How to create an interview process that adds real value
The candidate interview is hands-down the most important component of your hiring process. This is the opportunity for you, the employer, to learn as much as you can about your potential employee in order to make an educated assessment to determine if this person is the right fit for you. The interview process is also the stage of hiring with the greatest likelihood for progress to go sideways, and thus where the greatest amount of risk is.
As a hiring professional, I have the opportunity to participate in a lot of interviews. (I estimate my team helped conduct around 1,800 interviews last year). I generally observe that the average in-person interview lacks depth and misses the mark on identifying the actual core competencies needed for the role and is also often shrouded in unnecessary formalities that prevent authenticity.
Let me explain with a real-life example.
I am assisting a $22M commercial construction company with a day of interviews to identify the company’s new chief financial officer. The two company owners arrive two minutes before the first interview is set to start, which means we either do not have time to prepare, or we will be flying blind. I ask them, “Are you ready?” and they look at me like I am a drunk baby and reply they were born ready. Okaaaaaaay, here goes.
I welcome the candidate and the rapid-fire line of questioning begins.
“Tell me about a time you…”
“Have you ever witnessed an accounting fraud, and how did you handle it?”
“What was your college GPA?”
“Tell me all about everything you have done in your career before this day.” (By the way, while you do, I will glaze over and feebly pretend to be interested.)
After the interview ends, we discuss the interview.
Me: What was the reason you asked about an accounting fraud? Have you ever had a fraud? You are the owners and run the company, so you would essentially have stolen from yourselves. Has that ever happened?
Me: Do you think their past experience means they were good at their job? What if they performed poorly?
CEOs: Hadn’t thought of that.
Me: What is the idea behind the GPA requirement?
CEOs: It shows me how smart someone is.
Me: Is that the only measure of how smart someone is? What was your GPA?
CEOs: <Crickets. Blank Stares. No comment.>
Then I ask the company owners what qualities they are looking for in the person who would best fit this role, including culture fit, core competencies and necessary skills (be them transferable or equivalent). We discussed the link between the true needs of the business and valued-added interview questions. Next, we developed a set of questions that addressed those specific needs. We had an in-depth conversation about the art of an effective interview, including how to go several layers deep into the same question (in my firm we call this “emptying the cup”) and the “power of pause”.
Making It Work For You
There are many ways to evaluate if a candidate has the attitude, aptitude and ability to be successful in your organization. Open-ended interview questions that allow the candidate to answer in a thoughtful way that sparks conversation is the best way to approach this. Closed questions like “What was your college GPA?” will not open the door for conversation and are isolated facts that leave a giant hole open for your judgments.
Further, a candidate’s past experience alone is not an indicator of future performance. Past performance, however, is.
The Bottom Line
Before you are sitting across the table from your next potential new employee reading off a list of interview questions from the internet, ask yourself.
- What are the traits you are looking for in a candidate (culture and experience)? What kind of questions will help you explore if the candidate has those traits?
- What are the important company initiatives you want to accomplish next year?
- What kinds of questions can you ask to explore indicators of past performance?
Simply sharing this information in an interview and asking the candidate what his thoughts are is a great way to open a dialogue and obtain value-added information to help make better business decisions.