Improving Interviews and the Candidate Selection Process (Part 2 of 4)

To improve upon the generally weak results obtained from traditional interviews, consider the suggestions presented here, which revolve around interview planning, preparation, and adding structure to what often is a free-form process.

If you don’t like structure, remember that there is plenty of data to support the fact that structure improves interview reliability and accuracy.


Improving the Candidate Experience While Simultaneously Improving Interview Results

Everyone who has ever been to an interview knows that the uncertainty about what is about to unfold makes everyone nervous. The problem with this high degree of nervousness is that it affects the interview.

Highly anxious people don’t perform the same as calm people. The concept is simple: if you want to improve interview accuracy, reduce any unnecessary uncertainty or stress on the part of the candidate. Realize that many candidates are either current or future customers, so it is critical to make the candidate experience as positive as possible.

Interviews are improved one small step at a time. Although some of the recommended steps might seem minor at first glance, don’t underestimate their impact. If you want to reduce unnecessary candidates stress, here are some things to try:

  1. Set expectations. Almost every candidate is unsure what to expect when it comes to interviews. Keeping people in the dark is never a wise move if you’re trying to land a tough candidate. As a result, tell candidates upfront what particular skills and traits you are looking for in this interview. Putting together a simple interview plan helps to alleviate a lot of fears because they know what’s coming next and where they are in the process. Unfortunately, because most interviews are not planned and are put together haphazardly, the results are skewed in the favor of those who don’t get as nervous. If you are bold and don?t want a stress-filled interview, offer a list of the areas covered by the interview questions.
  2. Tell them how to dress. Unless you’re going to assess candidates’ wardrobes, you can alleviate a lot of interviewee concern by explaining the expected dress code. Either do it directly or on your corporate website. Setting dress expectations will alleviate a significant amount of fear and uneasiness among candidates.
  3. Explain timing. Educate applicants about the interview schedule and whether you expect them to arrive early for security sign-in. If there is a lunch or dinner involved, warn them (remember some individuals have unique dietary requirements).
  4. Provide interviewers’ bios. Interviewers become less like strangers if you let applicants know in advance who they will be talking to. Having tent cards during panel interviews also makes it easier for the nervous candidate to remember names. You might also consider letting them know the specific focus (what is being assessed) of each separate interview (i.e., interview one, technical skills; interview two, organizational fit).
  5. Prevent death by interview. Because over the last two decades there have been a number of lawsuits relating to testing, HR departments have become increasingly conservative in how they screen candidates. As a result of this fear, most hiring tests have gone by the wayside. The net result of this fear (whether real or imagined) is that companies have increased the number of interviews to make up for the absence of other screening tools. In some cases, the number of interviews has proliferated like rabbits. From the candidate’s perspective, attending a large number of interviews on different days is expensive and time-consuming. The solution is simple: reduce the number of interviews in total and try to schedule them so that they are all on the same day. Knowing that they can get it all done in a single day can reduce top candidate dropout rates, and by sending the message to the candidate that your organization is both decisive and efficient, you can also increase offer acceptance rates.

Design Structure Into the Interview Process

Like any business process, the results of the interview process can be improved by effective preplanning and design.

Some of these entail a significant amount of pre-work but if you have the time, they will certainly improve your results dramatically:

  1. Preempt death by repetition. When candidates are subjected to multiple interviews at the same firm, it is quite common for different interviewers to ask exactly the same exact questions in back-to-back interviews. This tedious repetition is often because interviews by different managers, and the appropriate questions for each one, are not planned or coordinated. This boring repetition is also partially caused by interview training manuals, which, by suggesting appropriate questions to use in an interview, can inadvertently cause interviewers to use the same questions over and over. From the candidate’s perspective, having to answer duplicate questions over and over is frustrating and confusing.
  2. Script interview questions. Lack of preparation can cause some managers to ask questions that either make no sense or are illegal. A common pet peeve of interviewees is when managers ask questions like, “Where did you work last?? Limit this “free forming” and instead make a list of the total number of interview questions that need to be asked and then assign the appropriate interview questions from the list to individual managers (based on their knowledge area). By scripting the interview questions, you can reduce repetition, candidate frustration, and eventually, offer rejections. It’s also wise to periodically track which interview questions are actually being asked to ensure the same questions are not arduously repeated in the follow-up interviews.
  3. Pair interview questions to the required job skills. Because all jobs have different skills and knowledge requirements, interviews need to be tailored to the specific job or job family. Individual interview questions must be developed and then “paired” with the specific skill requirements of this job.
  4. Assign weights to each question. The next step is obvious. Because all job skills and knowledge are not of equal importance in successfully doing the job, it’s essential that you assign a degree of importance to each of the major requirements of the job. This also means that their corresponding interview questions (and answers) must be assigned a weight equivalent to the weight or importance of skill or knowledge that the question is assessing.
  5. Develop and use a scoring sheet. The best way to ensure consistency is to give all assessors a sheet containing their “assigned” interview questions and another separate scoring sheet. The scoring sheet not only gives you documentation and accountability but also forces assessors to limit their assessments to only relevant areas. In fact, this is a useful tool whether you assign questions to interviewers or not.
  6. Know the answers in advance. Perhaps the biggest fault in interviewing is that interviewers are almost universally not told what is a great, average, or bad answer to a particular interview question. Unfortunately, if the definition of the great answer varies among interviewers, you’ll get strikingly different “scores” for essentially the exact same answer (not good). As a result, identify a great, good, and bad answer for each question by working with your own top performers in that job. The best approach is to provide outlines of these answers on the sheet that contains the assigned interview questions.
  7. Know any knockout factors. If there are to be knockout factors that immediately eliminate a candidate, determine them in advance so that everyone agrees what they are and that they are actually job-related.
  8. Schedule a professional conversation. The typical set-up with candidates versus managers in a conference room or office is incredibly imitating. Some even consider it confrontational. The problem with creating this “pressure” is that the behaviors and answers you get in this unnatural “pressure-charged” situation will not necessarily reflect the real candidate. An alternative approach is to hold it at a location and in a format that is more natural and more relaxed. This “professional conversation” can occur in a quiet corner of a hotel lobby, in a restaurant, or any casual location where the candidate feels more at ease. During a professional conversation, the manager (and no more than one other person) discusses the problems that the individual will face during their first few months in the job. The discussion is tailored so that it feels like it is between colleagues and peers meeting informally. Whatever the scenario, the key is to keep it in the format of a casual conversation.

Next week: Part 3 will focus on improving interviews by adding a sales component, changing the “where and when,” and the importance of educating managers about potential problems.

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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