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Getting Real When Interviewing

I’ve watched this certain scenario over and over and over. And over. And over...

  1. Manager interviews candidate.

  2. Manager has candidate she/he likes but has concerns about, and confides in recruiter.

  3. Manager doesn’t actually talk to candidate about concerns.

  4. Manager considers these concerns a “gut instinct” to say no, and declines the candidate without a reason.

  5. Manager continues search for the 'perfect' candidate.

So, so, SO many candidates are turned down because of situations like this that could have turned out differently for both parties, and thinking about the times when I’ve convinced managers to open up to candidates have become some of the most satisfying moments in my career.

Why? Because it’s not about changing anyone’s mind. It’s about creating a REAL dialogue between candidate and prospective employer.

Here’s the deal: interviews are so often scripted to the letter that they don’t allow for real interaction and for both parties to see truly how the person would be to work with. Now I’m definitely a believer in ensuring consistency, fairness, professionalism and ethical compliance, don’t worry. My concern is that many – both in recruiting and hiring team roles – don’t have the skills and/or confidence to communicate honestly and genuinely during interviews.

“Honesty” in this scenario is not about the technical details of the job that of course will (or darn well should) be communicated in the job posting. The truth I’m speaking of that is often missing is more along the lines of the unwritten promise that you will be fully transparent about who you are as a boss. The truth I’m speaking of is that willingness to let go of the traditional passive-aggressive interview stance where a candidate says something and you don’t react.

I’m NOT talking about negative behavior. I’m talking about bringing up something that makes you go “hmm” when they’re talking that doesn’t seem to mesh right, whether it be in the answers provided to your question itself or in the way they presented themselves. Unfortunately, too many managers don’t realize how incredibly important it is to be real in the interview  – and that’s where bad hiring decisions happen.

People get hired purely on technical qualifications without any real deep dive into who they are and how they interact in real life. Candidates get pelted with questions, and rarely get to just exhale and be themselves. And you know what? In turn, neither do managers! It’s a real disservice.

I’ve always found it very ironic that so many employers will spend so much time with candidates and then never be truly open with them about what’s working and what’s not working during the process, nor when they decline them after the interview do they give them the courtesy of telling them why they weren’t selected.

But the real tragedy is when a great candidate comes through and for any number of reasons, a question is raised that can derail them completely from the job without having a chance to respond to (or even be aware of!) the question or criticism. And why is this important? You get the extremely valuable opportunity to see your candidate in a very important way: how they take and respond to feedback.

It can feel hard to criticize someone when they’re not even your employee, but it can be SO worthwhile. When I see hiring managers take my suggestion to be open with someone about their concerns, and see the candidate given the chance to step up to the plate and show them who they really are? It can forge an amazing connection that can often change the entire direction the interview process was headed.

I’ve even had job offers come as a result of managers showing that extra level of respect to candidates by giving them the benefit of the doubt and (gently) challenging them to clarify, detail, or otherwise respond to your concerns. (And sometimes there were applicants – who we thought were great on paper – show their true colors of a not-so-appropriate kind when they’re faced with constructive criticism.)

Your hiring process needs to occasionally challenge the candidate to see how they react to pressure. The best way to do this is to share criticisms with the candidate so you can experience firsthand — through your own eyes and your own ears — how they respond.”

~ Jim Roddy in ERE

Roddy goes on to incorporate ensuring a positive candidate experience by focusing on 5 “emotional outcomes” hiring teams should keep in mind throughout the process:

  1. The candidate feels your company is professional.

  2. The candidate feels all their questions were answered.

  3. The candidate was happy to interview with you.

  4. The candidate is enthused about the job and your company.

  5. The candidate’s expectations were managed properly. (Candidates you want to advance in your interview process should feel that you are excited to have them as potential hires. Candidates you want to eliminate from your process should not mistakenly feel that they’ve been guaranteed another interview or a job.)

And along with the hiring manager perspective I’ve talked about here, we mustn’t forget the candidates’ feedback either that can come in along the way.

As a recruiter who really believes that relationship-building is essential to strong hiring, I wear my “coaching hat” a lot so that I can help them navigate the process, manage expectations about my role versus the hiring manager’s (I’m not the subject matter expert, and am not afraid to say “that’s a question for the hiring manager” – BSing the candidate gets you nowhere and furthers the Bad Recruiter Stereotype), and be an ear. So when a candidate tells me after an interview that the behaviors witnessed in an interview were less than professional? They get my attention as well, and I communicate tactfully to my hiring manager the feedback. Because just like candidates, hiring managers also deserve the opportunity to clarify, rectify or otherwise respond.

Recently I received a compliment from a candidate around a situation that involved feedback from both parties post-interview. After encouraging them both to communicate with each other, I was honestly kind of giddy just seeing good, thoughtful clarification and acknowledgment on both sides. I saw personal responsibility and the true, wonderful colors of both sides emerge – things I knew were there all along but not always clear to both until this additional dialogue occurred. Both seemed to exhale and leave the conversation with a higher level of regard for the possibility of working together.

The candidate's compliment was simple: “I can’t say I’ve ever had such an honest exchange after an interview.”

Sad that this is not the norm out there, but that’s why I do what I do.

Every little step can make a big impact, and (usually) when people know better, they do better.


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