How We Interview...and Why It Sucks.

If human talent is the killer app in our industry, why do we suck so badly at attracting, evaluating and retaining the best people? And how does a flawed candidate manage to slip through the interviewing gauntlet that you and the rest of your management and HR team have set up? Clearly these are huge topics worthy of books, not blog posts. But I've never met a topic that I couldn't try to oversimplify, so here goes:

Your interviewing process is misguided, your execution is awful and you're focusing on all the wrong things. But please, let me elaborate...

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Interviews are Not about Fact-finding: Make your minimum standards on skills and experience clear to your HR team or recruiter. Then leave the candidate's resume in your desk. Too many interviews end up being about the facts on the page (" you worked at AOL?") You're wasting a lot of time confirming data points, which could be better spent on higher order discussion.

Focus Instead on Understanding the Candidate's Process:

  • Tell me about an important deal or achievement at your last company: what would not have happened if you hadn't been part of it?
  • Tell me about the last time you had to deliver really bad news to a customer: how did you handle it and where did things end up?
  • Tell me about a time when you've had to manage conflict with someone in your organization: were you able to turn the situation around?

Seek Beliefs and Core Values: The best hires and most-durable employee relationships are always built on the overlap between what a candidate believes and what the company stands for. But we learn very little about what our candidates truly believe because we don't ask.

  • Tell me something you believe in very strongly that's not about religion or family.
  • Looking out at the next 10-15 years of our industry, what's a trend or behavior that you're bet your career on?

Stop Acting Like Lawyers: (Please no hate mail from the Bar Association.) If you ask a dozen lawyers to review a document or agreement, each will find something to disagree with or object to. Likewise, if you subject your candidate to a dozen different interviewers, each will only feel valid or whole if he or she finds a flaw. First cut down on the number of interviewers; after a certain number, the evaluation doesn't get bigger, it gets worse. Second, make it OK for other interviewers to say "neutral" or "nothing to add."

This is Not a Democracy: Try to get everyone to agree on a candidate and you'll end up with a very safe, very vanilla, compromise candidate. No edge, nothing strong, nothing special. Agree ahead of time who "owns" the hire and who he/she should truly consult with. (Hint: who will be economically dependent or physically close to the new hire?)

Listen for Intent: There's one more thing we also fail to ask potential hires: Do you want to work here? Of course it's probably not smart to signal your own intent to hire this person, but you can certainly find out whether they're really into you - of if you're just "one of their safety schools."

  • We're not there yet, but if it all came together tomorrow and the package and responsibility lined up, would you jump at the chance to work here?

Notice that this is the only "yes or no" question I've suggested.

I'll be eager to hear how your next interview goes. Happy hiring.