Try These 3 Ideas For More Successful Employment Interviews

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

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

Featured image by: dennis crowleyCC BY 2.0

My conclusions from doing 30 days of free remote organisation coaching

In December, I made this offer and invited help to learn how it might work. I got 11 responses and chose 3 organisations to work with. As the experiment evolved, I shared some early lessons and more here.

With the experiment now complete, here are some conclusions I can draw both from qualitative feedback from doing the experiment and quantitative feedback from surveys conducted during the experiment.

Always face to face before going remote. Always!

I had two groups that I met with and worked with, face to face,  for 2 days as a kickstart to the experiment. During this time I made the invitation  as sincerely as I possibly could, reinforcing it regularly during the workshops in my actions and through my language.

This facetime was essential in creating the bridges through which future collaboration. People had online conversations with a friendly personality they knew by name and sight and someone they had laughed with and exchanged stories with vs simply a voice on the end of the phone.

The third group did not have the facetime, we simply spent 2-3 hours online using tools to create the improvement lists and to make the invitation. Whilst this may have generated the same outputs – stuff to improve – I don’t think it we ended with the same outcomes – great rapport and bridges. This third group whilst still somewhat engaged, lost interest very quickly and had fewer collaborative sessions with me and with each other.  I also got quantitative feedback that this group would have preferred a face to face workshop at the start.

Remote work tools generally suck

I tried to keep tools to a minimum. Mostly we used google docs and Trello for online collaboration. For communications I tried lots of different tools – iMeet, Skype, GotoMeeting and Google hangouts.

Each tool had its benefits and drawbacks, but the take-away for me is that anything that travels on the interweb is going to be slow and unpredictable at various times. So I need backups and alternatives.

Most effective for me, was not the tech but the design of the sessions. The secret for me was to have shorter sessions with fewer people and to use video sparingly, maximise visual collaboration – ex: google docs to draw vs speak.

Buzzwords like “Agile”, “Scrum” are turn offs

From the very first improvement workshop – it was clear to me that people lost interest in the conversation when we talked on Scrum, Kanban and even Agile. The conversation suddenly stopped being about them – the people and their needs – but about the tools.

Everyone had some opinion why ‘technique A’  wouldn’t work. Different ‘truths’ about how these techniques work and experiences of ‘how’ they work.

At the risk of introducing yet another over-used word, I tried to steer the groups away from dwelling too much on techniques, but focus instead on outcomes and on some fundamental truths.

Keep the focus on effectiveness

Overwhelmingly across all the groups, ‘effectiveness’ was the key word that everyone could get their head round. It wasn’t divisive – even if we didn’t define it explicitly, everyone had a similar understanding that it was about making things better.

I  helped by offering my perspective on 4 elements of ‘effectiveness’: Value – what we are building/doing, Flow – how smoothly are we building/doing it , Quality – how suitable for purpose it is and how easily are we able to keep doing it and, finally, Joy – how do we each feel doing what we are doing.
(Major hat tip to Emergn and Joshua Arnold for their invaluable work on Value, Flow and Quality  – VFQ).
I invited everyone to consider effectiveness to be these 4 elements in balance; or the first 3 at levels that keep the 4th – joy – high and trending higher.

Most people – more than 80% of all participants – understood and agreed with this simple perspective on effectiveness.

Improvements take time and persistence

Without a doubt, the energy of the workshops and the enthusiasm for improvement was really high at the end of the workshops with all the groups. I believe the openness of the invitation helped the participants give the whole thing the benefit of the doubt and participate more fully. I was really impressed, yet concerned.

I worried about how could we transfer this energy into the work to continue the improvements when people got back into  their ‘day jobs’. I was concerned because I thought it would be difficult and undesirable for a single individual to sustain work on any improvement  item, so  I suggested that groups of between 3 and 5 form around each of the most popular improvement items that we dot voted on and prioritised by the number of votes.

Yet, despite the groups forming, the improvement work – even just meeting to explore questions that could yield greater understanding – still took time to get off the ground. In one case we didn’t even get to have the weekly reviews until the very last one, where it then turned out that there had been a lot of activity that had happened to move the improvements forward!

Persistence is hugely important – at one point, only two out of the five members of one working group turned up to have their conversation. I was so glad they persisted – because what they discovered helped attract greater interest in that improvement and more people joined later.

There is a need!

In my experiment, I worked with over 80 people in total – some more closely than others. Most had experienced some kind of ‘injection’ consultancy and most had generally a negative view of this model of consultants coming in – usually to coach or work with a team in Scrum/Kanban or something packaged – disrupting how people are working and then leaving after a few weeks or months. Most often, people shared that they just went back to how they worked – a bit more disillusioned.

The management in the various groups also generally felt they got less valuable outcomes from these engagements for the amount of money and time invested and disruption that everyone endured.

Almost universally, participants welcomed help and support to help them to focus on their improvements and explore different ideas and experiences to help them work on the items.

I believe there is a need because of a fundamental problem that many organisations have. Here are what I believe are the crux of the problem:

  • There are always things to be improved and some of them are critical.
    Each group averaged 26-35 things they would like to improve. Some of these were pretty big things –  like ‘getting more customers’ and  ‘feeling more appreciated for my work’.
  • Improvements take time and effort.
    During the experiment, most of what people shared were symptoms and therefore needed deeper exploration to understand, diagnose and find solutions for. It took time to get people together, time to explore the questions and sift through data. Most of this time was ‘stolen’ from the other time that people are normally busy.
  • There is a general lack of facilitation skills in companies.
    The biggest discovery for me – a huge proponent of self organisation – was that empowerment with permission is not enough for people to self organise. To do it effectively and to enjoy it requires supporting that empowerment with facilitation skills. If self organisation means everyone having pointless meetings that go on and on with no measurable outcome, then it is little wonder that groups would rather be told what to do than be more autonomous. My belief now is that everyone should have basic facilitation skills as a fundamental requirement to work with others. Basic techniques to get a group together with clearly articulated purpose, a framework to explore the purpose and means to converge the conversation into summaries, clear next steps and action.
  • The people who can best explore the problems that need improvement are hardly ever invited to do so.
    This is perhaps one of the biggest aspects of the problem that I observed. The experiment was based entirely on making an invitation -a request – for which there were no consequences for not accepting. Even with the invitation made, I got regular feedback about the fear of it not being genuine or genuinely supported by management. I found myself having to reiterate and reinforce the open-heartedness of the invitation often.

The core need that I identified and validated is that people involved in the improvement work need help, access to expertise and support at a pace that suits them. Most importantly, I discovered that there is a distinction to the way the help must be presented – friendly, empathic partnership is preferable to pushing knowledge or being an aloof teacher/trainer/’guru’.

What Next?

So, I have data, many mostly satisfied experiment participants, plenty of learning, great ideas and some validated conclusions. What next?

I am working on finalising the details of a new service to meet this need that I have identified and validated and I will be sharing it soon. I would really love your input when I have something to share.

If you would like to learn more about the smaller details of the experiment or are thinking of running something similar, consider booking a free slot on my new soHelpfulMe page and I would happily spill the beans about how it worked, the gotchas, what I would do differently and even share some of the feedback – anonymously , of course. 

For all other comments – please use the commenting system or tweet me @mhsutton. Please consider sharing this post. Thanks.