With sweaty palms and a dry cotton mouth, Jane Smith opened the door and walked in. She approached the greeter and requested to meet with a certain person. She checked her hair and makeup in her hand mirror and then tried desperately to calm her nervous stomach. When she looked up, she saw the person that she was meeting, and she took a deep breath. “Here we go,” she thought. Is this a date or a job interview?
On the outside, the excitement of the first meeting, nerves and newness of it all give the interaction of an interview compared to a date an appearance of being the same. Candidates are in a vulnerable state when they walk into a job interview and going on a first date can produce similar feelings of vulnerability. But are they the same?
The largest difference between a date and a job interview is the power of the interviewer over the candidate. The interviewer decides when the interview will take place, its location, time of day, the agenda, whether there will be a second interview, whether the candidate gets the position and whether the candidate receives a “no thank you” for not retaining the position. All of the power sits with the employer. In dating, the 2 people come to the table as equals.
This power difference is why employers struggle with interviewing. They are often as uncomfortable with the power differentiation as the candidate, unsure of how to get around an environment that brings about one individuals desire to please and the others role to choose. Their sole desire is to make a good assessment for their next hire, yet candidates are just telling them what they want to hear. And of course they are! They are trying to find a job and willing to bear sweaty palms!
Listening is the corner stone for conducting a successful interviewing process. I can’t say this often enough. While listening to the candidate to measure integrity and skill set sounds obvious, it is also important for the interviewer to listen to themselves. The voice inside your head will sound the alarm bells if something is not quite right. If there is something worrying you that you can’t articulate, ask for help. Schedule another interview and have someone sit in on it with you. Whatever you do, don’t ignore it! Hiring someone is a big responsibility, so take the time to do it right by listening.
Last Monday, I interviewed 14 people with my clients. Exhausted, my clients looked over at me with wide eyes and said “How do you DO this all day?” Because I love it! I love the interview process, especially when I see my clients light bulbs go off about the process. They get it. They have made a great choice, and they know it. The candidate is also happy because the client is sure of their choice.
I followed up with another client of mine recently. I have helped them hire many people for a variety of different positions. When asked how everyone was doing and the response was “All of our people are great. Thanks for your help!”
So why is the interview process so hard? The largest reason I have seen in my experience is that the interview team is not prepared. A lot of work that must happen long before posting that job ad. Keep in mind:
So, put in the time upfront to really examine what your ideal candidate looks like and to prepare your team. It will be well worth it in the end. And, when I follow up with you after your next interview process, you too can say “Beth, our people are amazing!”
I like to probe further and ask about their thoughts on the candidate’s personality. After lots of “Ummm’s” and deer-in-the-headlight looks, they finally come up with comments like: “They were a bit whiny” or “I’m not sure.”
Let me give an example. I interviewed a candidate who complained about his boss, his co-workers in multiple jobs, his company, and his work. Nothing and no one seemed to make him happy. During our interview rap up, I asked the client “So what did you think?” She responded with “His tie was askew.” I questioned further and uncovered that she really wasn’t impressed because she felt he was a whiner and would have difficultly working with him.
The very next candidate that we interviewed walked in well prepared. He presented a list of recommendations, asked well researched questions, and had a great attitude. He recounted how he had come to the business site 3 days before the interview to make sure that he would not get lost on the day of his interview. He said “Even if I don’t get the job, I wanted to tell you my thoughts on how this could be improved.” After he left, I asked my clients this question: “What was he wearing?” No one could remember. They didn’t even remember that he wore glasses! We hired him and he is currently in his third year.
The moral of this story is that when people are WOW’ed by someone, their looks don’t really matter. But when faced with a personality flaw, we often describe it in terms of their appearance, i.e. “The Whiner had an askew tie.” When you are interviewing your candidates, remember to listen to their words and pay attention to their use of language and their preparedness. These qualities are much more indicative of their performance than their appearance.
What is it about interviewing that makes people think they can do it without having been taught? When I mention that I am an interviewer, someone will invariably say to me “I am a great interviewer.” “How did you learn to be a good interviewer”, I ask.” “Oh, I am a great people person.” As if that has something to do with it. Interviewing candidates is a skill set. It is not genetic. You aren’t just born into the world knowing how to interview. But the good news is that you can be taught once you let go of the idea that you are good at it instinctively.
In theory, this sounds like amazing advice. Focus on the person’s attributes as opposed to their experience and you will find a great employee. But in practice, how can you tell in a 15 minute interview if a person has integrity? This is the age old question that keeps great leaders up at night, worrying that they may not have selected the right people. In a well defined strategic interview, integrity, drive and loyalty are fairly easy to spot. Here are 4 ways to determine if a person has integrity, defined as “Doing what you say you are going to do, when you say you are going to do it.”
Following the directions set forth in the ad. If you ask for a cover letter, a resume and the job title in the subject line, then only interview those who followed all of the directions. If they don’t follow directions in the interview process, they won’t do it once they have direct deposit. The stakes aren’t nearly as high once they get the job.
Meeting Deadlines. An interview is not only the opportunity for a candidate to shine, but it is also a deadline that you can use to measure integrity. Did they show up on time? Are they prepared? Did they do research on the company? If not, then the chances of them being prepared once they get the job are obvious. Again, the stakes aren’t nearly as high, once they get the job.
Homework Assignments. I was in a position one time where a client of mine really wanted to hire a person that I didn’t want him to hire. We agreed to give this candidate a homework assignment and a third interview to see how well she performed. She blew it. Her assignment had spelling errors, grammar errors, wrinkled paper, and wrong information. Her energy level was low at the third interview, and she had little enthusiasm for the task at hand. She clearly didn’t want the job.
Follow Up. I am truly surprised at how rare it is for me to hear a candidate say “I really want this job. What do I have to do to get it?” A simple thank you email works really well to determine a person’s drive and desire for a position. With all of the information out there about how to WOW hiring managers, many people simply don’t, especially for a position that is not a good fit on some level. Do not ignore the signs that a candidate doesn’t want the job, even if they are perfectly qualified.
At A-list Interviews, our entire Response Analysis System is specifically designed to screen candidates based on integrity with 91% retention rate after a year. Colin Powell is on to something. Let us teach you what it is.
I love it when an opportunity presents itself to listen in on a “normal” interview. Arriving early for an appointment at a Starbuck’s in the Denver area, I was enjoying an amazing cup of black tea as the store manager began interviewing for a potential staff member. As effective interviewing is my passion, I was fascinated by the exchange I observed.
First, the candidate entered the Starbucks as I did at 12:45. She sat nervously waiting for 15 minutes to begin the interview for her next potential position. While the manager did begin the interview at exactly 1:00 (kudos to her) a huge opportunity to set up the candidate for immediate success was missed. An A-list candidate will ALWAYS be 15 minutes early for an interview, especially for a position they are really interested in. If the interviewer actually leaves them waiting for 15 minutes, the candidate only becomes more nervous, thus increasing the chances to blow the interview.
Second, the manager talked for the entire interview, occasionally glancing at the resume of the candidate. The candidate very dutifully nodded her head (she will need a massage after this!) and laughed at all the manager’s jokes. In a truly effective interview, the hiring manager should be engaging in active listening, rather than explaining the position and requirements. If the manager is talking rather than asking questions, the candidate does not have the chance to share skills, abilities, and personality with the manager. By not listening, the manager really has very little knowledge about the applicant or how they can truly contribute to the team.
Third, the manager got up and left the table twice to handle other issues and the candidate was left sitting by herself. Now I realize life can be full of interruptions. However, during an interview, the only focus should be around the task at hand: assessing the skill set and cultural fit of the potential new employee. Continuous interruptions reduce the hiring manager’s ability to determine fit and the candidate’s confidence about the job environment.
Fourth, the manager interviewed this woman in front of an audience of roughly 10 people waiting for their coffee drinks. The interview lasted 42 minutes. So for 42 minutes this candidate was not only vulnerable and exposed to a hiring manager, but to an entire audience of people. Don’t hold interviews in public, high traffic areas. Respect is a cornerstone for any great relationship and public interviews are very disrespectful.
Last, but certainly not least, the manager discussed the highpoints of the candidate with another worker behind the counter, again in front of an audience. Do I really need to point out how disrespectful this is?
After my observances, I realized that this is a perfect example of a “normal” interview, meaning that most people conduct interviews just like this and wonder why they can’t hire good people. I honestly do not believe this hiring manager was even aware of her interviewing style and its ineffectiveness towards hiring a great employee. My big question is this: Was this manager really ever taught how to conduct an interview? Did she feel supported through the process, so that she could be successful in her hiring decisions? Did she really have the tools and environment needed to be successful in her decision making process?
Employers who truly desire amazing staff need to support their hiring managers by teaching them how to interview. Give them the proper tools to find the next generation of A-list employees needed to grow the business. This is the gift that keeps on giving.
I have a client who asks candidates this question: “If you were a type of cheese, which would it be?” The question makes people laugh and we have had some pretty clever responses. “Pepper Jack: I’m spicy!” and “Any one of them except blue cheese, because that one stinks!” are among a few of the responses I’ve heard so far.
For a cheese maker, a chef and perhaps a dairy farmer, this question might be appropriate. Perhaps even a marketing position could warrant this question as you might be measuring a person’s creativity.
However for most industries and positions, the information you are getting by asking that question is like just like Swiss cheese – full of holes. How does a description of cheese really evaluate the candidate’s qualities, passion for their work and integrity? Would you eliminate them from your candidate pool if they described themselves as Velveeta?
Focus on asking measurable questions in your interview and truly listen to your candidates. It is really the best way to get the relevant information that you need. Anything else is, well… cheesy!
In every single interview process that I have ever facilitated, there is always a point where my client turns to me and says “I might hate this process.” I always warn them before we begin that at some point during the process, they will get frustrated. This usually happens when we have been working together through a series of interviews and my clients raise the bar on the people that they wish to hire, which is the goal behind A-list Interviews. There is a delay between this moment and when the higher caliber people begin to show up, causing the employer to wonder if the A-list candidate will ever appear. In other words, they begin to doubt. They doubt the process, themselves, their work, and the candidates.
I love this point in the training and coaching process. We are literally in the darkness that lives before the light, and their A-list person is right around the corner. My clients have all said in one way or another “I doubt we are going to find this person.” I say “doubt the doubt.” If you are doubtful anyway, then doubt the doubt, not the process. Your ideal candidate is about to walk right through the door. It is miraculous!!!