The importance of interview preparation is critical, especially in today’s world where many candidates move jobs so frequently that they have had several dress rehearsals and have often fine tuned the (interview) performance.
So here is what to do to hire successfully, or at least improve your chances, and it all starts when an employee resigns.
Start by reviewing the role over the past 12 months and be clear on what’s worked, what hasn’t and what you need to see more of (behavior/output) in the replacement. This will help you to determine the ‘must have’ competencies (behavior), attitudes, skills and experience needed. It will also help you pinpoint what you can forsake – there is no such thing as the perfect candidate. Keep in mind skills can often be taught, attitude on the other hand is here to stay, so consider your team dynamics, the culture you are building and what behaviors are non negotiable.
Time to write the job description. My advice is to stay away from the bland, meaningless sort that HR can knock up (by the way, its not their fault – they are rarely briefed properly). Give it the thought it deserves – great candidates want the detail and want to be inspired by what they are joining to do.
Ask yourself three things when writing a job description:
- Why are we hiring this person – what is their purpose? No really, what is their purpose – what are we SPECIFICALLY employing them to do?
- What do we need this person to accomplish in the first 3, 6 and 12 months?
- What qualities and attitudes does this person need to be successful in the role and in my team?
So you have written the job description, you have the resumes. What next…
Don’t hire the resume. As Steven Locke rightly points out in his book on Agile Recruiting (2017), Nobody ever writes on their CV, ‘in charge of a 5 million project and we lost 6!’
Don’t lower the guard when dealing with referred candidates. If someone is recommended by a great hire or a fabulous agency we have used before, we tend to take their word for it but here’s the thing, only 30% of a ‘great candidate’ transfers and the rest depends on our culture, systems, people and processes. Laboring the point, I know, but selecting for organisational fit is key.
Once you have short listed CVs (and I would recommend at least 3, too often we don’t interview anyone else and have no benchmark) begin your interview question preparation – yes, that’s right, you should prepare your questions in advance of interview. Too many of us don’t because we believe in our gut feel for selecting the right candidate, we are in time pressured jobs, or we are simply over confident in our interviewing ability, but most of us (including myself, I am embarrassed to admit) have been in that awkward situation at interview where we are under prepared, the candidate isn’t giving much away and we are left plucking questions out of thin air, not sure what we are really asking and why. If you haven’t had the experience, I wouldn’t recommend it and if you have, you know the over used cliche, ‘insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.’
So here is how to prepare your questions in advance.
- Identify the specific attributes and competencies that you are looking for (homework already done).
- Define them in the context of the role that the candidate would be doing.
- Write the question (go for open questions, not yes/no answers).
- Identify attribute – confidence
- Define in the context of this role – gravitas with senior clients
- Tell me about a time when you were going to fail to meet a deadline and how you handled this with the client? Or describe to me the most difficult client relationship you have and how you manage this? When have you ever had to push back on a client?
So you have your questions but there is one really important step that will require you to think on your feet in the interview; the follow up or probing questions, where you will unearth the hidden truths. Most of us aren’t naturally very good at the follow up questions as it takes some practice, and we are too focused on maintaining eye contact with the candidate during interview, but in the end it is easy and you don’t need to maintain the eye contact throughout. My advice is to take note of the key phrases during the candidates (sometimes rambling) response to your initial question and then follow up – it will be so much easier to see if an answer is phony and a candidate is just acting a part.
Question: Tell me about a time when you were going to fail to meet a deadline and how you handled this with the client?
Response: I was working on a client brief for 2 product launches and the client demanded to have the final creative for one of the launches one week in advance of the agreed deadline. I had to phone the client and tell him that we would not be able to deliver on time and he got very angry and threatened to use another agency. I listened to the client, explained that to pull the deadline forward would impact the quality of the final output. Eventually we agreed a compromise on time frames and he was pleased with the output and our final work, which was a great success for the product launch.
6 possible follow up questions:
Why did he change the deadline? How did his reaction to your call make you feel? What exactly did you say to him on the call? Tell me more about the project launch you were working on and your involvement? You say the launch was a success, how did you measure this/in what ways?
During all interviews ask the same initial questions (which you have prepared) to all candidates, so that you have a reasonably benchmark to compare candidate responses. I would also recommend that you can get somebody else to do the interview with you; perhaps another key stakeholder in the hire, but word of warning, decide in advance who is leading the interview and who has the secondary role.
In my experience, don’t focus too much on body language as an indicator of how honest a candidate is being. Body language is very hard to read accurately in most interviews because the situation is artificial and the candidate will often be nervous, you also have no benchmark to compare their usual persona to.
One final point about gut feel, listen to it but don’t let it automatically dictate your opinion and watch out for the natural biases that we all have; education, background and so on. I will discuss this in more detail in a later blog post.
Oh and one more thing – background check before you offer the job! You will be far more effective at getting to the truth if you pick up the phone to a previous line manager and ask their opinion and experience of the individual, as opposed to relying on HR to send a reference request through – people tend not to commit negative or disparaging references in writing but will be honest and frank over the phone.