Finding the right candidate for the job can be a lengthy and costly process.
Stressful too — you don’t want to make a mistake that puts you back at square one. If you are involved in hiring and wonder how to optimize it, this one is for you.
When I attended my first interview on the other side of the desk, I was there to shadow a much more experienced colleague and learn from him.
I watched him ask questions such as “Can you walk me through your resume?”, “Where do you see yourself in 5 years from now?”, “Why are you leaving your current job?”, “Why did you apply to this job?”, and the like.
While I didn’t think there was anything wrong with these questions, I couldn’t quite assess whether the person was a fit for the job and for the team.
I wasn’t sure whether the candidate was motivated to join us either.
1000 interviews later, here is what I learned that works to maximize the hiring success rate.
Step #1: Leverage
Save time for the important stuff by having your talent team/HR/assistant run part of the assessment
A few examples of questions that can be covered by the recruiters easily:
“Why are you leaving your current job?”
“Why did you apply for this job?”
“What qualities will make you successful in the job you are applying for?”
“What ambition are you hoping to satisfy in this job?”
The recruiters shall also cover whatever is important for you, such as:
When, if given an offer, can the candidate start?
What are her salary expectations?
And other job related conditions as applicable:
Is the candidate ready to participate in duty rotation during the weekends?
Is the candidate fine with daily in office presence / set working hours / working remotely?
Is the candidate ready to work on shifts? Relocate?
Is this candidate based in a country where you can legally hire him?
Make sure your talent team asks every candidate a consistent pre-defined set of questions and read their reports before your part of the interview.
Preparation is important, otherwise all the effort already put in goes vain!
Step #2: Engage
Think about any preparatory work the candidate can do as homework.
Asking candidates to prove themselves is a practice that helps you understand how they work in a broader context.
Ask them to set the deadline for themselves and you will see how accurately they can estimate the time needed for the task.
You will also see whether they can deliver to the deadline or if and how they are able to re-negotiate it.
You will see how eager they are to join you — many will not be willing to invest the extra time.
Discovering that now helps you avoid disappointment later.
The homework should be as close to the reality of their future job as possible.
Are you hiring a developer for an online app? Ask them to submit a piece of code in their preferred language.
Are you hiring a receptionist? Ask them to draft an email to the client with a cancellation due to double booking.
Are you hiring a people manager? Ask them to draft an email response to an escalation.
Anything that will give you the idea of how they will react in the situations they will surely encounter in the job you are hiring for.
Anything that will give your candidates an idea of what their job is going to look like.
As much as you don’t want to find out your new hire is not who you thought, you don’t want your new hires to leave because the job does not match their expectations.
Again, make it a consistent part of the process so that you can compare multiple candidates.
Step #3: Prepare
Prepare a set of meaningful questions you will use throughout the interview process. Again, consistently with all candidates so you can compare apples to apples.
What was the most challenging situation you have been through?
After all, this is the one favorite question of Elon Musk that everyone likes to cite.
Apart from how deep the candidate can go with the description, you may want to pick on any phrase that the candidates start with “We”. It typically indicates one of two things.
One, he is a true team player who, despite being in charge or playing substantial role in the solution of the problem, doesn’t want to take all the credit.
Two, he wasn’t really involved or, worst case, only heard the story.
So you may want to pick on that too and ask: “What was your role in this?”
What was the most stressful situation you had to solve in your professional past?
You can judge a lot from the answer to this question: what is the real experience of the candidate as well as what is his stress level tolerance.
If, in your opinion, the situation at hand was not all that stressful, you may want to dig deeper. Interesting things can emerge.
What success do you take pride in achieving with your team? What was your role in it?
If the candidate is a real team player, not only it will be easy for him to come up with the team success, but also he will be energized and shining.
He will also be able to describe his own role — humbly connect his work to the greater team scheme. Is he over-emphasizing his own contribution? That’s an indicator too.
You can also ask:
Can you describe a situation where you helped your colleague?
One where a colleague helped you?
How do you motivate your teams?
You will quickly see how many tools can the candidate actively think of.
If it’s all about the money, you need to ask further. It maybe that the team she managed before was heavily underpaid and that’s why this is the first thing that comes to mind. If it was not the case though, a money answer is not a good indicator (apart from consistent pay within the team).
Of course, money is important, but only to the level where you put the issue of paying the bills of the table.
So you are looking for answers that tackle their sense of accomplishment, understanding of how the team contributes to the success of the company, personal growth, fairness, collaboration, feedback, and fun.
A few more that help you assess the candidate’s people management experience:
Have you ever been in a situation where you managed to retain a top performer who was already on the go?
How do you manage the performance of your team?
How do you/would you distribute bonuses?
This area is mainly applicable if you are hiring a manager, but people who used to be team leads in their previous roles may surprise you with their level of experience. It is not uncommon for companies to delegate a lot of people management duties to team leaders.
Even if you are hiring an individual contributor with team lead experience listed in his curriculum, you may want to see what is her potential to grow into a manager’s role. It can come handy, especially if the team is supposed to grow or if the succession plan for the current manager is non-existent.
Fit for the team
If we have a team building over the weekend / dinner out during the weekday, will you join us?
Can you describe a situation when you disagreed with your manager?
Describe your least preferred co-worker.
We have a daily stand up where everyone is supposed to speak, provide an update or a joke. Are you in?
Get creative and think about what is your team all about? How do you bond as a team?
What mechanisms do you use? Then ask the candidate how she would feel about becoming part of such a team.
Step #4: Role Play
Replace questions about a hypothetical situation by role playing one.
Instead of asking the candidates: “What would you do in a situation where a tough customer complains about the quality of your product?” ask them to pretend they already got the job, you are their customer and play the as-close-to-reality-as-possible situation with them.
If you are skeptical about role plays, try a little test. First, ask your candidates to describe how they would react. Second, role play. Third, compare what they said they would do with what they demonstrated during the role play.
Very few candidates will deliver to their own description of ideal behavior. The ones who are are your winners.
Step #5: Involve the team
Whoever you decide to hire, they will not work in isolation. It is a common practice to ask subject matter experts to run the technical / expert part of the interview. Take this practice one step further and invite your team to assess the candidates’ fit for the team and for the job.
My friend who proofread this article tried this right on. She reported that when she asked the engineers — interviewers whether they wanted to work with the candidate she actually got very different answer than to her usual “What do you think?”.
“What do you think?” got her a summary of the candidate’s technical abilities and whether or not he can do the job.
“How do you see yourself working with this candidate? How will he/she fit the team” started a fruitful conversation where she got a lot of new insight.
Step #6: Make the team interview their boss
Are you hiring a manager?
Invite the team to interview their future boss. You may want to ask your team to note their questions so that they can leverage them for the next candidate. And so that you get a single point of reference.
On the interview itself, cover only the introduction and silently observe. It will show you two things.
One, how the candidate acts under pressure and how he/she fits the team dynamics.
Two, what does your team expect from their manager and what do they need to be solved.
Step #7: Evaluate
You have used the same questions from your HR/Talent team.
You have used the same assignment for all candidates.
You have asked them the same core questions and role played the same situations.
You have asked your team to leverage their questions.
Gather all your inputs and evaluate.
Step #8: Make a fair offer
When you are extending an offer to the candidate, make sure your offer is fair. Check how other team members are paid and give an offer that is consistent with the salary of the team.
If your desired candidate rejects the offer on a basis of too low offer, you can do one of the following.
Explain your offer aims at fairness so that the team is paid consistently — should their salaries leak or be posted transparently, you aim at having no time explaining why person A gets paid more than person B.
Provide a roll-out plan — ask the candidate to join for the money you are offering with a contractually set salary increase after the probation period based on a pre-defined evaluation criteria.
Get a candidate in for a higher salary and create an inconsistency — consciously and with a plan to lift your team so that the fairness and consistency is gradually achieved.
Step #9: Provide feedback
Create a powerful talent pool you can fish in when you have new requisitions approved.
Provide feedback to the candidate you decided not to hire. How close were they to being selected? What did you like about them? What would you recommend they study? You may even provide study material, manuals, tests…
You will help your brand, their self-esteem, and you will create a great pipeline for later.
Do you argue you don’t have time to do all this? The good news is that you only need to design the whole process once.
Use the same toolkit with the same homework, role plays, and questions for every candidate and you will get a nice database. It is important whether you need to fill 15 vacancies at once or one every 8 months. The process helps you save time and make confident hiring decisions.
Feel free to comment, agree, disagree or ask questions. I will make sure I reflect on it either in the comments or in my new article.