Hiring the right talent for your organization has a direct impact on maintaining your competitive edge, so it is crucial that you don’t screw it up by short-changing the preparation required for the interview process. Sure, we all think it works out just fine to simply skim the resume 4 minutes before the candidate arrives and wing it, but I am willing to bet my hat that your lack of respect for the process has cost you some key talent.
Even worse, it has led you to hire talent who don’t work out or who walk into a whole host of surprises because they were only given partial information. I could talk all day about the interview process from start to finish, but I am going to focus this post on the eight most important things you should do to prepare for candidate interviews.
1) Don’t Be Naive
Hiring talent is scary. Hiring talent you know nothing about other than what you glean from an interview is even scarier. Let’s be honest, we (the collective job seeking population) have mastered the art of the interview. Go ahead, Google “job interview tips” and within .27 seconds you have over 51 million resources at your fingertips providing guidance on how to navigate an interview. You would have to live under a rock not to be able to figure it out.
You need to prepare for your interview with this knowledge. You are not dealing with amateurs here so you better be prepared to be on your game. Just because someone arrives at the interview with a firm handshake, an impressive wardrobe and a nice smile, don’t fall in love. Be prepared to peel back the layers of that onion effectively.
2) Use Your Network
Finding talent via referral is not only smart, it is extremely cost effective. This approach catapults you past all of the unknowns about a person. You are now entering the engagement with behavioral based inputs from someone who has experienced this person in the real world.
Now I understand that your friend or co-worker’s point of view is a data set of one which is not how you should make your decisions, but at least you have a starting line that is inches if not miles ahead of an unknown candidate.
If you don’t have a network of talent or referral sources in your industry, build one. This should be a fundamental part of your job. Also understand that when I say “use” your network, be sure you don’t “overuse” or “abuse” your network with repeated email blasts with your random job description attached asking for referrals. Those folks get cut from my network immediately. Reciprocal respect in the referral game is how this works. You scratch my back, I scratch yours. I don’t poke you repeatedly until you want to punch me.
3) Do Your Homework
This applies regardless of whether your candidate was a referral or not. Take the time to know your candidate prior to scheduling that first interview. Once the interview is scheduled, take the time to do even more homework. I expect candidates to conduct research about Element Three and to talk about what they have learned during the interview, so they should expect the same from me.
There are so many modern ways to do this. You have their resume so that is a start to the thread of conversation around past experiences or mutual interests. There are many social media platforms where you can learn more about them, starting with LinkedIn. For a strategic brand and marketing agency like ours, if a candidate does not have a professional profile with a link to their portfolio on LinkedIn, this lack of prowess is a concern.
Depending on your industry this might not apply to you. Social and digital presence is key to what we do every day so it is simply expected that candidates have made their mark someplace relevant in the social sphere.
At Element Three I will review our contacts in HubSpot, our marketing automation software, to see if a candidate has expressed interest in us with a visit to our website to peruse our content, perhaps downloaded some of our resources or even gone so far as to subscribe to our emails.
Expressing an interest in learning more about our company is fundamental to being serious about working here. Sure, recruiters may look for you on Facebook or Instagram, but those are not places I use for candidate research. Twitter and YouTube, yes.Let’s be honest, from time to time you will stumble across something socially egregious that may change your mind about conducting an interview with a candidate. Better to stumble upon that @ilieabouteverything handle early in the process. More and more companies are relying on a social presence of some kind to get to know their candidates before they ever meet them in person. The following statement in an article from Careerbuilder in May 2015 speaks volumes about this topic.
“Researching candidates via social media and other online sources has transformed from an emerging trend to a staple of online recruitment,” said Rosemary Haefner, chief human resources officer at CareerBuilder. “In a competitive job market, recruiters are looking for all the information they can find that might help them make decisions. Rather than go off the grid, job seekers should make their professional persona visible online, and ensure any information that could dissuade prospective employers is made private or removed.”
4) Be Crystal Clear About the Goal of Your Interview
Have a solid job description – understand clearly what you are seeking in a qualified candidate. Make sure the candidate comprehends what you are looking for so your line of questioning can be appropriately geared toward the expectations of the role.
Make sure that you or the interviewer takes the time to review the job description and is fully prepared to provide clarity to the candidate about the position you seek to fill. Planning your questions in advance creates an automatic trigger to align them with the role you are filling.
I use the behavioral based interview process which specifically focuses on what the candidate has done in the past that demonstrates key skills, experiences and abilities that we are seeking at Element Three. It forces the candidate to share real experiences and more specifically the role they played in those experiences to achieve results. There are no hypothetical “what you do” questions and no answers to that effect, either.
You cannot “wing” this type of interview as a candidate or as an interviewer – you must be prepared and you must practice the technique in order to be effective. It also requires you to prepare your questions ahead of time.
If you have multiple interviews scheduled for the candidate there is extra prep that is important on your end. Planning who will focus on which questions is critical. Having your interviewers wing it, or all use the same questions, is a waste of time for you and frustrating for the candidate.
Plan ahead, have each interviewer focus on a specific aspect of the position or cultural fit and regroup at the end to wrap up. If you start your interview by asking the candidate to recap what you already have right in front of you on their resume, you have no idea what you are doing. Sorry to be blunt, but it is the truth. I am not the only one who feels strongly about proper prep for interviews; HubSpot agrees with me.
5) Provide a Positive Interview Experience for the Candidate
Confirming the details of the interview is always a nice touch and it also ensures that there is no confusion around when, where and how the interview will be conducted. Not only is it important to make the candidate feel welcome by ensuring they are comfortable with the process, it gives you peace of mind that there will be no issues or delays. Specific directions are always helpful as well as expectations around dress code.
This may seem obvious, but we are quite casual and to have a candidate go through the hassle of finding, cleaning and fitting into that suit in the back of the closet - only to show up and feel foolish because 90% of us are wearing jeans is a little mean and unnecessary. I always tell people to come as they are.
Helping your candidate find your location easily, including where to park, may seem like a puzzle they should figure out on their own, but I see it as a common courtesy to take that stress off them. Let me save you some time: if you feel like you need to give them a “skills test” on how to find your location as part of the interview, you are already interviewing the wrong candidate.
Explain your interview process and technique. For example, review the agenda for the interview, i.e. 5 minutes for introductions, 40 minutes for the interview, 15 minutes for questions the candidate may have and then 5 minutes for wrap up. I also make sure I explain the type of interviews that I conduct to make it more comfortable for the candidate because they will better understand why I ask the questions the way that I do.
Choose the right environment to conduct a comfortable interview. Allow privacy in a professional meeting room, away from interruptions and offer the applicant water or coffee. Do not bring your computer or cell phone and place it in front of you so you are easily distracted. That’s the rudest thing you can do in any meeting of any kind but particularly in an interview.
6) Prepare to Shut Your Mouth
Mentally prepare yourself to shut up and listen carefully. Short of suggesting duct tape, I cannot emphasize the importance of this enough. It is human nature to want to engage, talk about yourself and share all kinds of irrelevant information with your candidate. Refrain. Succinctly ask your question and then shut up and listen.
Use short follow up questions to prompt the candidate to elaborate on the answer and then shut up again and listen. If your interview is well prepared, this should be the natural progression of the conversation. It is when you are “winging it” that the train goes off the tracks and you find yourself spending most of the interview yammering on and on. Then you wonder why you leave the interview with no clear take on the candidate’s true qualifications.
HubSpot has a terrific blog post that outlines five great questions to assess cultural fit. Even if you use only one of these great questions, make sure it is #3, “How do you feel about our company values?” If your values are not spelled out on your website then you really cannot hold them responsible for not knowing what your core values are, so to be fair, take the time to prepare them for that question.
Either way, it is an important part of the interview and a great way to learn about your candidate. Of course, if you don’t actually believe in your company values, don’t bother – that is a post for another time. This question is not an opportunity for you to wax philosophical about how YOU feel about your values, it is an open forum to let your candidate talk. So, ask questions. Shut up. And, listen closely.
7) Recognize the Elephant(s) in the Room
I understand that candidates are typically coached NOT to talk money at the first interview. But that does not make the topic any less important to them. Here’s the way I see it.
Point 1: Time is money and if you are chasing a candidate that is out of your price range and you avoid the topic and fail to “fail fast,” you are wasting your time and their time and hence, money for both of you. What’s the point of that when it can be easily avoided?
Point 2: If you have an open position to fill then you have a budget or at least an IDEA of what you plan to spend to fill this role. I get that there are ranges based on experience but I would certainly hope that you have narrowed the level of experience you need within a reasonable margin. Why not talk about your budget for the role at the first interview (or even before for that matter)? Here is how easy it is. “What are your compensation expectations for this role if you are hired?” Elephant recognized, discussion begins.
8) You Owe it to the Candidate to Follow Up Quickly
If you are unable to move your hiring process at a pace that does not leave your candidates hanging for weeks, then you should not have started the process in the first place. Even if you don’t have an answer for your candidate within a few days, have the decency to tell them that. Leaving candidates hanging is a terrible business practice and if you even care the tiniest bit about your employment brand, you will take this advice seriously.
I have worked in both very small and very large companies so I understand the difference. It can be a challenge to have that personal touch when you are managing huge volumes of applicants coming through the pipeline. But that is no excuse.
Technology these days with applicant tracking systems allows you to respond to multiple candidates at once in an informative way. Those of you recruiting at smaller companies, I don’t even want to hear your excuses because there are none. Respect your candidates, tell them what is happening.
So that’s it. Eight easy prep steps that will exponentially improve the quality and efficiency of your interview process not only for you, but for your candidates. I dare you to try it and fail.
Originally published Feb 2, 2016 2:00:00 PM, updated July 28 2017