How to Conduct an Interview

The purpose of conducting an interview is to decide whether an applicant is a fit for the job (1) from the company’s point of view and (2) from the point of view of the applicant.

The best way to get to know an applicant in a short amount of time is to hold the interview in a comfortable setting for a conversation.

Early in my recruiting career, my partner and I recruited for E & J Gallo Winery. At the time, Joe Gallo, son of co-founder Ernest Gallo, was effectively the chief executive officer.

The staffing director at the Winery invited my partner and me to join him, the senior vice president of human resources, and Joe Gallo for dinner in Gallo’s home in Modesto.  There was a member of the Gallo staff who worked in the kitchen.  We ate salmon.  I remember, because Gallo, not the kitchen staff, cooked the fish.

At the dinner that night, I got first-hand experience of how to ask a think-on-your feet question.  The conversation had flowed from one comfortable, general discussion to another as my partner and I got to know Gallo, his staffing director, and his senior vice president of human resources.  Then, in a tone of general curiosity and as I recall somewhat out of the blue, Joe Gallo asked me, “Jay, what is the leading political party in Texas?”

I do not recall my answer, but I do recall how thought-provoking the discussion had become.  The question was about politics, but it was not political.  The question was simply thought-provoking.

I later learned in working with E & J Gallo Winery that this type of question was common for Joe Gallo and was a practice he had learned from his father, Ernest Gallo.  What interviewers learn from this type of question is the conceptual thinking of the people they put on the company’s payroll.   Although it is probably safer to avoid politics in an interview process, asking a typically subjective question from an objective point of view enables an interviewer to learn whether an applicant can analyze and discuss situations objectively and intelligently and stick to the facts.

Many companies make it a practice for the hiring manager to take a management applicant and perhaps the applicant’s wife to dinner as one of the last steps in the recruiting process.  The dinner in Gallo’s home fits in with the common and recommended practice for final stage interviews for making management hires.

How well does that recruiting method work?  The people who work at E & J Gallo Winery come from the best schools in the country.  Many of the managers who work for the company have had earlier experience and advanced quickly through the ranks at competitive, major consumer packaged goods companies.  The Gallo method of sourcing and interviewing top management talent has enabled it to stay the world’s largest family-owned winery and the largest exporter of California wine.

The approach that each company takes to conduct its interviews can vary with a number of factors.

  • Culture of the company
  • Stage of development of the company
  • Resources of the company
  • Stage of the interview in the process
  • Level of the position being staffed

The purpose, however, remains the same:  to decide whether an applicant is a fit for the position (1) from the company’s point of view and (2) the point of view of the applicant.

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