An Interview Is Not a Test — Prep Candidates for Success

Why has the interview experience been set up to be like a pop quiz for the candidate with no real idea of how or why certain questions are important? We complain that we are frustrated with new hire turnover, productivity, or engagement and yet we haven’t looked critically at the root cause​:  the interview and selection process.

In today’s candidate-driven market where employer branding and employee experience are the new norm, there is an opportunity to re-vamp your interview and selection process to improve retention, engagement, and time to productivity.

Here are a few ideas to improve key interview experiences during the phone or in-person interview.

Phone Interview Structure

The phone interview is a critical phase in the recruiting process as it is your first interaction with the candidate and can set the stage for their overall engagement/interest with your company.

  • Do
    • Tell them what to expect — Let them know how long the interview will be and what you will be discussing. This will help them to put their best foot forward and plan appropriately.
    • Speak slowly — Candidates do not have the benefit of seeing any non-verbal communication cues, they may be nervous, and this is the first time they are hearing the information you have to share. Speak slowly and clearly.
  • Don’t
    • Be robotic — this might be your 20th phone screen for this job, but it is the candidate’s first time talking to you. Sound genuine and excited to talk about the opportunity.
    • Fail to follow up — At the end of the phone interview, set expectations regarding the next steps in the process and follow up. If something happens to de-rail your timeline, still follow up with the candidate.

In Person Interview Structure

The in-person interview is a nerve-wracking experience for most candidates. If you want to have a valuable conversation, set up the meeting for success.

  • Do
    • Schedule a prep phone call — Spend 10-15 minutes with your candidates to share important information about who they will be meeting with and what they will be discussing. This will make your conversation much more valuable and can help you better identify candidates who are not the right fit.
    • Provide an agenda — This is important, as it shows the candidate that you value their time spent with you and it is a two-way conversation vs. a firing squad of questions with two minutes at the end for the candidate to talk about their questions.
  • Don’t
    • Ask behavioral-based questions without a connection to the job — These are great questions … but better questions will help the candidate understand why these are important. In the example below, both questions tell the candidate that there will be some difficult people to work with. However, the second question provides the framework for a much more meaningful discussion and a realistic preview of the role.
      • Good — ‘Tell me abut a time you had to work with a difficult colleague. What was the situation and how did you handle?’
      • Better — This is a new role and there will be colleagues internally who do not understand the changes or may even resist your ideas. While this group is small (about 15 percent of the team), they will be a challenge. How would you plan to work thru this group  to gain support and buy in? How would you minimize the negativity so it doesn’t spill over to other employees who may be on the fence regarding your objectives?
  • Surprise them with additional time/individuals to meet — When candidates schedule an interview, there are many factors to consider — travel time, time off work, child care, or other personal appointments. Don’t put a candidate in an awkward situation to have to tell you that they are unable to stay because they have other commitments.

A fresh perspective on the candidate interview experience can go a long way to helping you make a better hiring decision while improving new hire retention and engagement.

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About the Author

Beth Mathison is director of employment services at MRA. She enjoys identifying improvements and new opportunities to help industry colleagues be successful in the primary areas of recruiting and retention. She looks to connect the talent strategy with the organization’s business strategy. Her primary area of expertise is partnering with C-suite and senior leadership to identify and implement actionable changes to advance the talent lifecycle. She enjoys partnering with leaders to build the business case for desired talent strategies and help companies ensure the best return on investment for their talent acquisition and offboarding strategies. She was recognized as No. 1 sales executive in the U.S. for an international staffing firm.