Paying For Interviews: There Are Important Lessons To Be Learned Here!

Lessons Everyone Can Learn From NotchUp's Approach

I have no relationship of any kind with NotchUp, but its approach is so brilliant that I puts its founders in my top 10 list of people who have a superior understanding of what it takes to attract fully-employed top performers (some mistakenly call them "passives"). The Washington Post reported that within a few days of launch they had 400 corporations and 50,000 employees sign up. If you only glance at its process, you might think that it is solely based on the element of paying for interviews. Look closely, though, and the science of its approach really stands out.

There are lessons to be learned from its approach by corporate recruiters, whether it utilizes this type of service or not. Notable features include:

  • They limit participation. Because no smart firm would pay to interview "average" individuals who they could get for free, its process makes sure that all participants are "A" quality candidates who can't normally be found by standard recruiting processes (its name NotchUp infers that its candidates are a level above the ordinary). It only accepts individuals who have a combination of desirable traits, including those who graduated from top schools (from the US News and World Report rankings), have significant experience working for top firms (generally, Fortune 500 or start-ups backed by top venture capitalists firms), or have exceptional skill sets. Rather than relying solely on some mathematical screening algorithm, it also utilizes a network of hiring managers and HR professionals to screen out all but the most desirable candidates. The normal recruiting question of "is the candidate qualified?" is essentially eliminated, so the only major risk factor is in how well you effectively "sell" the candidate. In addition, NotchUp does something that few corporations have ever even considered: it tailors its assessment criteria based on the industry or geographic region.
  • Accepted candidates can limit their targets. This service targets the set of individuals who already have jobs. These individuals meet three criteria: they're happy at their jobs, are good at what they do, and aren't looking for new jobs. A combination of these three factors means that the individuals who NotchUp targets are not to be found in the active job market and that it will take a significantly better opportunity just to get their attention. The individuals that it targets (currently employed top performers) turn out to be picky. This means that these individuals don't want to be bothered (even if they were paid) with interview offers from the DMV or some mini-mart chain. As a result, the NotchUp process blocks their current employers and any company they don't want to consider from seeing their profiles. And, even then, only their membership numbers appear on their profiles. A candidate's name is invisible to potential employers until he or she agrees to an interview with a specific firm.
  • The money gets non-job lookers' attention. Currently, employed top performers are reluctant to even consider going through interviews because the process is almost universally painful. However, the fact that they are so desirable that a firm is willing to pay to interview them provides an ego boost that certainly gets their attention. In addition, the fact that these individual can set a high price for agreeing to an interview means that the accepting firms are pretty serious about them. As a result, firms are less likely to be unprepared or jerk candidates around during the interview process.
  • Paying up front makes the hiring firm pay attention. Paying a significant fee makes everyone involved pay attention. Any recruiter paying $500 plus his fee in order to interview a single candidate had better make sure there is a positive ROI. Paying a fee essentially forces hiring managers and recruiters to improve interview-related processes so that interviewers are well-prepared, there is a superior level of customer service, and, overall, everyone is more responsive to the candidate's expectations.
  • Paying for recruiting services is common. You already pay a significant amount of money for interviews in the form of travel expenses for internal and external candidates from outside the region. In addition, the amount of management and employee time spent doing interviews is worth a considerable amount of money, making a couple of hundred dollars seems less significant in the big picture. In general, paying for a professional's time for discussion or meeting really isn't that unusual. However, if you are resisting the thought of paying for interviews, consider the fee as payment for an outside firm identifying non-active job seekers and for narrowing down the list of best potential candidates who are interested in your firm. In this context, when compared to typical sourcing or agency search fees, $500 is a relatively small amount. In another light, if you excel at selling candidates, just look at the $500 as an advance on their sign-on bonus.
  • It's a process to minimize gaming. You might suspect that some individuals might sign up for interviews just for the money. But, by monitoring the volume of interviews accepted, the accuracy of the resumes, and getting feedback from hiring managers, it's relatively easy to identify and eliminate those individuals who abuse the system. It's also important to realize that some individuals who apply through traditional channels also show up for interviews without being particularly serious about accepting the job (candidates may be using your interviews to practice or your offer to whipsaw a pay raise out of their current bosses). Incidentally, if you're any good at selling candidates, there's an excellent chance that you can convert those who, to some extent, initially came just for the money.

If you're still skeptical about the approach, consider that the first corporate user listed on NotchUp's website is Google, the world's first recruiting culture.

14 Tips for Convincing Reluctant Individuals to Agree to Interviews

My experience and research has found that as much as 50% of the reasons that top candidates refuse to consider firms' job opportunities are directly related to the design of the recruiting strategy and the hiring process itself. Any combination of weak employment branding, negative comments found on the Internet, neutral or negative comments by current employees, a weak corporate jobs website, requiring multiple interviews, and a slow hiring decision will scare away up to 50% of the most qualified candidates.

You don't have to utilize NotchUp in order to improve your candidate flow, but you do have to improve your employment branding and interviewing approach. If you're one of those individuals who is constantly complaining about the shortage of qualified candidates, maybe it's time to look in the mirror and realize that it is actually your approach to employment branding, recruiting, and interviewing that is causing your shortage.

Some best practice approaches for improving a top candidate's willingness to accept an interview include:

  1. Build your external image. Having a powerful employment brand (external image) will overcome most of the "sins" that you make in the design and execution of the hiring process (Google, for example, has a notoriously slow hiring process, but because of its powerful employment brand, it still gets a flood of quality applications). Your Internet employment brand is especially important because top performers will invariably conduct online research to find out if your firm is a top place to work.
  2. Offer a small reward. Offering a small reward for qualified individuals who complete the interview (e.g., a coffee card, product discount, free movie tickets, drawing for a glamorous trip, etc.) has a way of getting people's attention. Yes, you'll get a few turkeys, but all recruiting processes attract a percentage that are only semi-interested.

Change the Location Where You Interview

Changing where interviews take place can have a dramatic impact on improving both the volume and the quality of your candidates. Some tips include:

  1. Conduct online interviews. With the proliferation of online communications options, it's much easier for candidates to find a place where they can conduct a live Internet interview. In addition, online interviews significantly reduce travel costs for candidates outside of your region or country. Even teleconference phone interviews may be appropriate for the initial interview.
  2. Hold interviews at local professional meetings. Almost every large city has a significant number of monthly meetings held by the local chapters of various functional professional associations. If you hold your interviews right before or after these events, you will increase the number of individuals who can easily make themselves available. Incidentally, you are also likely to improve the quality of the candidates because the very best practitioners periodically attend these monthly meetings in order to improve themselves. And, because these are professional events, you give the potential candidate an honest excuse for where they were if they need to explain it to others. In order to protect the candidate, you also have to make sure that the people being interviewed are not seen entering the interview area by other meeting attendees.
  3. Hold the interview close to where they live and work. Moving the interview location to a more convenient spot in a big city can also be helpful. Alternately, if your business is located in a smaller city or rural area, holding "satellite interviews" in major cities can increase the number of willing interviewees by 50%. In cities where most professionals live in the suburbs, consider holding at least the preliminary interviews at a suburban hotel or mall. Yes, it's a little inconvenient for the managers (although they might live in the suburbs also), but you'll get much better attendance from employed people.
  4. Meet at major conferences. If a large number of your candidates are from outside the region or the country, you can reduce the number of uninterested responders by interviewing at places where a large number of target candidates are likely to be anyway. Common rendezvous events include national association meetings, industry trade fairs, certification classes, university alumni events, and seminars. Because these events are generally held in a destination city, attendees have fewer family activities that conflict and, thus, more free time to talk before and after the formal event sessions end. Not only do top performers tend to be the ones who attend these events, but the setting itself is more informal, so it lends itself to less stressful interviews.

Change the Time That You Offer Interviews

Because the best candidates are currently working, it's very difficult for them to get off of work. This often involves lying to their current bosses or using sick or vacation time. So, in addition to changing the place of the interview, also consider changing the time of the interview to make it more convenient.

  1. Interview at night. Currently, employed people have more time after work and they don't need to fib about where they are. Often at night, candidates have more childcare options, so there is less pressure to interview quickly. In addition, hiring managers obviously have fewer meetings and business conflicts, which means that interviews can be scheduled more easily and quickly. Night sessions tend to be more informal and they are less likely to be interrupted by phone calls and urgent business interruptions. Yes, there's an obvious issue about asking managers and interviewers to stay late, but that inconvenience needs to outweigh the fact that you will both get more currently employed people to interview and you can ensure that the process won't stretch out over many weeks. You can alleviate some of the resistance by scheduling well in advance with one or two interview nights per month, while also letting them take the next morning off.
  2. Interview on weekends. In addition to interviewing at night, you should also consider holding them on weekends. This is especially beneficial when a large number of your candidates are coming in from out of town On weekends, obviously candidates are more available, have more childcare options, and for the currently employed, there's no need to fib or take sick time to come to an interview. Offering an interview on a Saturday once a month during heavy hiring periods sends a message that you really care about applicants and their needs. Another variation includes offering interviewing options on minor holidays.
  3. Interview on Friday. Everyone knows that hiring is frequently stretched out over long periods of time (which can mean a loss of top-quality candidates) because managers are too busy to interview. Some firms have set aside a designated time each week or month for interviewing. This problem can be partially alleviated by setting aside a designated time during each week when no meetings can be scheduled and all managers and interviewers must be available for interviews. I recommend a Monday or a Friday once or twice a month. It might seem harsh at first, but once managers get used to it, it speeds up the hiring process tremendously.

Make the Interview Process More Candidate Friendly

There are elements in most interview processes that serve to discourage many highly desirable candidates from participating. Some process changes that you should consider include:

  1. Limit interviews to one day. One of the aspects of interviewing that frustrates candidates the most is the multiple callbacks for second, third, and even fourth rounds of interviews. Several health care facilities that I work with have instituted a one-day rule that allows managers to interview as many times as they want as long as all interviews are completed on the same day. This practice is common for visiting college candidates and also works for experienced hires. It forces managers to be more decisive, but it also demonstrates to candidates that your organization is considerate of their availability and that the firm has the ability to act quickly.
  2. Reduce the number of interviews. There is little evidence that multiple interviews add much to the quality of the selection decision (although it can help increase employee buy-in of the candidate). If you can't limit the number of interviews to a single day, at least limit "death-by-interview" by reducing the total number of in-office interviews to as few as one but no more than three.
  3. Include a sales segment. Before you begin the interview, make sure you've allocated enough time during it to sell the candidate on the job. If you happen to know his or her job acceptance criteria in advance (just ask), it's relatively easy to put together a sales pitch demonstrating how "this" job and your company meets each of his or her decision criteria.
  4. Ask them who they want to talk to. For some reason, companies forget that they might not put everyone on the interview list that the candidate needs to talk to in order to understand the job and the company. I recommend that you ask finalists (for key positions) prior to coming in for a final interview specifically who they need to talk to and what information they need in order to make their decision on whether to accept this job.
  5. Make interview scheduling easy. Hiring takes a long time primarily because of the difficulty in scheduling interviews (as a result of the busy schedules of both top candidates and hiring managers). You can eliminate the number of callbacks and the inevitable phone tag to find compatible times for interviews if you develop a Web-based scheduling system. These systems allow candidates to select and schedule their own interview times online, based on the open slots that managers make available.

Final Thoughts

I, for one, am tired of hearing corporate recruiters and hiring managers incessantly blaming everyone on the planet except themselves for their shortages of qualified candidates. The reality is that these formerly-abundant candidates were not killed in a massive plague nor have they all retired. What has really happened is that the improved economy has increased the competition for the exact same number of candidates. And, incidentally, if your organization has a true global recruiting capability, the reality is that there are now significantly more available candidates (when you add the global talent pool to the U.S. talent pool).

The fact is that talent shortages for any single firm are caused by weak branding/recruiting strategies and practices. Just like going to a high school prom, the most attractive people have no trouble getting dates, while the poorly networked, slow, and unattractive individuals struggle. So, stop the whining and instead first improve the way that your corporation looks to outsiders; then, make the hiring process as customer friendly as your sales process invariably is. And, if you have to pay a few bucks in order to interview enough quality candidates, welcome to the new reality of recruiting. It's really that simple.

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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