The skill of conducting interviews as a hiring manager is one that’s developed over a lifetime. Sure, we all have our tips and tricks to source and identify the unique talent we’re looking for, and there are similarly just as many tips fed into the candidate sitting across the table from you. The result of that collision of information can sometimes be a form of psychology-based banter that can distract all parties from the direct process of finding the best match on both sides.
To help clear the air and retrench in great interviewing methods, I’m providing below my most powerful processes to approach not only identifying the best candidates but ones that you want to work with…and keep around. I’m assuming you are already an experienced and confident interviewer (in case you are not, I have previously counseled interviewees on how to manage you!) The next step requires that you broaden your thoughts to the 30,000 ft level to do the big things right, so that the little things that come later are more purposeful.
- Read the resume.
Do I really need to point this one out???!? Seems I do. How many times have you ran past the printer on the way to an interview and grabbed the resume on the way? And, then, because you haven’t really scanned through it, you have to start the interview with something fairly benign as “tell me about you”…simply to buy time?
This first ‘tip’ is all about wiring your brain and forcing you to walk the talk. Do you think great employees are important to the success of a company? If so, then spend time and energy in sourcing them. The ROI on your efforts is optimized by the quality of time invested, is what I’m saying.
And this process includes striving to know them. Know your people; know who you are hiring and know why you are hiring them. Being prepared is not only pragmatic but it’s also a great tool to showcase the seriousness with which you approach people, as a part of your culture. Candidates will appreciate this and feel valued in the first impression.
There is one other objective in taking time with a resume (and checking any other digital footprint) in advance. Not all candidates are deeply in touch with who they are and what they bring to the table. I myself have some outstanding leadership results in my early career but I never understood them or learned how to talk about them in a powerful way until I was well into my 30s.
- Think like a sporting GM.
If you embrace the notion of seeing your role to harvest talent, you just might through interviewing uncover the diamonds beneath the somewhat rough-seeming candidates. That requires you taking an active role scouting the talent during interviews and recruiting versus sitting passively waiting for greatness to be served up to you. Great sports teams are made up of not only the Steph Currys, the Bryce Harpers and the Sidney Crosbys; it’s the role players you acquire that others overlook that form essential pieces of a winning team. If you approach recruiting actively — like a talent scout or even dateline reporter — you are more likely to create new and better people outcomes.
- Neutralize the setting.
In a previous post I concluded that there are only really three questions that matter in an interview. One of them is “can I see myself working with this person?” Said another way, people often say they want to work with someone they can have a beer with. Even as someone that doesn’t drink beer, I get the point. You want to establish a basis of connection that goes beyond the day to day humdrum of work-related tasks.
When I hire, I want to find such people while I also want to dig into their minds to see to what extent I’m talking to a marketer or business person at the core. And I find that I have the more revealing conversations when they are authentic and genuine.
It’s up to me as an interviewer to set the tone for a genuine conversation. I get at least half the way there with my (dazzling) personality but that alone is surprisingly not enough. Ambiance matters, too. No, not candles, soft music and wine, but something much more neutral. When I can I try to take interviews out of conference rooms which can have the sterile and tense vibe of a crime investigation. Instead I look for something warmer yet still fairly private either in the office or out. Coffee shops outside of rush hour are great places although there are others venues that change the air into something more collegial.
…and while you’re on a roll, how about neutralizing your mindset as well.
Interviews are very one-sided when it comes to leverage, not to mention transactional in nature. There’s a clear buyer and seller. If there’s no fit, we part company and probably never see each other again.
Over time I have come to understand that all worlds are small. And, even in a metro area such as Toronto with six million people, the marketing community is noticeably contained. About six years ago I interviewed a guy that I saw as decent but lacking in the skills I was looking for. I didn’t hire him. Fast forward to today and I’m on LinkedIn, trying to find a way to gain a business intro on a specific person and, whatdyaknow, a common connection is this very guy. I’ll also add that he has risen to a level slightly above my current one in a reputable company. Whew knew?
Point is, our careers are dynamic and our lives in tight communities will continue to intersect. In addition our business relationship to each other is fluid such that leverage shifts between us. Against that backdrop, I advise you consider every person you encounter in business as someone who is entering your network for an extended period. Set the tone for the potential for a lifetime of value exchange. That mindset will create a whole new and rewarding interview (and relationship) dynamic.
- Share the agenda.
Transparency. It’s a thing.
I have recently developed the habit of sharing my approach to the interview in advance, while including over half the questions I plan to ask.
Yeah, there’s a time for ambush questions and believe me, they go through my mind a lot during interviews. I have this thing where I think no one can do math anymore so I sometimes lose focus, as I drift into my desire to cut off an answer with something like ‘quick: what’s 80 minus 21???!?!?’ just to see how long it takes, and to watch the beads of sweat form out of desperation for wanting to access the calc app on their phone.
But, ya know, it’s not all about my fun. Interviews are about rich exchanges of information, not to audit the power of your random access memory. When you get to be older like me you end up with a pretty rich catalogue of answers for each question that starts with ‘tell me about a time when….’. And, truthfully, I have forgotten half of the occasions, because I don’t come home from work every day and think about how well I demonstrated my powers of influence at work today. I just take care of biz the way I do and do the same thing tomorrow. I have thus resorted to building a spreadsheet of all my big and little accomplishments and support for my soft skills that I shamelessly access from my iPad in an interview. Sorry, I barely remember what I did yesterday, never mind in 2008.
Although there are a few core subjects that every interview should cover, the reality is that there are about a thousand questions to draw from. That makes interview preparation a daunting experience; I myself have walked into some interviews with my head practically spinning when the role is complex or non-standard. Strive to de-clutter the mind and facilitate quality information flow by helping with the prep.