve the candidate’s experience when being vetted for roles.

For assessing candidates, the pendulum is swinging back to structured behavioral interviewing as the preferred approach for measuring if the job and organizational fit is right for any candidate. Even technology companies – most prominently, Google – have abandoned out-of-box assessment tests and brain teasers (e.g., How many manholes are in NYC?) to assess a candidate’s intellectual, problem-solving and creative abilities.

Which brings me back to my initial question: How good are your people at interviewing candidates? Asked another way: Do they have the right stuff for interviewing and evaluating candidates before you send them in to assess whether any of the candidates has what it takes to be successful in the target job?

Critical spadework is necessary even before the interviews get underway, to help everyone know what they’re hiring for – and how to stay on track as candidate vetting gets underway. Consider these priorities:

  1. Define how you measure success for every role. What are the personal characteristics and behaviors needed for success in the roles you’re hiring for? Start with your high performers: What do they bring to the job that makes them successful? Get serious about role profiling – profile the job that you’re hiring for in terms of the major responsibilities and challenges that people have to deal with, the results they need to achieve – and the characteristics and other competencies that people must have to be successful.
  2. Embrace structured behavioral interviewing. Structured behavioral interviewing is designed to find out how candidates handled situations in the past that reflect challenges similar to the ones they will face in the target job. The key to effective behavioral interviewing is getting compelling stories about past accomplishments from the candidate, probing for the behavior that provides evidence of needed competencies, and using a consistent interviewing method from candidate to candidate.
  3. Build interviewing skills across the organization. People at all levels get involved in conducting interviews – no surprise there – so it’s wise to make a concerted effort to build interviewing mastery and consistency across your organization. Many people say they know how to do behavioral interviews – but this is often not true. It’s not a check-the-box process of asking questions and getting superficial answers – interviewers need to know how to probe effectively and dig deep to get the real story. It is a rigorous process that takes practice to master.
  4. Use co-interviewing to optimize interviewing and evaluation of candidates. Co-interviewing allows two people to gather and hear the same evidence from candidates and then evaluate it more accurately afterward. While the first interviewer focuses on asking questions and getting the “story” of the situation, the second interviewer can take notes and ask follow-up questions that the first interviewer might have missed to get important details. And when analyzing the evidence gathered against the selection criteria, two heads are more accurate than one.

The keys to hiring good people for both the short and long term is knowing the personal characteristics and other competencies that make high performers successful in the target job, interviewing candidates for past behavior that demonstrates those characteristics and other competencies, and using that evidence to accurately evaluate candidates. And the key to building interviewing skills is through training that emphasizes “practice, practice, practice” and refining these skills by co-interviewing candidates over time.