Improving Interviews: Changing the Timing and Adding a Sales Component (Part 3 of 4)

In previous articles, I highlighted what’s wrong with interviews, some alternatives to supplement interviews, and pre-planning steps to improve the customer experience.

In this part, I’ll provide some suggestions on changing the timing and the content of interviews, both of which can increase the number of top performers who will accept an interview and increase the odds that the interview will “sell them” on the job.


Stop Forcing Employed People to Lie

It’s puzzling to me how recruiters and HR people constantly talk about the need to be honest and ethical while simultaneously forcing currently employed individuals to manufacture reasons that excuse an absence to their current manager so that they may participate in a job interview.

By scheduling interviews during work hours, you are in effect forcing employed individuals to fib about being sick (if they take a sick day) or to make up an excuse about why they have to leave early. If the person has to take a vacation day, that is a high barrier to getting employed individuals to accept your invitation to an interview.

If you’ve ever read anything on customer service, you know that the right thing to do is to make whatever you are asking for to be convenient for the customer. In the case of retail, you stay open late nights and weekends and place the store so that it’s convenient to the customer. This is why there is a Starbucks on nearly every corner in major traffic hot spots.

In contrast, interviews are set up so that they are convenient to the company, HR, and its managers. This is a backwards mindset that hurts your ability to recruit. What is needed is a mindset that balances the needs of the candidate with the “convenience” of the interviewers.

Change the “Where and When” of Interviews

If the interview is in another state, the problem is compounded because of family conflicts and the need to “fib” about being absent for several days. If you want to increase the number of people who show up for the interview (by making it less stressful for them to come to it), make the interview more convenient both in the time it’s offered and in the location where it occurs.

Remember, the people you’re interviewing might be current or future customers, so taking their needs into account can only help strengthen the relationship. Some approaches to consider include:

  1. Interview at night. Obviously, 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 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-issue interruptions. Yes, there’s an obvious issue about asking managers and coworkers to stay late, but that inconvenience needs to be weighed with the fact that you will get more currently employed people (the most desirable and the ones who are most likely to be top performers) to interview and also that the process won’t stretch out over as many weeks. Alleviate some of the resistance by scheduling one or two “interview nights” a month well in advance, while also letting them take the next morning off. Of course, offering interviews at night doesn’t preclude you from scheduling some interviews during the day for candidates who are not employed and, when in the rare case, that it’s convenient for the currently employed interviewee.
  2. Interview on weekends. In addition to night interviews, weekend interviews are especially beneficial when a large number of your candidates are coming in from out of town. Offering an “interview Saturday” once a month during heavy hiring periods will get you better-quality candidates and send a message that you care about applicants and their needs. Incidentally, this demonstration of caring might be extrapolated by the candidate to mean that you will also “really care” about them after they are hired. Other variations include offering interviewing options on minor holidays, dinner interviews, and arranging teleconference interviews.
  3. Rendezvous at conferences. If a large number of your candidates are from out of state or the country, you can reduce the number of “not interested” responses by interviewing at places where a large number of target candidates are likely to be anyway. Some likely common rendezvous events include national association meetings, industry trade fairs, certification classes, alumni events, and seminars. 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. If you’re clever, remember you can develop a pool of names and interview them at conferences before you actually need to fill a position. Once you assess them, it’s unlikely that their skill sets or experience will degrade before you actually have an opening for them.
  4. 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. In reverse, if your business is located in a smaller city or rural area, holding “satellite interviews” in major cities can literally increase the number of willing interviewees by 50%. In cities where most professionals live in the suburbs, consider holding at least preliminary interviews at a suburban hotel or even at the 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. It’s also a good idea to hold interviews at hotels or conference centers right before or right after local professional association or network events, which top candidates will likely be attending anyway.
  5. “Interview Friday.” Some firms have set aside a designated time each week or month for interviewing in order to help solve the rampant “unavailability” of managers. 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. This problem can be partially alleviated by setting aside a designated time when no meetings can be scheduled and all managers and interviewers must be available for interviews. It might seem harsh at first, but once managers get used to it, it speeds up the hiring process tremendously.
  6. Make interview scheduling easy. Hiring takes a long time primarily because of the difficulty in scheduling interviews because of the busy schedules of both top candidates and hiring managers. Eliminate the number of “callbacks” and the inevitable phone tag to find compatible times for interviews by developing 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.
  7. Decrease the number of “face-to-face” interviews required. At least for preliminary interviews, it’s important to limit the number of times an employed candidate must “lie” about their absences from work, in order to be present at interviews. By offering remote interview options, you will increase the number of candidates who will agree to participate in interviews. Consider interviews that are online, on the phone, through teleconferencing, or even on DVD (give them standard questions to answer).
  8. Limit them 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. By stretching out the time involved, you not only increase the number of “lies” employee candidates must tell but you also risk losing candidates to companies that make decisions faster. Several healthcare facilities 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. Not only does it force managers to be more decisive, but it also demonstrates to the candidate that your organization has the ability to act quickly (something top performers expect after they accept the job).

To reduce unnecessary interviews, try some of these tools and techniques:

  • Educate your managers about the dollar costs in salary and lost productivity of having so many employees in multiple interviews.
  • Educate your managers about the negative consequences of additional interviews on the quality of hire.
  • Set a target number of interviews; suggest that additional interviews are appropriate only in rare cases.
  • Track the time to hire, reward managers for fast hiring, and let managers know when they consistently exceed the time limits.
  • Consider conducting team interviews, so that all of the managers and interviewers can ask their questions during a single session.

Improve the Sales Component of Interviews

Employed top performers have multiple choices, including staying where they currently are. If you want to improve this often-ignored and sometimes completely omitted “sell the candidate” aspect of interviews, consider these approaches:

  • Include a sales segment. Before you begin the interview, allocate enough time to “sell” the candidate on the job. When you’re planning your interviews, divide them into time frames or segments for each assessment area and be sure and allocate at least one quarter of the time (in some cases, at least half for “hard-to-sell” candidates) toward convincing the candidate that, if offered the job, they would accept it. If you happen to know their “job acceptance criteria” in advance, it’s relatively easy to put together a sales pitch. Remember to ask them at the end of the interview specifically, “Do you have any concerns?” and “Do you need any additional information in order to make your decision?”
  • Who do they want to talk to? Ask finalists prior to coming in for a final interview what information they need in order to make their decision to accept this job. And then, whenever possible, arrange those requested interviews and provide the candidate with the needed information. Even if the candidate doesn’t take advantage of this option, they will appreciate the offer and your consideration of their needs.

Next week: In part 4, the final part, look for alternative things to assess during interviews, the importance of educating managers, and follow-up things to do after interviews are completed.

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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