An “Interview Preview” – It Improves Hiring By Reducing Interviewee Anxiety (An introduction to white-glove interviewing)

The easiest way to raise the interview’s low predictive value is by reducing candidate anxiety.

Yes, it’s a fact that Google research, unfortunately, found that most interviews were no more predictive than a coin flip. And academic research has further shown us that one of the primary reasons for the interview’s low predictive value is the high level of anxiety that many candidates enter the interview with.

So the key lesson to be learned here, is that you can improve the accuracy of your interview assessments and end up hiring better people. Simply by taking actions that directly reduce interviewee anxiety before and during interviews.

What Is “An Interview Preview?”

An “interview preview” is a narrative description of all aspects of an upcoming interview process that is provided to the candidate well before the interview. Its primary purpose is to reduce interviewee anxiety. This “heads up” information does that by highlighting what they can expect under each of the most prominent information categories (i.e., who, what, where, when, and why). Some firms like GitLab call providing large amounts of normally confidential information “radical transparency.” However, I instead just call it “white glove candidate treatment” (You can find more detailed information on white-glove treatment here).

Part I – The Most Damaging Consequences Caused By Unnecessary Anxiety

There are many damaging consequences that result from this “keep them in the dark” practice. These are listed below, with the highest impact factors appearing first.

  • Companies that are transparent about their hiring are more attractive – it’s a fact that 70% of surveyed potential applicants said that they would take one job over another if one company was more transparent. And one simple step toward reaching this desired higher level of transparency is to provide candidates with a highly informative “interview preview.”
  • Unnecessary anxiety will cause a painful increase in the number of no-shows and process dropouts – recruiting leaders must realize that causing unnecessarily high levels of uncertainty will create a great deal of anxiety in many of your candidates. And this “fear of the unknown” will undoubtedly cause an increase in the number of candidates that ghost or cancel out on your interviews. It’s also important to show candidates (especially those that are currently working) that your interview process is designed to respect their time. Because recent research has shown that the #1 reason why job candidates drop out of the hiring process is that “their time was disrespected during interviews and appointments.” And because 25% to 30% of all candidate abandonments are estimated to take place during the interview stage.
  • Anxiety is creating an inaccurate assessment of your interviewees – high levels of anxiety will likely reduce the amount of preparation that each candidate completes before their interview. In addition to lower levels of preparation, they also bring high anxiety levels to their interview. That anxiety will also alter the actual interview performance of a candidate. And viewing candidates in this altered state of anxiety will undoubtedly result in an inaccurate assessment of them. Especially in several areas that are most impacted by anxiety, including their self-confidence, decisiveness, responsiveness and innovativeness.
  • Withholding helpful information is not a good look. So it will lead to the loss of top candidates – during a time when almost everyone is being more transparent. Withholding information that the candidate realizes could help them prepare for the interview will raise red flags among your top-rated candidates. And those top performers that survive your anxiety-laden interview process are likely to determine that your organization isn’t well-managed because it clearly doesn’t respect the needs of its candidates. And if your candidates further assume that this same lack of concern, empathy, and mismanagement will continue if they were to become an employee. A much higher percentage of your top-rated candidates that are offered a job simply won’t accept it.
  • It will hurt your diversity recruiting and hiring – in many cases, diverse candidates already begin your hiring process with a higher level of anxiety than the average candidate. Because they start the process with a real fear of discrimination and not fitting in, any added layer of anxiety that is caused by interview uncertainty will hurt your diversity recruiting and hiring results.
  • It will damage your “candidate experience” and future recruiting –I dare you to take a quick look at the amount of information covering your interview process that you provide openly online to applicants and candidates. Invariably you will find little information overall and little about the interview process that will excite candidates. Well, smart recruiting leaders will quickly realize that this lack of information is damaging to your overall employee experience, and potential applicants will talk about it online. Further damage to your future recruiting may occur because of the existence of employer comment sites, like GlassDoor.com, which provide a separate section for ratings and comments provided by those that went through your interview process. As a matter of fact, when the word spreads that you keep candidates in the dark, it could reduce the number of future applicants. And if a particular candidate doesn’t get hired this time around – along with the unnecessary anxiety that they suffered through – it’s unlikely that this candidate will consider another job at your organization.
  • It will waste a great deal of recruiter and hiring manager time – the unnecessary increase in the number of no-shows for interviews and offer turndowns will mean that a great deal of hiring manager and recruiter preparation time will have been wasted.
  • The negative treatment of potential customers may hurt retail product sales – if your organization sells products or services to the public. If a candidate views the anxiety that you have created to be excessive. You could lose some sales from candidates that are current customers. As well as from others who now won’t become future customers.
  • Because most of the anxiety was artificially caused, realize that most of these costs were preventable – perhaps the most damaging consequence of “keeping candidates in the dark” is the fact that the high anxiety levels were mostly artificially caused. In order to identify and eliminate those causes, smart recruiting leaders should periodically survey a sample of their top interviewees to determine which specific steps or areas of the interview process the interviewees would have liked to have more advanced information on. Of course, after providing this new information, you must determine if providing it actually reduced anxiety and improved overall interview scores.

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Part II – White-Glove Elements That Should Be Covered In Every “Interview Preview”

rather than just providing a broad range of information that may end up being confusing. Instead, it’s important to provide targeted information in the areas where the candidates have said caused them the most anxiety. Those white-glove anxiety-reducing areas include:

  • Who will be involved – provide the name and the title of the lead interviewer for each interview. Also, provide the name and/or the job title and any additional interviewers that are likely to participate. Adding a direct link to their LinkedIn profile of these individuals is a nice added touch. Another excitement factor is to ask the candidate if there is anyone that they must meet with (by job title) before they make their final acceptance decision.
  • What will happen, highlighting the goals of your interview process – let candidates know that your interview process is different than most. And that your design turns the interview into more of a pleasant “professional conversation.” Rather than an “us against them confrontation” that is designed to find and completely explore each of a candidate’s faults.
  • What will happen, highlighting the steps in your interview/hiring process – fully educate candidates about the steps in your interview process. So they know the number and the order of the steps, the goal of each step, and a preview of what will happen during each step. (J&J serves as a benchmark example).
  • What will happen, highlighting areas that will likely be covered by interview questions a great deal of unnecessary anxiety occurs when the candidate is completely in the dark about the interview areas that will be covered. You can reduce that anxiety and focus on the candidate’s preparation by highlighting the particular skills, experience and accomplishment areas that the interview will focus on. Obviously, you don’t want to give them your exact interview questions. However, specifying the broad areas where you are likely and unlikely to ask questions, will help them focus, to lower their anxiety levels and to better prepare for this interview.
  • What to wear and bring – another seemingly insignificant area that disproportionately causes a great deal of anxiety. Is how the candidate should dress. Not only should this section include narrative descriptions. But it should include actual pictures of what the company considers to be appropriate and inappropriate. This “what” category in most cases also includes what the interviewee “should and should not” bring to the interview. For example, it might include licenses, information for I-9 verification, a picture ID, an updated resume, etc.
  • Where the interview will be held – eliminate any travel anxiety by making it crystal clear where each in-person interview will be held. Offer pretested travel and parking instructions for those driving and separate instructions for public transportation. Provide sample travel times (during the relevant part of the day) from local landmarks. Also, provide a map showing precisely where the interview will be held in your building and whether they should come early in order to pass through security. If it’s an online interview, be sure and retest both the software and the link to this meeting. And finally, provide a number to call or message for when the candidate gets lost or has online difficulties.
  • When will it be held and the candidate’s time will be respected – in addition to the obvious need to mention the day, the date and the opportune time to arrive. Develop a process for sending the candidate electronic reminder alerts. For virtual interviews, make sure everyone has the right time zone. And finally, provide the candidate an estimate of how long their total interview process will likely take on that day.
  • Why each step is needed – whenever it appears to be necessary. Try to make it as clear as possible the goal of each interview step, and why it was designed this way.

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Part III – Additional information that may help to excite interviewees

In addition to the basic information that most provide in order to fully inform the candidate. You should consider providing some information that might further excite and energize the candidate. They include:

  • Tell them about their responsibilitiesLinkedIn research revealed that the #1 thing that candidates want to learn during their interviews are “the responsibilities of the role”. So let the candidate know that their job responsibilities will be a primary focus area during their interview.
  • Provide the candidate with a contact person – let the interviewee know that you want to be responsive in providing information and in reducing pre-interview anxiety. So you have proactively designated a contact person. That is fully authorized to provide information on any area that may be causing you anxiety before the interview. Make sure that once it is implemented, that this process actually has a reasonable response time.
  • Provide them with a picture of the interview space – it might seem like a little thing. But it reduces anxiety when a candidate can see in advance that the interview space is open, welcoming, relaxing, and not threatening in any way.
  • Share team profiles with them – top candidates want to learn from the best. So consider providing them with a packet of truncated LinkedIn profiles that cover key team members.
  • Provide them with team videos – increase their excitement level by sending them video links to past team celebrations, awards, and events. As well as other examples of notable “day in the life” situations that should excite candidates.
  • Tell them that everyone will wear name badges – because having to remember everyone’s name can be quite anxiety-producing. Let them know that the entire team will be wearing visible name tags throughout their interview day. So remembering names will be less of an issue.
  • Let them know if they may have a “one on-one” with a team member – because one on ones can help a candidate find out the real story from their peers. Let them know if there’s an opportunity for a one-on-one meeting with a respected team member.
  • Show them the team’s best work – when they are available. Consider offering your interviewees public links that display your team’s best past and current work.
  • Show them how they will make a difference – when possible, describe or provide links that show them specifically how their work will “make a difference.”
  • Warn them to avoid caffeine and alcohol prior to the interview – because alcohol and disagreeable food can negatively impact performance. And caffeine will increase your nervousness. It makes sense to alert interviewees so that they can avoid these types of problems.
  • Tell them that they won’t encounter these anxiety producers – specifically alert them that they won’t encounter some anxiety-producing things during the interview. This may include: brain teaser-type questions, questions about convictions, questions about their family, and citizenship or previous pay levels.
  • Consider providing them with statistics about the job – many candidates are curious about what has happened to others that took this job. So if you have them, and they are positive, consider providing the interviewee with statistics on the average tenure in this job, the average number of years before a promotion, and the next job that the occupants of this job most often internally transfer into.

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The Real Reason Why So Many Candidates Are Kept In The Dark?

Many recruiting leaders don’t realize that most interview anxiety is inadvertently created by a single assessment feature that is at the foundation of most interviews. And that assessment feature is the hiring manager’s desire to assess how well an interviewee can “think on their feet” and handle surprises. Based on the premise that candidates that can handle surprises and “act quickly on their feet” will perform better on the job. When in fact, many jobs don’t require fast action. And instead of acting quickly, the best performers in these jobs thoroughly plan and collaborate prior to any action. So I strongly recommend that this “think on your feet” assessment should only be used in rare cases when the job specifically requires it.

If you only do one thing – survey a sample of your interviewees after they have completed a round of interviews. Ask them to name the information that would have reduced their anxiety levels significantly if it had been provided. Then, obviously, take steps to provide the candidates with that information prior to all of your future interviews.

Final Thoughts

Because the interview has the highest impact on the overall hiring decision, it is unfathomable to me that recruiting leaders are not fazed by the fact that this is the most used tool that provides no predictive value. Fortunately, however, I have found that those predictive values can be easily and quickly turned around by directly reducing interviewee anxiety. This is a primary reason why interviews aren’t currently an accurate predictor of on-the-job success.

Author’s Note

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About Dr John Sullivan

Dr John Sullivan is an internationally known HR thought-leader from the Silicon Valley who specializes in providing bold and high business impact; strategic Talent Management solutions to large corporations.

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