Q: My boss suggested that a group of us need to improve our interviewing skills. During a recent search, one manager had the wrong resume and another left a candidate alone in the conference room for 20 minutes. As for me, I tend to just trust my gut and recommend candidates based on the vibe I get. I think my boss is overreacting—our company runs just fine, so our interviewing skills can’t be that bad. What’s the big deal?
A: How well you treat candidates in an interview is directly related to your success in bringing talent into your organization. Interviewing skills are recruiting skills—which means encouraging and enticing people to want to join the organization is a critical aspect of the interview. Your boss isn’t seeing highly effective recruiting in your interviewing skills—it’s inappropriate and unprofessional to have the wrong resume or leave a candidate alone for 20 minutes. Instead, your boss is seeing behaviors that go against the goal of successfully recruiting the best talent to your organization. These kinds of tactical activities are just as important as other aspects of the interview.
Like you, many people “trust their guts” in an interview—and you may be highly intuitive, which is a great skill to have—but effective interviewing organizationally isn’t based off one person’s gut feelings. A successful interview process explicitly identifies the qualities, experience, and values that the candidate brings to see how they align with the organization and the position requirements. You need to craft and ask deliberate questions that will elicit examples of the candidate’s expertise and provide the information you need to make informed decisions. And if multiple people are part of the interview, coordinate with your coworkers so everyone isn’t asking the same questions over and over. Have a conversation ahead of time to establish a focus area for each interviewer. There should be some overlap to see consistency in the answers and an interest in the questions the candidates ask. For example, the hiring manager might focus her questions on teamwork and problem-solving skills, while a technical expert on the team might concentrate on the candidate’s experience with relevant tools or systems.
There also has to be agreement on rating the candidate. How are you going to grade whether a candidate has what you need? What are the most important qualities or skills for the position? Create a document of these major skills or experiences and have all interviewers rate the candidate on an established scale with examples from the interview as support. Your gut may work in some situations, but having your intuition validated with concrete examples and a rating system will make your evaluation of a candidate much more effective and a discussion with the interview team a more effective tool.
Interviewing also has many legal components to it, so it’s important to make sure all interviewers know what questions could be considered discriminatory and how to avoid them. Small talk about a candidate’s spouse or children or a question about needing time of for religious purposes could land you in trouble. An interviewer who’s “winging it” or who isn’t properly prepared runs the risk of asking inappropriate questions—inadvertently or otherwise—and this could have serious ramifications for the company.
A negative interviewing experience also threatens your organization’s reputation. The people who were interviewed with the wrong resume or left waiting in the conference room will tell other people in their profession how poorly they were treated by your company. You don’t want to gain a bad reputation for something that can be so easily changed.
Your company may run just fine now, but ultimately and over time, you may not be getting the right talent or the best talent. Interviewing is not a time for winging it—this person made an investment to come and meet with you and they should be treated courteously. The truth is, many companies treat candidates the way you’re describing—while the companies who treat candidates with respect and professionalism are the ones getting the best talent and maintaining a great organizational brand.