Okay, Mr. Smarty-pants. You criticize how HR and hiring managers treat applicants. You say we don’t respect job candidates. You seem to think we’re here to baby them and show them a good time. Let me remind you that we have to deal with hundreds or even thousands of applicants for every job. (No matter what anybody says, we get too many applications, not too few!) You don’t like what you refer to as the impersonal nature of it all. So go ahead — tell us the “right” way to handle them. I can’t wait.
It’s hard enough to identify top job candidates and entice them into an interview, and even harder to hire them. The last thing you want to do is alienate a potential hire by subjecting them to an unpleasant, disrespectful interviewing process.
In many years as a headhunter, I’ve seen companies conduct interviews that drive away the best people. I’ve also seen companies conduct interviews that leave candidates panting for a job offer. If you want your company to be the kind that candidates are eager to join, here are a few DOs and DON’Ts about how to treat people you hope to hire.
1. DO give the candidate an agenda.
Job applicants come to conduct business and to derive some benefit. Respect job candidates as you would a prospective customer meeting you for the first time. Before any interview, provide an agenda that will inform, please and stimulate them. More than a job description, this demonstrates you know what you’re doing and what they must do to get a job offer. It tells the candidate this is a business call, not an awkward interrogation or, worse, a waste of time. If you can’t produce a solid agenda, you have no business conducting a job interview. (This is why 5 or 7 or 9 interviews are never justified, no matter how you rationalize them. It reveals you don’t know what you’re doing.)
2. DON’T set a negative tone.
As the host, you set the tone. A first interview is not a place for personnel jockeys to screen applicants whose work they don’t understand. (If you haven’t already screened the person, why are you even meeting them?) The candidate comes to meet the manager they will be working with, and to get an impression of your company’s acumen. A respectful meeting with a job candidate should be a challenging but appropriate engagement of two professionals. It’s not the time for filling out forms, and it’s not for asking presumptuous questions. (For example, “Why are you interested in this job?” — when you recruited them.) Set a positive tone: talk shop.
3. DO state your business clearly.
You’re the host. You asked for this meeting. So take the lead. What does your company do? What are the deliverables for this job, at 3, 6, 12, 18 and 24 months? What are the immediate challenges? The problems you’re facing? What’s your interest in the candidate? Then invite the candidate to show how they’d apply their skills and abilities to the work. The tone, substance and outcome of an interview are largely determined by the subject of the interview. (That’s why a written agenda is crucial.) Make sure everyone on your end is clear about what the interview is for. “Getting a feel for the candidate” is a poor excuse for taking up anyone’s time.
4. DON’T be presumptuous.
Don’t ask candidates to open their kimonos 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 their life: Who are your parents? How were you raised? Why are you attracted to me? How much do you earn? 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. Show some respect. For example, tell them the salary range in advance. They’ll tell you whether it’s enough.
5. DO put your best foot forward.
A personnel jockey or an A.I. or video bot is not your best introduction. It tells the applicant you think their time is less valuable than yours. Never allow anyone but the hiring manager to make first contact with the candidate. (Do job applicants send proxies to meet you?) Then introduce candidates to their peers immediately — the people they will be working with. (Remember what HR loves to proclaim: People are our most important asset! So show off your people!) Your goal is to assess the candidate, but it is also to establish your team’s credibility. You cannot recruit effectively if you cannot impress the candidate at the first step.
6. DON’T schedule irrelevant interviews.
Your interviewers should be of a such caliber that they could win this job if they were interviewing for it. 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 3 interviews, why would you let a junior team member whose acumen isn’t a match question the candidate? Why let a clerk quiz a programmer about their long-term career goals? If the manager is not technically savvy enough, then find someone who is and include that person in the meeting.
7. DO cut to the chase.
If you want to show a candidate true professional respect, don’t interview them. Instead, roll up your sleeves and have a working meeting. Your discussion shouldn’t be about the candidate or where they see themselves in 5 years. A manager’s first contact with a candidate should be to lay out a live problem and to present the work as concretely as possible because that’s the first deal-breaker. If there’s not a match, you’ll both know right away. This discussion opens up all the other hidden doors to a candidate’s personality, character, work ethic, experience and background — and to the manager’s too.
8. DON’T conduct a psychological strip search.
Having recruited and enticed a desirable job candidate to come visit, many companies administer a battery of personality and aptitude tests — before the candidate gets to see the manager who’s supposedly interested in meeting them. Many qualified candidates simply walk away when confronted with this kind of intrusive questioning. Always give candidates solid reasons to consent to detailed assessments — like a chance to confirm there is serious mutual interest in working together before investing more of their valuable time.
9. DO show respect to all candidates.
Interviewers are not excused from professional courtesies and responsibilities. No matter what HR says, recruiting and interviewing are not an administrative process, and job applicants are not supplicants to abuse — even when you must reject them. Recruiting and interviewing are a highly social art: the art of tactful influence. You’re guiding professionals into your fold. You want them to fall in love with you. Do it gently. Do it responsibly. Make sure when they depart they’ll say good things about you to their professional community because lack of respect on your part will damage further attempts to recruit from that community.
A few more ways to respect job candidates
I’m repeating some of the same ideas, but I like this short list for stimulating discussion. Share it with your team and let them fill in the details.
- Don’t make the candidate wait.
- Don’t send a clerk to meet a professional.
- Don’t run candidates through a gauntlet of lackeys.
- Do be glad to see the candidate.
- Do welcome the candidate as a valued guest.
- Do personally escort them into your office.
- Do thank the candidate for accepting your invitation and taking time to visit.
- Do stimulate the candidate’s professional interests and goals immediately.
- And do offer your candid, honest opinion of the prospects of working together each time you’re done talking with them.
It doesn’t take much to make job candidates feel your respect, if you just remember how much you need them.
Which rule is most important to you if you’re a job seeker? If you’re an employer? What rules would you add that I’ve missed? Which of these rules do most employers seem to follow, and which do they commonly disregard?