Question

The current employment climate seems to be the new normal. At my company it’s just very difficult to get new hires. There’s a lot of speculation about why the labor market is so tight, but no one has really identified the reason. (Do you have any ideas?) That’s why I’m reconsidering how I interview a job candidate. Once I get them to meet with me, I want to optimize my chances of actually getting them on board, assuming they’re the right person! The traditional interview just doesn’t do it. Can you offer any tips on how a manager can run the job interview for a better outcome? I can’t afford to keep wasting good applicants! If I can pull this off I’ll be a hero. Thanks.

Nick’s Reply

job candidateI like a manager that realizes it’s time to upend the recruiting, interviewing and hiring process. My compliments. (We covered your question about why it’s so difficult to fill jobs and hire people in last week’s edition.)

I think what motivates a good candidate to want to work for you is the depth of the interview experience. Most interviews are superficial, canned, and uninspiring. If you can make your meeting truly engaging and memorable, I think you increase your chances of an offer being accepted dramatically.

Don’t interview in your office

I’ll offer you a specific tip that may help, and my guess is your HR department has never suggested it. The method is to break the script of the traditional interview entirely. The objective is to relax the job candidate so you can assess them more effectively, and to make it easier for you to get to know one another better in a realistic work context. I think this leads to wiser decisions about working together.

Note: I’m not going to give advice limited to our “virus age.” I know much interviewing during this time is done as remotely as some jobs are. In-person interviewing and hiring will return. These ideas can fit in either case with a bit of bending and twisting. Let’s discuss how in the Comments section below!
The first thing to do once you and the candidate have met is to kick the candidate out of your office! Yup — I’m serious. The worst place to interview anyone is in your office. Why? Because it’s a sterile box that’s removed from the action. It’s not where you’re going to learn whether they can do the job. And it’s not where they’re going to learn what they need to know to take a job with you.

Take the job candidate for a walk

When the candidate arrives for the interview, don’t sit down. Walk out of your office and take the candidate out onto your work floor. Whether it’s a marketing department or a production plant, start by introducing the candidate to your staff and showing them the work. Let them see your department. Show them the tools you use and the products you make. Let them meet your people. Encourage everyone to start talking and asking questions.

Encourage everyone to talk shop.

This way of assessing a candidate will quickly reveal to you why traditional interviews don’t work.

Traditional interviews don’t work

Typical interviews are indirect assessments, where you and the candidate spar over the Top Ten Stupid Interview Questions. What I’m suggesting is a hands-on experience where the focus is on the work of your department — and where you can directly assess the candidate’s personality, skills, attitude, smarts and fit with the job and your team. For example:

  • Show the candidate your products (discuss how the job affects product quality, delivery, etc.)
  • Show the candidate the tools they would use (see what they know about how the work is done)
  • Have the candidate sit in on a “live” work meeting (observe how they participate)
  • If there is a company cafeteria, take them to lunch, where they can meet loads of other employees (do they click?)
  • Introduce the candidate to managers and staff in departments “upstream and downstream” from the job they’d be doing, so they can see how their work would fit into the business (does the candidate understand the business?)

You will learn more about the candidate by exposing them to the rest of your team than you ever could by sitting in your office. You’ll learn how smart and how motivated they are by how they interact with you and your team, by the questions they ask, by the opinions they offer and by the skills they demonstrate. If you’ve really got a gem of a job applicant, they will dig in and show you how they’d do the job. You will also learn very quickly how they fit in with your other employees.

Help the candidate decide

If you’ve got a good job candidate, this approach should give them many data points, in a real, live setting, to help them decide whether to join up. Of course, this requires that you’re offering them a good job working with good people in a healthy company!

I call this Interviewing By Wandering Around™. When the job candidate and the manager are in the middle of the work, everyone relaxes and it’s easier to talk about what matters because there it all is, right in front of you: your business. A bonus is that no candidate can fake it in front of you and your entire team. There are no clever “behavioral interview” questions or answers to memorize.

Of course, if you have standard interview questions you like to ask, you can still ask them during your “cook’s tour.” But I’m betting some of those questions will suddenly seem silly to you. Why ask what a candidate did last year, when you can let them show you how they’d do this job now?

Kick the candidate out of your office if you want to entice them to come work with you. Show them around. I think you’ll both learn a lot about one another and your workplace.

Do traditional job interviews work? How about behavioral interviews? A job candidate often walks away from even a successful interview still unsure whether they want the job. What has a manager done to make you want to join up? How could my suggestions be applied if your interviews are not in-person?

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12 Comments
  1. I think the most interesting thing about this approach is that you are flipping the direction that the interview proceeds in. In this type of interview the direction is “this is what you will be doing and who you will be interacting with when you get the job”. The other type of interview, lets call it grilling in the meeting room, is focused in the direction of “answer these random questions until you get one wrong and we can eliminate you.”

    I think that may be the biggest part of the “worker shortage” today, the fact that the entire hiring process and especially the interview completely revolves around rejecting the candidate. I mean look at it, the first step is looking through the “hiring” websites database and rejecting candidates, then you forward those resumes and you look for …. more candidates to reject, then you do the interviews laden with “gotcha” questions that reject more candidates, then you wonder why there aren’t any candidates left. The answer is because the process did its job. The entire process is excellently tailored to reject candidates and thats what it does.

    We as a society have optimized the hiring process for rejection, and as the saying goes “you get what you measure.”

    The assumption of the walking interview turns all of that completely around and up front assumes the interviewee will eventually work with your team at your location. That makes all the difference.

    • @J: “the entire hiring process and especially the interview completely revolves around rejecting the candidate”

      Exactly! The entire mind-set is wrong! Worse, the entire job-board-ATS process encourages — actually, demands — that job seekers submit as many resumes/applications as they can. But more is not better. This system essentially requires that everybody in the database must be reviewed and all but a few must be rejected — by the database query, not by the hiring manager.

      The staggering numbers of “candidates” that must be processed yields a staggering rate of false negatives and positives. The result: The hiring manager might as well scoop resumes out of a dumpster and THEN complain they can’t find a good candidate.

  2. It has nothing to do with the current climate, this kind of chest pounding/ self flagellation from employers has been going on since at least the 90’s. HR should NEVER have been allowed to hire/fire, it happened, the intern should never be the one writing the job description.

    It comes down to honesty and transparency. You want a mother of a special needs child to work for you you need to be upfront about the flexibility or lack there of, just like employers need to pay people what they are worth. Employees have had a long break and have looked at the whole situation. They are not going to work 40-50-60+ hrs a week for 13 per hr anymore. It is a new age, unfortunately, but the employment thing is older than what is being discussed here.

    Companies and managers that care take an active role in selection of candidates get the good ones, as does the company that puts all things on the table a customizes the offer package. I just had had an interview that lasted 5 min
    Got the minimum money I was looking for and an interesting schedule 12-8. I got based on 2 things, my 30yrs in the same industry and my status as a veteran, there was no BI, no canned questions. This how the “labor shortage” ends. Companies need to actively engage the prospect, tailor the hire package, tell the truth be personable. Money does not matter when the job makes you feel dirty or consumes your life. We work to live, not live to work. Another big one is the interview process. To many companies want the virtual interview, yet the job is not remote or virtual. This I a point I made to Samsung, if you are expecting a connection over a vid screen think again, I look at it as a respect an honor thing. If you want to interview over a scree it shows me right away you do not respect me enough to meet.

    Yeah, yeah plandemic and all, they are just trying to stay safe. That would be fine if the job was not in something where you would be in person on the site rubbing elbows with other employees.

    Yes the traditional interview has been dying for a long time. Unless it is totally unsafe you should be walking the candidate around, have them engage with an employee or two in the area that they will be working, show them the paperwork, where the toilets are what the colored lines on the floor are for etc. an extra 15 min can show you if that person fits.

    The other shoe is the confusion over the mask and vaccination garbage. Employers need to realize that they are not going to retain or hire people unless they are upfront and honest, that means not hiding behind “mandates” thankfully I live in a free state where masks and vaccinations can not be forced. However, there is still the honesty thing that companies run from. Why would you not tell a prospective employee that there are hazardous chemicals in the area, or that your 9 hr day is what you are working to implement but at the current time it is 10-14 hrs 7 days a week, or there are two transitioning men on the team that want to be called ma’am or miss… as examples of information that is vital to longevity an getting good people and not running them afoul of some obscure policy.

    Respect is the one word I can say encompass all this, the prospect showed you respect by applying and asking for the interview, show the same respect by meeting face to face engage personally and make the on boarding simple and quick. A good hire should never leave the company because you as the manager said “we will be in touch” or “ looks good, I have a few more interviews to do, I’ll call you”

    They should be leaving to either get their gear or because the need to discuss it with the other half and you as the manager should be active on get a yes or know, give them the day to talk it over, but, still call them before the end of business that day.

    There is more but, I think we all can see what the issues are if we stop and look. Employers are not doing the job of active prospecting, a sign is not being active. I think Nick has said it in another post about seeking out talent where talent grows, making calls, talking face to face, cutting the red tape. Finding what you are missing, asking for feedback (both sides should do this).

    Maybe one day there will be a wake up in the world of employment, I ain’t holdn’ my breath.

  3. “Don’t interview in your office”, “Take the job candidate for a walk”. Also add it doesn’t have to be during work hours or on zoom. My last job was for a person where the interview “happened” after supper when he met with me by surprise (totally unplanned) during my usual run. My attire was tank top and running shorts, which is totally against conventional dogma. Cut to the chase I worked for him for 5 of the best years of my career with totally awesome co-workers.

    You just have to think outside the box

    • Yep. Why is completely acceptable to “wine and dine” C level executives only? This is a great way to have a casual conversation with the employee and establish a discussion about the culture of the company.

      The job before my current one was one where the hiring manager took me to dinner to convince me to apply for the job. By the time the dinner was over I’m sure he was thinking “all that’s left to do is the offering and hiring”. Of course there was the interview where I pretty much derailed the list of questions by explaining how I would do the job. Because I’d already discussed all that over dinner with the manager.

  4. For the long game…networking (it works both ways).

    Meet people for coffee. Talk shop. Care for and maintain the relationships.

    Easy way to start: Ask everyone on your team if they would introduce one or two people. Take it from there.

    • @Gregory: “Meet people for coffee. Talk shop. Care for and maintain the relationships.”

      Sounds like a good “mission statement” for any employer that really wants to hire people.

  5. @J: Some time ago a Sr. VP of HR at a Fortune 50 company complained to me that he couldn’t get a few bucks to take candidates out to dinner because the C-Suite was spending virtually the entire HR budget on the big job boards.

    My compliments on your “interviews!”

    • That is completely insane. Do these people even restate their strategies out loud? If they did they would see (and hear) that they make no sense!

  6. For context most of the time I’m talking about the world of big corporate Computer Tech companies, with some later tours with small company recruiting firms and and oil/gas

    All those out of the box ideas are good. I’ve done them or seen them done. Not just in this day & age. Recruiting in a labor shortage scenario is not new.

    One reason for getting away from habitual behind a desk recruiting is for selfish reasons. If you were in hiring mode you did a lot of interviewing. I also got tired of sitting in my office pontificating

    * I’d take people to lunch. or someone from the team would.
    * If need be, I’d fit to the the applicants comfortable availabiliy. this was helpful to people who were working and looking for another job. And especially needed to be discreet. This means things like traveling to them, for a lunch near them where they felt safe from unwanted observation and a commute for them is wasted time. so after work dinner meetings, Weekends was workable for both of us.
    * as Nick noted, invite them to sit in on dept meetings
    * simply have them “shadow” someone(s) on my team who they might work with. for as long as they wanted, usually a 1/2 day. To see 1st hand what they did, with what etc. But the key purpose was that I would not be there. So they could see the good, bad & ugly, which could be me for some people. They literally could ask “What is it like working for him?” I didn’t have bashful people working with me.
    * in one company where we were doing serious fast growth hiring, I’d fly people in, with their significant other, even their kids if they couldn’t get a sitter, no quibbling, etc. And I’d make sure they weren’t staying in an above ground dungeon.
    * the last company I worked for, the small Engineering team had a “test” for drafters. The test was not some commercial test, it was a job that was previously done by potential co-workers. Job descriptions aside, they could se what a “job” was. They were provided the same workstations, software and free to ask for help just as if they worked there. they had all day if they needed it. Some hit homeruns, and some could assess for themselves if they were in the right place.
    * In last week’s discussion I noted working job fairs. There was a follow up to that, which I’m sure other companies weren’t doing. People vetted by the managers at the job fair, were brought in as a group. We’d tell them everything we thought they should know, company history, health, pros AND cons of working for a small company, this company. Have one of the manager’s they met present his history & job & hiring needs, then we’d tour the company. the plant, the office areas with sales, sales support, engineering etc they were free to ask whatever they wanted to know. We removed all abstracts, & presented a living job description. This worked well for us.

    Who said there are rules in trying to bring people on board? All you’ve got to do is treat them as you’d like to be treated. No games. the worst being, “if you don’t ask me I won’t tell you”. Because in job hunting you often don’t know what you don’t know when dealing with different companies. Just tell people what they need to know to make a good decision. So they can do a good risk assessment. As a manager I’d much prefer you walk away, then join to find out “the real picture” is off your mark, or ours.

    Let me share something that impressed me with a company I ended up joining. They flew me & my wife cross country no strings attached. This was for an interview. That’s often done if a company wants to make an offer, but this was before that point. That was a nice touch. For me it was all about what I’d be doing. For my wife it was all about what I’d be paid to do it, but her deal breaker was benefits. And she was the business agent in our marriage. I won’t say I didn’t care about benefits, but I was admittedly oblivious about the nuts & bolts, and my wife was an SME. She could go toe to toe with any HR benefits person any time, & has in more than one occasion shown she knew more than they did. Rather than having a “ask this” “ask that” ‘did you ask about…” conversation with my wife which usually transpired. She asked if she could sit in on the HR interview. I asked the HR Manager. No problem. And she got to go straight to the source. this company was a hard ball player, but was pretty transparent. No BS. We appreciated this. I signed on. (benefits were very good)

    Oh & with this context per the original discussion point, When an applicant and/or spouse had concerns about benefits, I’d just connect them to my wife. Of course HR could give you the company’s guidelines & answer questions. But my wife could do that and add the feet-on-the-ground insights on how good/or not they were & how the system really worked, availability of health care providers etc.

    And if a spouse was in town, we’d take them to dinner (as my future boss & his wife did with me) and some times would have them TO dinner. It was called Southern Hospitality.

  7. This question of ‘how to interview’ relates directly to my early life and career – that of a professional singer. I had to sing, live and in-person with a live band (with musicians I’d never met) for auditions. No auto-tune, no filters on pictures or videos. They could tell right then and there if I could sing, knew my keys, my comfort level on stage and singing in front of others, communicating during the song with the musicians for cues, solos, the ending of the song, etc.

    If we had the right vibe and all agreed, I’d join the band. If not, “Thanks for your time and good luck”, and on to the next audition. Simple.

    Not walking the floor, interacting with the employees, trouble-shooting an issue or tossing around lingo to see if the candidate knows what’s what, is just a waste of everyone’s time.

    Yes, sometimes I’d send in a tape and get a call to audition live, most of the time it was an open call, you just showed up. Either way, I had a working interview, showed my stuff and I did quite well overall.

    I didn’t just hand them my song list and claim to know the words – I had to DO. THE. JOB.

    Live and in person is the only way to go.

  8. While the concept of a follow the leader walk along, show me the shop floor (especially in a manufacturing environment), and meeting prospective colleagues (avoid the dregs and louts) is all good, I’ve yet to get a prospective employer allow this, or do this, even when I asked.
    This is another deal breaker in my book, and I walk then and there.

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