Improvising your way through a job interview when you’re the fellow looking for some work could cost you a job – but winging it when you’re the one hiring could cost you your job.

Job interviewers who freestyle their 20-minute chat with a prospective employee throw the company dice – plus a year’s salary and benefits – at the most confident, more often than capable candidate, hiring experts warn.

Worse, they risk vamping their way into a courthouse drama.

“You could ask an innocent question and end up with a lawsuit, and you were only asking it because you think, “Oh, I have kids, too, how wonderful,’” President Laura DeCarlo of Career Directors International cautions. “Because of so many legal issues, someone who has liability should probably look at becoming involved in a human resource organization, like the Society for Human Resource Management.”

Aside from a professional membership card, they should, at the very least, she adds, “have a plan.”

“Don’t go in there thinking ‘I’m just going to ask them to tell me about themselves,’” she stresses. “Have about 30 questions.”

Prep your interview like a police investigation – full of confrontational, tightly-focused questions -- and you could provoke nothing but awkward, stilted answers. The job seeker on the other end of the table ought to be made comfortable, Boston-based career coach Leenie Glickman notes -- and if you really want to fathom the person you might be working alongside, you’d do better to spark a naturalistic conversation than a narrow pop quiz.

“All of your questions should be open,” she suggests. “Like ‘Tell me about, tell me about, tell be about.”

“If you want to learn about the candidate, ask them to give you an example,” DeCarlo concurs. “Ask ‘Tell me about a time when you had to face a challenge.’ Or ask ‘Describe your favorite project.’”

To keep to the conversation from drifting toward irrelevance, figure out before the interview what you're primarily looking for: a qualified candidate with full command of a certain skill, or an easy-going but go-getting sidekick who would fit well in your company’s midst.

“Sometimes the technical skill is very important, and sometimes its more about finding the right personality match for your company,” DeCarlo says.

Latest From ...