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Putting Yourself in Their Shoes

Being someone who’s not only been behind the desk interviewing AND have interviewed for years for those jobs before going solo, it got me thinking to all the ways that interviewers can really miss out on great candidates by considering the process one-sided – i.e., they think the candidate is there to impress them, but not vice versa.

So, so wrong.

Most businesses are there to sell a product or service, right?  Most people know other people, right?  So when you are a hiring manager, on an interview team, or recruiting, you are selling your company – whether you like it or not.  Your behavior matters.  And remember – everyone is a customer in one way or another.  We all know how word of mouth works, and you never know by looking at someone who they know, or how you may run into them next.

(That’s why you never give someone the finger in traffic or curse at them in a parking lot for parking like an idiot – as I like to remind folks, what if you walked into work and that person was your new boss, or your doctor, or anyone else for that matter who you’re hoping to establish an important relationship with. Yikes, right?)

Here are a few reminders hiring teams need to start taking to heart...

  • You want them to arrive on time?   Be on time yourself.

  • You want them to be prepared?   Make sure you’ve reviewed their resume and know what you’re going to ask well before they arrive.  Don’t ask them to summarize their job history if it’s right in front of you – ask questions that are unanswered, but don’t waste 10-15 minutes of valuable time because you want them to verbalize what they already spent time writing for you.

  • Make sure they are comfortable. And not just asking them if they want a glass of water or pointing out where the restroom is.  Ensure the interview area is conducive to them being at ease. Why?  They’re going to be a lot less nervous, and a lot more genuine if they’re able to be themselves.

  • Show them around, for goodness sake!  I can’t say how many zillions of times I’ve been taken straight from the front desk to the interview room, and never seen the work environment we’re discussing me to possibly be in!  You don’t need to introduce me to everyone, but you  should give me a peek into what things look like.  Surprises are bad – on both ends.

  • It is perfectly okay – and usually better – to be informal! And nice!  I don’t mean unprofessional, I mean genuine. Talk to them as if you were working together, whatever that style may be.  Allow them to know you, so they can make an informed decision as to if they think your personalities mesh. It’s okay to have a sense of humor, to not be all buttoned up. Let everyone be on the same page from the beginning and better hires will be made, I promise. 

Along with giving the candidates great service, you’ve also got to ask them questions and talk to them in a way that truly gives them an idea of what the actual job looks like, and what it will be like to work with you.  Furthermore, you need to make sure your questions are ones that a) are relevant, b) don’t set them up for textbook answers, and c) you know the answers to.

Some food for thought in this regard...

  • Ask candidates situational/behavioral questions relevant to doing the job – not general questions that can take the candidate all over the map and rarely give you a preview of them as your next employee.    Don’t ask things like “how do you handle stress” or “what motivates you”.  How do I handle stress?  I eat too much.  I listen to old records.  I go for a bike ride.  I complain to my friends. Does that help you now know if I’m qualified?   Don't ask what motivates me.  My truth? Being around people that are awesome.  Paying my bills.  Work that doesn’t suck.  Does that help you make your decision to hire me?  Probably not – because no one will actually answer your questions a) truthfully, and b) relevant to the job.  

  • Give context as to why you are asking the question.   Make sure they understand why you want to know the answer – i.e., “It’s really important to us that the person understand what our product is all about.  In brief, tell me what our product does and why it’s so cool.” This helps them understand the role better and allows them to ask better questions themselves. (By the way – I ask this question obsessively when I talk to applicants. It’s not just to find out ‘did they do their homework’.  As a recruiter, I want to understand how someone can research and then disseminate it to make it understandable to an audience that may not be like them – i.e., how well do they communicate?  And yes, did they even know what job they were applying for.).

  • Keep an eye on the time and manage it accordingly.   There are few things more uncomfortable than knowing your interview is running late and you are going to have to go back to your other job late, or just as awkwardly, let them know you have to leave.  Make sure you prep your interview so that they know how long they get to answer questions, and give yourself time to ask them follow-up questions, as well as make sure they have time to ask their own questions.

  • Have the courtesy to walk them all the way to the door/elevator.   Do not send them off in the general direction of the exit.  I know I never pay attention to where I’m going when I’m following my interviewer to the conference room, and have gotten lost trying to leave a building more than once.  It’s just plain rude to not take those extra 30 seconds, and tells them your time is more important than theirs.

  • Tell them when you’ll be following up – then keep your word.   Don’t blow smoke, people.  If you don’t find out if they’re a yes or no by that date, be honest and give them a status update.  If they’re not the one, be honest – they might be saying “no” to another job because they think they need to wait for you.  

  • Don’t play phone tag just so you can reject them verbally while they sit there uncomfortably.   I’m always amazed at how many people insist they decline someone verbally.  Me, I’d rather get an email. We’re often not clear enough when getting rejected how to ask for feedback.  Which reminds me...

  • If you decline to move forward a candidate, and they follow up to ask why, don’t give them a BS answer.   I’m not saying you have to say the panel thought he/ she was a jerk, but if you selected someone internally, or with more industry or technical experience, or even if it was just a matter of them not being a strong enough cultural fit – tell them.  There is an art to letting someone down gracefully – try to be that artist.  They will 9 times out of 10 be extremely grateful that someone was actually (finally) honest. I've even had some rejected candidates hire me as a career coach because they appreciated my honesty!

This is what we call Candidate Experience.  And who are candidates?  Past, current, or future CUSTOMERS.  Or people who know ’em.  

It’s the golden rule – karma – whatever you want to call it. It’s good business.


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