Let the strongest shine & win back time: avoid three sins that good interviewers commit

After 10 years in senior-level headhunting, I’d say there the three sins decent, capable hiring directors commit. These errors leave strong candidates feeling that some of their time has been wasted or that they’ve got little out of the session for themselves. Often, the root of this is a lack of thoughtful preparation on the part of the interviewer underpinned by a suspicion that they’re not interviewing the best candidate in the first place. Or, with tough-to-fill roles, interview fatigue. With a bit of thought, you can avoid them, have greater control of your time and your decision making.

Not stating at the beginning how you will structure the time

State the plan for timing and what you hope to get out of the interview. This puts you in control and helps you help them. For instance, you might want to very briefly introduce the company, department and yourself before getting into the interview proper. Also, use a banding for time expectations so you can politely shorten the session and win back the time if the candidate is weaker. And, always give the candidate opportunity to ask questions at the end.

At the beginning of the interview, briefly try to get to grips with the motivators of the candidate. If up to scratch, the recruiter will have done much of this and you will have them listed in front of you. Then, you can shape your questions and responses with those motivators in mind.

Then, go through those essential questions early on and if the responses aren’t satisfactory finish early, then flag the issue to the recruiter or HR. It’s a sign they’re not doing a good job of screening beforehand.

A good question is asking the candidate what they hope to get out of the interview. This exposes their level of preparedness and mindset early on. And this question is challenging enough to allow strongest candidates to show their colours whilst compelling them to be brief.

Not coordinating with other interviewers

Be mindful of other interviews that have taken place and are coming up (each stage should have a purpose) and ensure you’re not asking very similar questions. Aside from wasting your time, the feeling of repetition will leave a candidate thinking that their time is not being respected. If you’re selected as an interviewer, your opinion should have enough weight to tip any balances and not have to be double checked. If two sets of opinions are needed then obviously it’s time efficient to have those people side-by-side and in an age of Go-To-Meet (a favourite), Blue Jeans and Skype, diaries and locations shouldn’t be an excuse. 

Not selling the three pillars

All strong candidates will need and expect to be sold to. And, for such a life-changing opportunity, that means it’s only polite the interviewer gives a foundation for the candidate to get to grips with the proposition of the role, the department and the company. If interviewing someone for a strategic role you may want to add industry context as you see it. It’s a time investment but it helps good candidates give sharper, more relevant answers later on in the interview, thus saving time overall.

If you’re concerned about spending too much time with potentially weaker candidates then speak to your recruiter, they shouldn’t be put in front of you in the first place. Look to be in a position where you’re spending the most time with the strongest candidates and helping them to bring the most to the table during the process. 

For high-potential candidates, there is a fourth pillar; outlining what the future career pathway could be for the successful candidate if all goes well. Be clear why your development plan might be more attractive than others. Again, be mindful of motivators because recognising them can make your seemingly common offer more compelling than others. For instance, “Yes, here we’re moving people up to account director level too but we tend to make decisions faster and we are more supportive in practical ways.” Differentiation and thoughtfulness are key as there will certainly be similar pathways already in place for them with their current employers or, if ambitious, they’ll be planning workarounds to get-ahead if there are no next steps already formalised.

And finally

Unashamedly, use any other challenges that crop up in conversation as selling and screening opportunities. For example, a corporation going through acute change is rich with opportunities for somebody ambitious to influence beyond their immediate sphere of authority. If they don’t relish such realities then the role probably isn’t for them and you can wrap up the interview sooner.

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