Stop Interviewing – Hold A Professional Conversation

Going to an interview is a daunting task — even the most qualified candidates have been known to sweat at the possibility. Often it is viewed by candidates as being equivalent to “going to the dentist,” so it’s not surprising that many firms experience a high “no show” rate for their interviews. If you are going to sell the candidate in this tight job market, you have to make the interview more “user friendly.” HR needs to lead the way in increasing the emphasis on the often under-emphasized goal of selling the candidate. In order to do this, they need to make the interview into more of a Professional Conversation between two equals.Traditional Interviews Are Horrible Sales Tools

When unemployment was high and candidates were “easy to find,” you could “grill them” during the interview and it would have few negative consequences. Now that the unemployment rate is low, companies have to shift their focus toward finding people that are currently employed (passive). If you want to get these best passive candidates, you need to re-think your interview process. You must begin to treat them in a more “user friendly” way if you expect them to leave their current job. One of the best ways to increase your “yield” of these passive candidates is to shift away from unexciting formal interviews, and instead hold “Professional Conversations” with the passive candidates! Why Shift To A Professional Conversation?

Most interviews are inherently confrontational and occasionally dull. During the interview, managers often try to find faults with the person and grill them to see “what they are made of.” This style of interviewing makes the candidates nervous, which in turn alters their behavior during the interview. What Else Is Wrong With Interviews As Sales Tools?


  • Interviewees may also be current or potential customers. By grilling them and not having a balanced approach, you might tarnish your company’s reputation, hurt sales, and cause you to lose some good candidates.
  • Many interviews are designed solely to assess the candidate and not to sell the job. Few hiring managers are trained in how to sell the job and many don’t even know that it should comprise a major part of the interview.
  • Because few firms “lay out” the interview process in advance, most candidates don’t know what to expect or even what skills you are assessing during the interview. As a result of being “left in the dark,” they often come to the interview unprepared for what you really need.
  • Most interviewers focus on trying to find out something negative. Instead the process should identify what the candidate is really good at and it should excite them about our firm and our team. People like to talk about their strengths, their ideas, and their successes. However, they are nervous about revealing any weaknesses.

Make Them Comfortable – Hold A Professional Conversation (PC)

Almost everyone enjoys a Professional Conversation about his or her best work. Professional Conversations are held all the time at lunches, conferences, on the phone, and in e-mail exchanges. HR needs to formally encourage managers to substitute Professional Conversations for formal interviews. There is no law that requires that you hold formal interviews. If you tell managers that it is ok to substitute a Professional Conversation for an interview, you will find those managers (as applicants do) will learn to prefer them. During the Professional Conversation, focus on sharing ideas as well as on selling the job and the company, but do not grill the person. Look for positive things and point out where you have common ground. Use PC’s as a sales tool to inform and sell the applicant on the company and the job. Be aware that interviews are artificial situations that, in addition to making candidates uncomfortable, are rarely accurate predictors of future job success! What Is A Professional Conversation?

A Professional Conversation (PC) is relaxed discussion between the hiring manager and a candidate that is designed to make both parties comfortable. During a PC, you can discuss the company’s needs, selling points, and allow both the manager and the candidate to have an open dialog about their strengths and needs. During a PC, the manager discusses the company’s and the team’s best practices and the candidate discusses and gives examples of their own strengths. In a PC, the mix between assessment and selling shifts to at least 50% selling and 50% assessment. The Professional Conversation process and goals are spelled out to the candidate in advance. Every effort is made to improve the two-way flow of information between the parties and to avoid any unnecessary confrontations. Steps In A Professional Conversation:

  1. Inform the candidate that this is a conversation and an information exchange that will be focused on the positive. Before the PC, tell them what you are looking for (skills and experience) and what the conversation will be like. Suggest that they bring a sample(s) of their best work to the meeting. Provide the candidate with an outline of your timeline for the entire hiring process so that they are aware of what will occur and when.
  2. Consider sending the candidate a “WOW” sheet, citing your best practices and things of interest at your firm. Develop the list by surveying your best-performing workers and find out why they took their jobs and why they stay. You can also send the candidate a “prospectus” that sells the firm just like you would to any investor (they are in fact, as K. Wheeler suggests, “investing their time and their career in your firm). Educate them about their “prospects,” let them know if they are on the short list, and what you like about them.
  3. HR may be able to add little to the PC and they can scare the candidates, so minimize their involvement unless you are having major EEO problems.
  4. Try to pick a comfortable location for the PC where the candidate feels at ease (it can even be on the phone). Minimize “dressing up,” bringing your resume, and other “interview-like” trappings.
  5. Start the conversation with your goals: talking about positives, finding our common interests, and the sharing ideas.
  6. Next, briefly describe the exciting aspects of the job, the company, and the team.
  7. Then ask the candidate to describe their best work, their ideas, and interests.
  8. Discuss mutual interests as appropriate.
  9. Ask the candidate to describe their “dream” job and what they will need to get them to say “yes” to an offer.
  10. The manager should try to show how the company could fit those needs.
  11. As the conversation progresses, the manager should ask the candidate for their ideas to a key problem(s) that the candidate will face during their first month. Ask them to “walk you through the steps” of their solution and probe why they took that approach. Next ask them to forecast future problems and to give you some ideas on how to solve them.
  12. The manager should try to mention exciting projects, tools, opportunities, as well as learning and growth opportunities. Managers should also point out that “people just like you” already work and prosper at your firm.
  13. Ask them to go through their decision criteria for accepting a new job. Ask specifically for any key decision criteria – “have I convinced you that we meet your needs?”
  14. If the manager has any serious concerns, they should ask the candidate if they are willing to provide you with any additional information in a follow up call.
  15. Close the conversation with positive comments. If you are convinced of the fit, ask the candidate directly if you have convinced them to take the job if it is offered.
  16. Remember throughout the process, treat the candidates as equals and as customers. Treat them as mature adults and with respect, just as if they already work for you.
  17. Don’t get hung up on the need for comparison candidates. If they exceed your needs, make a fast decision (the day of the interview if possible). Delaying it doesn’t improve the quality of the decision, but it does mean you will lose the best candidates because they will not stay in the market long enough to wait for your slow offer process.
  18. After the hiring decision is made, send out applicant satisfaction questionnaires to see if you might be frustrating your potential hires.
  19. Track the candidate “acceptance rates” to see if the PC’s result in more “yes” answers to offers. Also track the “scores” you give candidates during their PC and see if high scores on the PC correlate with their performance on the job. If so expand the use of PC’s.

Additional Assessment?

If you are using employee referrals or if you have built a “relationship” with this person over time, the need for a great deal of formal assessment decreases dramatically. You can also use e-mail, meetings at conferences, interview questionnaires, and phone conversations to assess their skills in more detail either before or after the Professional Conversation. Know in advance what skills and knowledge you need and which are best assessed during “formal interviews.” If you are really nervous about the lack of assessment, beef up your reference checking process to validate any concerns. Also realize that creative people have quirks. If you want new ideas, expect to find some “faults” during the process. Conclusion

Tight times require new approaches. Although managers have been holding Professional Conversations for generations, HR has not embraced the process. Interviews do have value, but they also have drawbacks. Try using Professional Conversations for your key “hard to hire” jobs. You will be amazed at the difference!

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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