By Greg Selker, Senior Vice President and Search Operations Director, Torch Group
Even after 26 years in the executive search business, conducting searches for hundreds of clients and interviewing thousands of candidates, I continue to be amazed at the poor behavior of many executives in their interactions with candidates throughout the interview cycle, and the obliviousness of these executives to their poor behavior.
Listen folks, this isn’t rocket science. For the most part, if you follow the Golden Rule, you won’t go wrong. But no matter how many times this has been said and heard, so many executives make the same errors of judgement and make the same mistakes throughout the candidate interviewing cycle. At best, this results in losing great candidates who decide to stay where they are or to accept a competitive offer with another company. At worst, this results in creating a negative impression of you and your company in the marketplace. And this negative impression ends up being fed to and grown with each similar interaction in the candidate universe, building a poor image and brand.
The following are 10 simple guidelines that if followed, ensure that regardless of whether or not you want to hire that candidate, he or she will walk away from the interview process with the most positive view of you and your company. Word of mouth is a powerful thing and you never know who that candidate will talk to. Most importantly, these guidelines ensure that you will also end up hiring a superb candidate for that key open role.
- The candidate’s time is as valuable as your time.
If you are like most executives today, you have a busy schedule with competing and sometimes conflicting priorities. Your time is at a premium and you need to determine where and how to spend it wisely so that you and your company reap the greatest benefit. It is easy to forget that this is also true with every candidate you interview. Bottom line, every action you take communicates that you either value the candidate, think that they are important, or the opposite.
- Avoid last-minute scheduling changes/cancellations to the greatest degree possible.
Emergencies happen. These are all understood by reasonable people. However, every cancellation or change that occurs as a result of normal business intruding into the interview process again communicates a clear message to a candidate about what you value, and it isn’t them or hiring someone into the role for which they’re interviewing.
- Prior to meeting a candidate, read through the resume and your search partner’s interview report.
Prior to an interview, take the time to prepare for it. This is such a simple task and yet, so many executives go into an interview blind, using the time in which they should be interacting with and discovering who candidate is, to read through who the person is on paper. This is an inefficient and unproductive use of time, and it’s just rude. Reading through the candidate’s resume and the report provided to you by your search partner will prepare you for the interview. It will allow you to ask better questions and ultimately, to discover better information about the candidate to make a more informed decision.
- Recognize your own positive and negative opinions about the candidate formed from your review prior to the interview.
All of us bring our past experience and knowledge about people, positions, companies, schools, geographies/regions/cultures and more to our interactions with each other. Whether we want to or not, this is a natural phenomenon. The best interviewers recognize their pre-formed opinions, the good, bad and ugly. In fact, the review of the candidate’s resume and interview report will help bring these pre-formed opinions into your conscious awareness. This is an important step in being able to honestly evaluate an individual.
- Ask questions to test your pre-formed opinions, and be open-minded to listen to the candidate’s answers to honestly determine whether or not they validate these opinions.
Armed with the knowledge of your pre-formed opinions, determine what needs to be validated and then design and ask questions that test your assumptions. This holds true for both your positive and negative opinions. For example, it is easy to assume intelligence or a certain level of intellect both because of or the lack of educational pedigree. Yet some of the smartest people lack a formal degree or have a degree from a lesser-known school. Conversely, some people spend their career leveraging the fact that they graduated from an Ivy-League school with little else occurring of real accomplishment. The best interviewers understand that they bring assumptions to their initial assessment and use the interview to test, validate or discard and replace these pre-formed opinions.
- Don’t ask hypothetical questions about what the candidate would do if hired for the position in your company. Do ask open ended questions about when the candidate has been in similar circumstances and confronted similar issues as to those within your company and then what they did.
Asking hypothetical questions typically brings surface-level answers that at the best may illuminate how someone may think about or approach a particular issue. It is far more powerful and informative to find out how someone thought through a similar issue and what actions they took to resolve it. This will deliver far more accurate predictive information about a candidate.
- Ask your question and then stop talking. Drill down to get greater specificity and details as needed, interrupting if necessary to get clarity.
Once you ask a question: be quiet and listen. Let the candidate talk and tell their own story in their own way. If you find you’re not getting the answer you want, if you need greater clarity, or if the answer given opens up another important question area, it is fine to politely interrupt. Then, request greater clarity or ask a more detailed question. Listen and repeat.
- Don’t short shrift the interview. Spend enough time with the candidate.
It is too easy to take your pre-formed opinions and use them as the basis to limit the time you spend with a candidate never testing your assumptions. It is too easy to ask surface-level questions, accept answers and not drill down into areas of concern and/or gain greater specificity and details. In order to understand someone, you need to take the time necessary to gain this understanding. There are no short-cuts for this.
- Assign different members of the interviewing team to focus on different question areas, and then consolidate their feedback.
Too often, interviews are scheduled with a team, whether in-person, by phone or video, with little forethought as to what you want to gain from the interview other than the interviewer’s feedback. Even if you have a team of expert interviewers, without a framework the odds are that interviewers will ask the same questions, dig into the same areas, and as a result, get much of the same information. This approach inherently doesn’t take advantage of the fact that you have a team of interviewers, each with their own perspective and set of experiences. Providing an interview guide, delivers the highest probability that you will discover the most about a candidate.
- Look at each interview as an exercise in leadership development, for yourself, for your team, and in the development of the next generation of leadership for your company.
If these guidelines are followed, they naturally promote an interview process that uses each interview to gauge and develop your own leadership competencies, the leadership competencies of your team, and to identify and bring the next generation of leadership into your company. You give the clear impression that you are doing more than just filling a job. Interviews become an important and critical component of building the company and culture that you want and aspire to create. Interviews become a way to not only find out critical information about candidates, they become a vehicle to discover important data about how your team thinks and what they value.
An interview team that follows these guidelines begins to look at the interview process as a way to distinguish and develop leadership. Candidates have the assurance that they may be asked to join an organization that values people. They understand that hiring a finalist for this role is a strategically important exercise. They know that if hired, there is the expectation that they will have a strategic impact on your company and be part of a team that is committed to delivering strategic results. Regardless if they are hired or not, a candidate who leaves the interview cycle with these conclusions builds and sustains your reputation and brand in the marketplace as a leader and company committed to greatness.
- Posted by sarah
- On September 13, 2017
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