Over the last 20 years I have participated in countless interviews – even conducted a few myself. But recently I have been thinking more deeply about what an interview really is about.
I think if you hire solely based on an interview, you deserve the inevitably painful experience you will get. I also think if you do not recognise that interviews are simply one part of a relationship that needs to have started before you sit with the interviewee, then you really should not be hiring anyone. For anything.
Also – if you use the words ‘resource’, ‘candidates’, ‘work for’ on a regular basis to seriously describe the invitation of people to help you with your need, then please consider getting someone else who doesn’t think this way to do your hiring on your behalf.
Mike’s advice: Use interviews only as part of a balanced approach to evaluating whether you want to start working with someone – not if they will be great forever. Consider try out periods as part of your approach and taking candidates to lunch to better understand them as people.
#1 Engage Before
If you have a person who – on paper at least – seems interesting enough to want to talk to further, then reach out to them. Don’t invite them to an interview. Invite them to lunch, if it is convenient. Or a phone call that is about their day. Invest some time to understand them , discover your shared interests and make that the subject of the conversation. Or simply ask them for help on a challenge you are facing right now – how might they advise you to proceed. Engage.
Why do this?
Because you are building a relationship – not buying a spanner.
Because interviews can be daunting and they really shouldn’t be and this anxiety rarely brings the best out of people.
Finally, because your goal isn’t only to fill a role but to find a collaborator.
#2 Collaborate During
When you see someone sitting opposite you, perhaps dressed in their sunday best, trying to be acceptable to you enough for you to give them a job, what actually is going through your mind? What is going through theirs?
What is often going to mine – when I have sat on both sides of the table is – “I wonder how we can figure out stuff together – stuff they need and I need and how we can be awesome together”.
When I go into interviews now, I’ve recently started using a variation of the Lean Coffee format, I say:
We have limited time and to help us each get what we really want from this conversation, I’d like to invite you to share what your top 3 things you want to have learnt about me before this time ends. I also have my top 3 things I would like to know and I’ll add them to the list and we work from the top down on the most valuable things. Are you willing to do this with me?
Mostly they say “yes’ and that is what we do. When I’m providing information to them to answer their need, I regularly ask if I am helping them meet it or simply talking too much!
This is a form of collaboration and facilitation of a valuable time. It is valuable because it is short and each person wants to get some key assumptions validated. It doesn’t matter who does the facilitation but it is a great idea that it is the interviewer and much more important that it happens versus who does it.
Collaboration also means not making anyone look bad. So questions designed to ‘catch’ the other person out are simply ineffective as a means to test knowledge, much less passion.
#3 Engage After
This is probably the most under appreciated idea ever!
It seems everyone is so caught up in the interview, they throw everything they have at it and don’t think about what happens beyond the interview.
Yet many people – yes even very smart and passionate ones, need time to consider how something went and form opinions after the fact. Unless you are hiring for split second decision making like a fighter pilot – who ,incidentally, are mostly trained, not born – then make it easier for the interviewee to come back later. As an employer, learn to value that quality – contemplation – as a beautiful skill.
Many career advisers suggest that interviewees do the ‘polite’ thing and write an appreciation to the interviewer. This is a good idea too – but it persists the ‘work for’ culture that encourages people looking for employment to do all the gratitude.
So, however the interview went, engage after it with a simple email:
hi Mike, thanks for coming to our offices and chatting through your experiences and how you can help us with our current challenges and contribute to our growth plans. I hope we answered your questions, you certainly helped us with our assumptions.
Engaging after is wonderful because it achieves a number of great things.
First, it invites the interviewee to come back with ideas and insights that have come from contemplation and greater learning.
Secondly, it communicates that you are different sort of employer – one that cares about relationships and the wellbeing of the person.
Finally, it also provides a great opportunity to offer some feedback and invite some too. Remember this interviewee is a valuable and objective user of your organisation and will have experiences that can help you improve – at least on how you hire.
So always offer feedback:
Mike, I enjoyed the conversation, though for it to have been really valuable for me, I would have liked that you listened more and talked less.
And always invite feedback:
Mike, as a personal favor, I wonder if you could share one thing that I could have improved to make our time more valuable and enjoyable for you.
This is often enough – if you have an idea of what happens next then share that. If nothing happens next because you have decided not to offer them a role, then say that also. But the relationship has been built and is healthy for where it is at.
Whatever you do. DO NOT SIMPLY GO SILENT.
Bonus: 3 Things That Might Happen If You Try These 3 Things
- You might have to spend more time than you are doing now to find the people you need. I haven’t done any deep research into this, but my circumstantial exploration says it isn’t actually that much more. But you will use that time differently. If you are too ‘busy’, then ask yourself whether you need to do less or get help to do it.
- You might have to think more deeply about what kind of people you want to work with – collectively as a group – before you venture out to find them.
If you do not particularly know or care about collaboration then you might want to start there.
- You might, very likely, do fewer interviews and be more successful with each one that you do. Now wouldn’t that be lovely. So in the end, the marginally higher investment in time delivers higher success rate, better quality of collaborators and stronger relationships.
What ideas do you find useful in improving the hiring experience. I would love to learn and share. If you try these 3 ideas, I would be really happy to hear how they worked for you.
Please share this with others.