Let's review the rules, then look at how to make them
useful when you're hiring. To stir things up a bit, at the end of this article I'll also
talk about how job candidates can raise interviewing standards by raising their own
The quality of an interview is
the employer's responsibility.
The Headhunter: Reinventing the Interview to Win the Job I devote an
entire chapter to this point: job hunters don't schedule interviews, employers do. While
it's the smart job candidate's challenge to take control of an interview, it's the
employer who sets the tone. If that tone isn't one of clear mutual respect, all is lost.
The tone of an interview is set by the person
conducting it. When I talk about the New Interview, I
always emphasize the importance of the hiring manager handling the meeting. There is no
justification for anyone else doing it. A first interview is not a place for Personnel to
screen; it's not the time for filling out forms; and it's not for asking presumptuous
questions. You're recruiting, for heaven's sake. You're trying to entice top talent. The
candidate didn't accept your invitation to see how efficient your personnel department is.
He came to meet the manager he'd be working with. He came to get an impression of your
company's expertise in its business. He came to discuss his work and yours -- in your area
of specialization, not in human resources.
A respectful meeting with a job candidate should
be a challenging but appropriate engagement of two professionals. Your goal is to
keep it at that level.
The candidate is not there "at your pleasure."
He's come to your office to conduct business and to derive some gain for himself. Treat
him as if he were a prospective customer coming to visit your facility. Create an agenda
that will both please and stimulate the candidate. Then give him that agenda before he
comes to the interview. That shows a lot of respect, and it demonstrates your ability to
focus on what matters. It tells the candidate this is a business call, not an awkward
interrogation. It tells the candidate you know what you're doing.
Don't be presumptuous. Don't ask the
candidate to open his kimono until you've opened yours. Don't poke and prod too soon.
Imagine going on a first date and asking a person you barely know about the facts and
figures of her life: "Who are your parents? How were you raised? Why is it you're
attracted to me? How many kids do you want to have?" Don't laugh. The analogy is very
apt. Nothing upsets a job candidate like a presumptuous interviewer, and rightly so.
State your business clearly. You're the
host. You asked for this meeting. So take the lead. What does your company do? What's the
long term goal? The immediate challenge? The problem you're facing? What's your interest
in the candidate? Then let the candidate show how he'd apply his skills and abilities to
approach it all.
The interviewer should be as
knowledgable as the candidate.
The tone and outcome of an interview is largely determined by the subject of
the interview. Make sure everyone on your end is clear about what the subject matter of
the interview is going to be.
Everyone interviewing the candidate should be
prepared. They should all be of such a caliber that they could win this job if
they were interviewing for it. To send in lesser troops is to insult the candidate. If you
want to introduce the candidate to people in other departments, and to support staff, do
it later. after you've ensured the candidate has a good picture of your team's acumen.
Avoid follow-up interviews the first time around.
First impressions -- and intentions -- count. A personnel clerk who isn't expert in the
work of your department is not the person you want to represent your company to the
candidate. Likewise, when you schedule those five interviews, why would you let a junior
team member who is nowhere near the candidate's speed grill him about his work ethic? Why
let a sales manager quiz a programmer about his long-term career goals?
Best foot forward. Introduce the
candidate to his peers. Your goal is to assess the candidate, but it is also to establish
your credibility. Will a particular interviewer impress the candidate and be able to hold
his own in the discussion? Is he a motivated employee? If not, don't put him on the front
line. If the manager himself is not technically savvy enough, then find someone who is and
include that person in the meeting.
Cut to the chase. If you want to show a
candidate true professional respect, don't interview him. Instead, have a working meeting.
In what I call "the New Interview," the subject of your meeting isn't the
candidate, your company or even the job. The subject is the work. That's the
great equalizer. That's the subject that opens up all the other hidden doors to a
candidate's personality, character and background.
When you're sizing up someone you might want to marry,
you don't ask them to tell you all about themselves, or even to demonstrate how wonderful
they are. Instead, you spend time with them in real-life situations where you can do
things together so you can see first-hand how they perform and how the two of you get
along. The less contrived the situation, the more valid the data you'll get.
The same goes for an interview. Why ask a candidate
"interview questions" when the career counseling industry publishes crib sheets
of the most clever, most "right" answers? Forget about quizzing the candidate.
Work with him. Watch. Talk. Listen. This is where you learn whether he's "marrying
Put the work first. Work with the
candidate, right there in the interview, or you learn next to nothing about the candidate
and he learns nothing about you.
Don't waste everyone's time. Address the work first
because it's the first deal-breaker. Deal with personality, philosophy and even
When the manager makes that first call to the candidate,
he should be prepared to discuss the work that needs to be done. In person, the manager
should roll up his sleeves and work with the candidate on some aspect of the job. Present
the work as concretely as possible. Lay out a live problem. I'm not suggesting you should
divulge proprietary information. But if you want to engage the candidate (whether she's to
be a staff member, a manager, or an executive), you'll get her attention by sticking to
the subject that you and she are expert at. If there's not a match, you'll find out right
away. If there is reason to talk further, you have established your credibility from the
Are you interviewing to talk, or to hire?
Too often, an interviewer wastes the meeting by holding forth on the wonders of his
company. Worse, he waxes eloquent about himself. Or, he spends the time interrogating the
candidate about the past or the future; about the candidate's opinions and experiences;
about the candidate's perceptions of himself and others. All these might be important
topics, but not until the key issue is addressed: the work.
If this runs headlong into your normal approach to
interviewing, consider these two challenges:
1) If the candidate passes your personality and
credential tests, would you hire him if you then found out he couldn't do the work
Of course not. So, get to the real issue first: the work.
Find out whether the candidate can do it.
2) Managers sometimes avoid detailed discussion of
the work that needs to be done because they don't really know what that work is. (A
head-count requirement dictates that someone be hired, but no one is clear about why.)
Does this shoe fit?
Don't interview busy people unless you know exactly what
it is your business needs, and unless you're qualified to do the hiring.
A job candidate is an invited
guest to be shown hospitality and respect.
IBM's old adage still holds in the business world, even if everyone has forgotten it:
Recruiting and interviewing are not an administrative
process. This is a highly social art: the art of tactful influence. You're guiding
professionals into your fold. Do it gently. Do it responsibly. You must constantly keep
your eyes on the state of the candidate. Is he warming up? Is he glowing? Is he confused?
Is he smiling? Is he disgusted?
What he thinks when he leaves the interview is your
responsibility. And it could be your downfall.
In Death By Lethal Reputation
I described how a company trusted hiring to an administrative process. The company
completely forgot that job candidates talk to other members of their professional
community, and that the company's reputation (and success) hinged on what those candidates
had to say about that process.
THINK. Who makes that first call to the candidate to
invite her for an interview? If it's not the hiring manager, you're making a mistake. A
call from an intermediary is, to put it bluntly, cheesy and rude.
"But," you say, "we're Human Resources and
the manager doesn't even know we're screening the candidate yet. The candidate has to talk
to us first."
Well, don't waste the candidate's time. Keep HR in the
background. I coach job hunters to keep their standards high: "No dice. I meet with
the manager or there's no meeting."
When you invite a job candidate to
- Don't let anyone beat him up.
- Don't make him wait in the lobby.
- Don't send a clerk to meet him.
- Don't run him through a gauntlet of your lackeys.
- Don't provoke him.
- Don't test him until you've earned his trust.
- THINK. Your goal is to recruit him.
- Be glad to see him.
- Welcome him and personally take him into your office.
- Thank him for accepting your invitation and taking time to
- Explain your interest in him.
- Make him feel like a valued guest.
- Get to know him.
- Stimulate his professional interests and goals.
- Offer your honest opinion of the prospects of working
- Thank him again.
Whether you hire the candidate or not, there is no excuse
for anyone but the hiring manager doing the initial interview. In fact, this is the
quickest, least costly way to eliminate the wrong contenders. I'll take a manager's sixth
sense about a candidate as gospel before I crank up the administrative engine that will
examine the candidate's teeth and his background.
If anyone's going to turn a candidate away at the outset,
let it be someone whose credibility will at least rank high with the candidate -- the
manager. Oh, the ignominy of getting turned down by a personnel jockey! There is no
greater disrespect. Believe me, you will be judged by how professional and reasonable --
and respectful -- you are. Word will get around.
Destroy the traditional interviewing process at your
company if respect for the candidate is missing. Make it a professional experience. Earn
your professional community's respect with every interview you conduct, because your
company's reputation -- and its future -- depends on it.
For Job Candidates: How to goose the system
Now let's shift gears. We've covered some do's and don't's for employers. But I know most
people who read these articles are job hunters -- and if you've ever been a job candidate,
you know whereof I speak. So, let's offer some pointers to job candidates -- because at
some time or other, we're all candidates.
How do you, as a candidate, goose an employer into
showing you appropriate respect? You refuse to accept less. When you're called to
an interview, make your own requirements clear before you go.
Insist on meeting or talking with the hiring
manager first. Your time is valuable, and every hour you take "off"
from your current job creates a risk to your security. So, don't be shy about saying,
"Take me to your leader." If things get serious, you can talk with Personnel
If Personnel issues the interview invitation and insists
on screening you first, don't fall for it. Either the manager doesn't even know you're
being screened, or he asked a clerk who has little expertise in the work you do to assess
you first. Would you let a nurse perform exploratory surgery on you? Would you trust a
doctor who took that attitude about your health?
State your expectations. Ask for an
agenda of your meeting. "I'd like to prepare, so the meeting will be profitable to us
both." In the absence of a written agenda, talk with the manager on the phone before
you meet so you can set one.
Emphasize that "time is of the
essence". Agree to an exact time to meet. Be a little early. If the manager
is late and there's no explanation, leave after 15 minutes. If no one calls to apologize
profusely, ignore the company; they don't respect you. Then tell your friends about your
experience. Your professional community deserves to know.
Expect respect. If the manager doesn't
greet you personally, think three times before ever accepting another invitation from that
company. Yeah, the manager's busy. But so are you. It's called deference. Believe me,
you'll be expected to display it later. Expect it now.
Employers won't get smart about recruiting and hiring on
their own -- not unless you show them that how they treat you matters.
Your success in the job hunt turns on your expectations,
and on your willingness to act on them. Keep your standards high, and in turn raise every
hiring manager's standards. Elicit his respect. If you don't get it, walk. If you do,
relax. You're in good company.
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