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Interviewing (finally:)

by Miki Saxon

Managers at every level have a responsibility to spend the company’s resources—money and time—wisely; interviewing is costly on many levels, especially time, so it makes sense to spend wisely and aim for the highest possible productivity. In other words, get the biggest bang for the buck and the minute.

To this end, RampUp has a productivity rule that we instill in our clients: You should be 70% sure you want to hire the candidate and the candidate should be 70% sure he wants to work for you before the first face-to-face interview happens.

Many managers, headhunters and HR people think of a phone interview as a quick surface qualifier prior to inviting the candidate in for a “real” interview. Change this mind-set and you can ensure faster response time, better qualified candidates, and more efficient staffing. Good phone interviews take the place of first-time face-to-face interviews.

In some cases it even makes sense for more than one person to do a phone interview. Multiple phone interviews, as long as they are done quickly, are a major time-saver—not just for you, but also for the candidate—and should be presented as such. It’s important that the candidate understand that this process is mutually beneficial. Explain the 70% Rule emphasizing that the goal is for her to have enough information about you, your position, and the company that she is also 70% sure she wants the on-site interview.

No matter the labor market, good candidates have virtually zero shelf life. If contact isn’t initiated almost instantly and the hiring process launched, you run the risk of a more nimble manager wooing and winning the candidate from under your nose. A phone interview—not a conversation, but a real, first-time interview—is the fastest way to get the ball rolling! To do this successfully prepare for it exactly the same way as for an on-site interview. Here are nine key points to enhance your interviews, whether by phone or in-person:

  1. Work to create a relaxed mood. Interviews are very stressful for most people—the fear of rejection, of looking foolish, of “not doing it right”—and it is up to the interviewer to set the mood. The more relaxed the mood the better the interview > the more information you will get > the better a decision you will each be able to make.
  2. Make the interview a conversation. By creating a discussion, as opposed to a Q&A session, you will lower the stress level and get more and better information. This allows you to make a better decision. It is not the person’s skill at interviewing that you want to assess. Interviews that put the candidate in a defensive position or “final exam” mode increase stress and reduce both the quantity and the quality of the information received.
  3. Ask open-ended, information-gathering questions. Here are some examples:

    • What problems arose in your last project? What approach was taken to solve them? Did you agree with that approach? If not, what approach would you have taken? Why?
    • Show me [on the whiteboard] how you would approach this circuit problem [or whatever]. (Discover methodology.)
    • What do you like most about your current job/project/manager? Least? Why?
    • In what direction(s) would you like your career to develop?
    • In what ways do you feel you could contribute to our success?
    • What motivates you? Why? Demotivates you? Why?
    • What are you looking for professionally or personally that is not available in your current situation? What would you like to accomplish while working here?
  4. Be interested. If you seem bored or distracted, don’t expect the candidate to be interested. Draw the candidate out. Remember that interviewing is not something most people enjoy, so if you are both working to make it better, the results improve exponentially.
  5. Don’t make assumptions. If you want to know something (legal) ask about it directly (and if it isn’t legal don’t verbally play around trying to figure it out). This is a typical assumption scenario from a headhunter/manager debriefing: “We really liked her, but she can’t do THIS.” hh: “Did you ask her if she could do THIS?” “No, but it wasn’t in the resume and we talked about some tangential areas and she didn’t mention it.” hh: “They really liked you, but you can’t do THIS, and they need somebody who can do THIS.” “I can do THIS. They never asked and my [current] manager doesn’t think it’s important so I didn’t mention it.” hh: “She says she can do THIS. Why don’t you give her a call and discuss it?”
  6. Be honest. Level with the candidate. Tell her the good stuff and the bad stuff and the in-between stuff. She will hear it anyway and will have a higher opinion of you for being honest.
  7. Candidates don’t forget. When discussing the future—career moves, new projects, new technology, promotions, etc.—talk about the reality. Reality is not a promise or a guarantee; it’s a “probably,” a “possibly,” a “depending,” a “hopefully,” and you should say it that way.
  8. Treat the candidate the same way you want to be treated when you’re interviewing!
  9. When in doubt use your common sense. When your head says one thing and your gut another, most managers say to go with your gut.
  10. The trickiest interviews are with the seemingly terrific candidate. Beware the person who seems so good and is so well-liked that the red flags are ignored.

Finally, here are the weeks if-you-learn-nothing-else points:

  • As a manager, you are who you hire.
  • Hiring is a function of your MAP. It can be learned. Learning it enables you to hire great people.
  • Involving employees in the hiring process lightens the load, reduces the blunders, and strengthens your people.
  • The first step in efficient hiring is knowing how to read a resume.
  • Using phone interviews as “real interviews” lets you implement the 70% Rule decreasing the number of on-site interviews needed per hire. You’ll experience a quantum leap in hiring productivity, saving time and money.
  • Your company has many assets besides money to attract candidates. You must know what they are and believe in them in order to sell them to potential employees—because the candidate who joins just for money will leave for more money.

OK, the week’s over and those of you implement what you’ve learned can look forward to at least a 100% improvement in your hiring productivity.

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