With so much emphasis placed on the stress and strife of the job seeker’s plight during the interview process, it can be easy to overlook what a trying experience it can be for those sitting ACROSS from the hot seat: the employers. They have a great deal invested into the interviewing process, and each unfruitful or misguided interview costs them time, money, and possibly a few gray hairs.
So what can employers do to ensure they have a poignant and impactful interview where they can accurately assess a candidate? Karen Alphonse wrote an execsearches.com article called “Interviewing: Making the Process Work” in which she gives several useful tips to answer this very question!
Interviewing: Making the Process Work
In a well-orchestrated search, interviews provide a unique opportunity to assess qualified professionals for a leadership role. However, many interviewers either misperceive the importance of these meetings, or they emphasize the formal aspects while de-emphasizing the informal and valuable exchanges occurring during the process as a whole. Here are a few thoughts about how to maximize this process and gain detailed information about your preferred candidates.
PRESENTING YOUR ORGANIZATION POSITIVELY
While setting up interviews, the focus typically tends to be on timing, scheduling and confidentiality. These are legitimate concerns and deserve attention. At the same time, do not forget that the interview is a valuable opportunity for you to present your organization in an enticing way. Great candidates have options. You need to make a conscious effort to give the candidate positive information about your organization, a sense of where the organization is headed and how you believe a strong leader will help reach professional goals for the organization.
To this end, it is a good idea to:
- Review materials about the organization on the Web;
- Obtain recent news articles featuring or mentioning your organization and know what they say;
- Know the market reputation of your organization, and know who your competitors are;
- Know what your most recent annual reports and 990 state or imply;
- Have clear ideas about the role you seek to fill, the compensation you are willing to offer and your parameters for negotiation.
Prior to meeting candidates, you should have an informal meeting, with all team members involved in the interview process, where you discuss how to present organizational strengths and challenges — including not-so-good information about past history — and how to deal with difficult questions. This time allows you to air out any thorny issues and gives those involved an opportunity to discuss a unified response to potentially divisive questions. You will also discuss strengths and plans for presenting the organization’s areas of competence to pique candidates’ interest and to underscore your mission. You want to keep candidates’ levels of interest high. You want to present your organization in the best possible light — without disregarding obvious challenges.
You also want to revisit the areas interviewers should avoid during direct questioning. Questions targeting a candidate’s race, ethnicity, religious affiliation or sexual orientation are always off limits. Similarly, you may want to avoid questions prompting political commentary or requiring a candidate to reveal party allegiance. Keep the questions generally focused on issues directly related to the open position. Any question that might be construed as irrelevant or borderline need not be asked. Also, keep discussions about money streamlined. Let those with the authority to comment on salary, benefits and perks lead the money discussion. Have basic compensation information available to all candidates.
In your planning, you should discuss how to set the candidate at ease including the details of whether or not to have coffee, tea, soft drinks and beverages available. If lunch will be served, determine who escorts the candidate and where they will dine. Keep in mind that lunch interviews often lapse into the kinds of informal discussions that give you valuable information about your candidate’s sense of humor, ability to relax and relate as well as table manners.
Many employers find it useful to draft an itinerary to guide the day’s meeting as well as to have sample question(s) and copies of resumes available for interviewers. This helps organize the meetings. It also helps, if you are reviewing multiple candidates, to keep questions consistent and on-track. Some organizations assess candidates, based primarily on the experiences listed on their resumes, prior to the in-person meetings. Such assessments help guide the questions so interviewers focus on each candidate’s particular strengths/challenges in addition to covering questions asked of all candidates.
ASSESSING YOUR BEST CANDIDATES USING ALL KINDS OF DATA
The interview really begins when your candidates arrives at your offices for meetings. From that moment, you receive data critical to your assessments. Evaluate carefully the candidate’s respect for time, ability to deal with subordinates and general demeanor from the first few moments he or she spends in the waiting room. You can also learn a lot from the questions he or she asks, his or her willingness to supply additional information and general level of energy.
ANALYZING THE FEEDBACK
By doing preliminary organization and research on the candidates, you will have a sense of candidates’ skills and who seems most viable for your position even prior to the interviews. You will also know which interview questions are most critical while ensuring consistently asking all candidates similar questions. And, by organizing beforehand, it is a lot easier to assess data after the interview. At least at the level of questions, you have in place an orderly way to assess your candidates through preliminary organization.
When you meet a candidate in person, you should test your resume impression against the one you see. Does he or she project self-confidence and the leadership ability you spotted on the resume? Are you convinced that he or she has strong team-building,
outreach or fundraising skills? What are his or her obvious strengths? About what would you like more information? Was that particular candidate articulate, poised and pleasant? Did interviewers enjoy their time with the candidate?
What is more difficult is assessing cultural “fit.” Oftentimes, the informal data plays a key role in this analysis. You need to figure out which candidate is best suited to your organization culture and goals. You need the gut responses and input from a wide variety of players at the organization – from interviewers to the receptionist to the administrative assistant to whom you assigned the process — as to their sense of how willing the candidate is to be a team player. You want to give all input reasonable weight. Neither disregard nor overemphasize any one impression until you have had the opportunity to assess the whole picture. Much of this assessment turns on minute details you observed during the course of the interviews.
The investment you make to ensure your interviews focus on key, relevant issues, and that your candidates all have even-handed treatment, is well worth your time . First, the interviews can confirm positive impressions you gathered about certain candidates during the course of the search. Second, the interview follow up gives new opportunity to explore questions you may not have exhausted during the in-person meetings. Third, you will extend your offer to the winning candidate with the confidence that comes from having conducted a process with integrity and thoroughness.