In the first part of the recruiting post you learned how a company can help improve its chances for finding good candidates. This post is on the most important part of the recruiting process: the interview. I will skip the common sense intermediate steps, just remember to act professional and maintain regular communication with candidates.
The in-person interview is where you find out how well the candidate fits into your organizational culture and, if you haven't vetted them yet, whether they match the skills needed for the job. Please keep in mind that you should be hiring candidates based on attitude and aptitude, not focusing on every specific skill set. The idea is to hire for the long term, hire employees who will grow on the job and help your company grow, not passionless robots who are satisfied with doing only what they know for the rest of their lives. After all, if someone has no desire to learn a new skill, chances are they are not willing to improve their current skills either.
Here are 4 points to consider, and a few interview outtakes for bonus.
1. Interviewing is like dating, make it fun and uncover the authentic candidate
Going on an interview is a lot like going on a first date. Both parties are excited and cautious and generally know little about what the other one is really like. As an organization it is in your best interest to make the candidate experience great, not just figure out who the candidate really is. You may need the same candidate for another job in the future and you don't want the candidate to share his negative experience with his colleagues or you may lose out on other great employees.
All you're looking for is a culture fit and you're not going to get it with a script or algorithm. Think about a formal first date over dinner where people follow expected protocols and discuss their life stories. It is a painfully boring experience where both parties hide behind masks. You do not want candidates' pre-canned elevator speeches and memorized answers to stale interview questions. You want to find the authentic person inside every candidate and you won't accomplish that from inside the office. The office comes with its own expectations and formalities.
Just like dating, make interviewing more fun and spontaneous. Go for a hike, a walk on the beach, or play some team sport. At least meet in a cafe or at the very least chat over lunch. Try to get out of your comfort zone and help the candidate get out of theirs. You can learn all you need to know about a potential employee just by watching them play soccer, how much they value their teammates, how individualistic they are with the ball, how much winning means to them and whether they blame losing on their teammates. Simply listening to candidate's passions would work. What they love about a certain book, game, movie, or any kind of experience will show you their values. It is impossible to fake passion. This way you will always see the real candidate.
We are not hiring robots to perform automated tasks. We are hiring humans. Even for manual labor jobs human qualities are still important. And remember, candidates can have off-nights as well. Do not seek perfection. You will never find it.
2. No stress interviews
Do not even think about running stress interviews. Yes, there are still Silicon Valley companies who vet candidates through such barbaric practices. Why? My guess is it is part of their outdated company culture. Their current employees had to pass stress interviews and they want to do the same to future ones, kind of like bullying, except in this case they may feel special for having survived the stress interviews and believe it is important to doing their jobs. It is not.
Unless you are applying for a job as a New York air traffic controller or an undercover agent, you don't need to have stress as part of your everyday experience. Trust me, I spent a decade working on nuclear submarines and I can tell you there are very few cases when you will need to think on your feet. Those cases should be the exception, not the norm.
Think of stress interviews in terms of dating. If a relationship is causing you stress every day, is that a healthy situation? No one wants to be in an abusive relationship.
3. Drop all-day interviews and interviews by committee
I know many companies who put their candidates through interview marathons. Their goal is usually to ensure that their candidates make a good impression on as many team members as possible or that they test the candidates' skills against all of the different experts. It sounds like a good idea in theory, except data shows that it does not work. Think about how much money your company is spending on all of these interviews. Think about how much time the candidates are investing in this process. And for what?
Hiring by committee is a mistake because it is impossible to have every single team member who will be interacting with the candidate interview them, unless you are a very small startup. If the goal is to make everyone feel like their input is important, you could randomize interviewer selection (say pick 3 different members each time) so you don't have to use so many team members to interview the same candidate. If the goal is to have the whole team make a unanimous decision then your company's culture lacks courage. You have leaders in your company for a reason. Let them make decisions based on well-informed input from their teams, not hide behind the majority vote.
Trying to have candidates interview with every type of team member to test their skills is counterproductive. To be successful in this job the candidate only needs to excel at 2 to 3 skills at best. The rest are supplemental and can be acquired on the job. Hire the candidate who is a superstar at what is most important for this position, not someone better than average at everything or exceptional at something meaningless for this role.
4. Offer candidates a test contract
If you cannot decide between finalists or still have reservations about your top candidate: offer them a week-long contract. Think of it like a simulation of a long-term relationship. The candidate should be able to take a week off from their current job if they are truly interested. You will see how well they perform on your job and the candidate will experience the full scope of the company culture. A week should be enough for you to evaluate candidate's abilities and the candidate does not have to run out the door months later if the culture is not a good fit.
Bonus 1: A good interview example
Here is one positive formal interviewing experience from a leading tech company in Silicon Valley. After the recruiter had reached out to me I met with just 3 people: a team member who would be reporting to me, the hiring manager I would be reporting to, and a colleague of the same level and group. It all took under 2 hours and the questions focused on the expectations of the job, the key skills needed, and the company work culture.
I did not get the job, but I still have very positive feelings about the company and my experience. They demonstrated professionalism and positive work culture and I would be interested in hearing about other positions if they reach out to me again. Now compare this to the next case.
Bonus 2: A bad interview example
This was also with a leading tech company in Silicon Valley, one that prides itself on making things challenging for candidates. Things became difficult right from the get-go. Their first recruiter had taken months to communicate. Their second recruiter had scheduled my in-person interview in the wrong building, and if not for my friends at the company I would have been stranded. I did have a great phone interview with the hiring manager and they fed me cafeteria lunch, so I suppose things evened out.
Here's where their process went really bad. I had four in-person interviews, where only one of the four had worked in the same group/specialty I was interviewing for. The other three interviewers had no understanding of my role whatsoever. Each interviewer had to provide their feedback to a hiring committee who would then make the final decision, a decision based on second-hand information and with little input from the hiring manager.
I do not agree with such convoluted practices, but what bothers me most is interviewing with unqualified interviewers. They were all very nice and handled themselves well, but they simply did not have the right technical knowledge as they came from very different specialties. Imagine sitting there and watching an interviewer record your answers when it is painfully clear that he has no idea what you're talking about.
It was not a good experience and I did not interview well. I was nervous and no longer thrilled about this position. I used to be a big fan of their work and tried to convince myself that I still wanted to work there. Would I ever work for them? Not unless I can help fix their broken hiring process.
What are your best and worst memories from either side of the interview?