We all know that most hiring managers don't conduct broad-based, evidence-based interviews. Many base their judgments about candidate competency on some combination of first impressions, technical knowledge, academics, and smarts. One sure way to improve your hiring batting average (sendouts/hire) is to prep your candidates to cope with whatever questions or circumstances arise. If you handle the candidate prep well enough, you can also prep your clients without them even knowing it.

Following are some key points you should cover when prepping your candidates:

Step 1: Make sure your candidates know their own strengths and weaknesses. Have your candidates write down their four or five strengths and one or two weaknesses. Have them include a short, one-paragraph example of an accomplishment using each strength. With the weaknesses, have them write up a specific situation where they've turned that weakness into a strength, or have overcome the weakness. As you'll see in the "Universal Answer" below, these examples are critical.

Step 2: Learn the "Universal Answer." Most answers during the interview should be about one to two minutes long. If the candidate talks for more than three minutes, the interviewer loses interest. The candidate is then ranked as boring, long-winded, or too self-centered. If the candidate talks less than a minute, the person is considered superficial, incompetent, or lacking interest. Have your candidates practice their answers using the "Say a Few Words" acronym (SAFW):

S: make an opening Statement
A: Amplify that statement
F: provide a Few examples
W: Wrap it up

Providing the example is the most important part of the exercise. This is the demonstrated proof behind the opening statement. Interviewers will use these examples to form their judgments about candidate competency. Most candidates talk in generalities. Specific examples are much more convincing. For instance, a marketing manager could give a specific example to describe how she launched a new product rather than saying she's strong in advertising and new product promotions.

Step 3: Have candidates prepare write-ups for their two most significant accomplishments. To improve their verbal pitches, also ask your candidates to prepare more detailed write-ups for their two most significant accomplishments. Each of these should be two to three paragraphs in length, but no more than half a page each. One should be an individual accomplishment, and the other a team accomplishment. Make sure they include examples of their strengths in both write-ups. Most candidates get a little nervous in the opening stages of an interview, which can result in temporary forgetfulness. The write-ups will allow for better recall of this important information at these times. They'll also be the basis of the examples in the SAFW response. Have them send you these write-ups so you can check out their written communication skills.

Step 4: During the interview, get your candidates to ask the "Universal Question." Discussions about major accomplishments should dominate the interview session. Since most interviewers don't ask about these naturally, you can have your candidates get them started. To do this, have your candidates ask this question early if they feel the interview is going nowhere: "I don't have a complete understanding of your real job needs. Would you please give me an overview of what the job entails and describe some of the key challenges in the job? Then I can give you some examples of work that I've done that are comparable."

Something like this will allow the candidate to then describe some important related projects she's worked on. Managers generally like candidates who are more forceful and who ask good questions, so make sure your candidate has a list of other insightful questions to ask, such as: "What does the person in this job need to do to be considered successful?" "What's the biggest problem that needs to be addressed right away?" "What types of resources are budgeted already?" "Why is the position open?" "How have you developed your team members?"

Step 5: Ask for the job. At the end of the interview, have your candidate tell the interviewer that she is interested in the job, and would like to know what the next steps are. If the next steps seem evasive or unclear, have her ask the interviewer if her accomplishments seem relevant to the performance requirements of the job. Understanding a potential gap here allows the candidate to fill it in with an example of a related accomplishment. Make sure your candidates do the best job possible of presenting their strengths. Sometimes they have to ask for the job to understand what points they need to get across.

Prepping is important. Well-prepped candidates are more confident and provide more thorough answers. If they know how to give complete answers, they worry less and are able to ask better questions. All of this improves the odds that they will be assessed fairly, especially if the focus of the interview is on detailed discussions about the candidates' major accomplishments.