Sunday, January 20, 2013

Let's Interview Everyone! Best Practices For the Interview Process

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Bob, Director of Human Resources, walked into Mikela's office a little after 3pm. "Well, Mikela," he said, "How are you feeling about the slate of candidates we've assembled for the open manager position?"
Mikela turned away from the computer screen she'd been staring at. Clearly, her mind was still on her analytics, but she dragged her attention to Bob and the question he'd posed.
"Hi Bob," she said. "I really appreciate all the work you've done to compile these resumes." She glanced guiltily at a folder on the corner of her desk. "But I haven't had time to do more than glance at them."
"I certainly understand, Mikela," said Bob, "You have so much responsibility for the new brand launch. I'll do whatever I can to help. I'm happy to schedule interviews for you if you let me know which candidates you'd like to bring in and who from your department you'd like them to meet."
Mikela laughed. "To the extent that we can, I'd like the candidates to meet all the managers in the department. We've had too much turnover already and I don't want more distraction on this project. I want to know we'll all work well together. I know that won't be easy, because we're all so busy here. But that's the best way I know to be sure the new person will be welcome. As for who to bring in, I guess we should bring them all in, right? They all seem to have the key qualifications."
"But Mikela," Bob objected, "you have eight managers and there are 12 candidates! That's a coordination nightmare, not to mention the time you're asking your staff to devote to this. I really think we should narrow it down a bit."
"I wish I knew how," said Mikela, the frustration in her voice obvious. "But I can't tell enough just from reading a resume. And if I don't ask my team to be part of the process, how will I know if we've gotten the right person?"
Bob and Mikela talked for another few minutes. It was clear to Bob that Mikela's plan was time-consuming and expensive, and he was concerned that even going through the process her way was no guarantee that Mikela would end up with the "right" candidate.
Hiring managers and Human Resource departments struggle to find the appropriate balance in designing the hiring process. Like Mikela, one extreme is to invite anyone and everyone to come in for an interview with everyone in the department. Because "hiring process" is not a line item, the costs are not easily recognized or reigned in. On the other end of the spectrum, managers take a rather nonchalant view of bringing in new employees, skimming a few resumes immediately before the interview and hiring based entirely on one or two interviews. Experience has shown that under-resourcing is just as dangerous as devoting infinite resources to the hiring process.

What are the best practices to find your next hire?
1. Develop a well-crafted job description. Most managers and business owners would never start a major project without a clear outline and understanding of the project requirements. Yet these same people are often content to work with a vague or "hand-me-down" job description for a position they want to fill. The "as long as I have something on paper to make HR happy" approach to job descriptions may be expedient in the short term, but will almost always cause regrets down the road. Taking the time to determine the needs of the position, the gaps in the department, the problem solving style required, and the company culture will go far in helping companies find the right candidate for the position.

2. Evaluate resumes against a concrete set of criteria. Based on the job description, list out the criteria you have for successful candidates. This may include specific job skills, kinds of managerial or industry experience, budgetary or decision making authority, education, presentation of resume (spelling, grammar, logic flow), writing skills, or any number of other items that can be gleaned from a resume. Also make a note of any items you wish to ask about for further clarification (e.g., gaps in work experience, unclear job descriptions, etc).

3. Use appropriate screening processes to narrow down the field of candidates. Yes, pre-employment testing is generally legal as long as certain guidelines are followed. And the right kind of testing can help objectively identify candidates that will succeed in the position. Many companies have stopped using pre-employment testing because of legal concerns, but this "throwing the baby out with the bath water" approach is unnecessary and allows much avoidable risk to remain in the system.

4. Check references thoroughly. Most of the time, reference checks turn up exactly what you expect: glowing praise and assurances that the candidate in question is undeniably the best possible person to consider for the job in question. Or you merely learn that the candidate did in fact work for the employer listed on his/her resume. As long you're not talking to the Human Resources Department (whose employees are limited by policy), however, you can often find out more about the candidate to help you make a hiring decision, draft follow up interview questions, or manage the person successfully if you do bring them on. Sometimes of course, you will find out things you never expected to learn. Since most candidates (correctly) assume that most employers don't bother to check references, they don't worry too much about who they list as a contact. I know a wonderful story about a store owner who discovered during a reference check that a candidate had embezzled from a previous employer. Needless to say, the store owner was no longer
interested in the candidate-but the previous employer was delighted to have the location of the thief!

5. Craft interview questions based on job requirements, company/department culture, resume and reference checks. Be clear about how each question will help you determine whether the candidate should become part of your team. After all, the goal of the interview is to decide whether the candidate should continue in the hiring process. Be sure to re-read the resume (and your interview guide) prior to the interview so you are well prepared.

6. Take time to meet with the candidate. There are few things more frustrating to job candidates or more of a waste of time for managers than having an interview in which the interviewer is unprepared, rushed, or obviously thinking about the problem du jour. Human capital is the most important resource a company has. Interviewers need to clear the calendar, hold all calls, and devote their full time and attention to the interview.

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