How To Boost Your Brand Through Better Interviewing

April 6, 2014 Lisa Knight

It’s a story heard more and more among the ranks of job seekers.

In a New York Times article, a video editor recalled being called back to one potential employer for nine separate interviews. The editor said he had been seen entering and leaving the company’s offices so often, a security guard thought he was a full-time employee.

“He couldn’t believe I was actually there for another interview,” the editor said. “I couldn’t either! But then I put on a happy face, went upstairs and waited for another round of questions.”

The New York Times article asks a very important question: Just how long should it take to interview for a job?

Industry to industry, organization to organization, the length of an interview process will vary widely. Across the board, however, there seems to be a trend towards more frequent, longer and multi-layered interviews.

Each year, Glassdoor–a social media site that allows employees to rank their employers and report on interview experiences–found that the 10 companies with the toughest interview practices spent an average of 34 days considering candidates for a job opening. Glassdoor has reported that the length of interviews at major U.S. employers has actually doubled since the 2008 recession hit.

Why so many interviews?

Opinions vary, but there is a growing sense that many organizations have simply become overly cautious about hiring. The ravages of the 2008 recession may be mostly behind us, but many organizations fear being unprepared for the next economic downtown. This has manifested in pressure on hiring managers, many of whom have lengthened their interview processes to ensure they find the “perfect” candidate.

While some organizations will rationalize more interviews as a sign of thoroughness, candidates view a protracted hiring process in a much more negative way. Top talent may turn down offers (when they are finally made), and promising candidates may simply drop out of the running if your interview process is not focused and purposeful.

Certain kinds of organizations tend to exhibit longer, more aimless interviewing at specific points in their evolution:

• Companies that are in an intense growth mode may produce a protracted interview process, often because they do not have the time or resources to develop standardized hiring policies.

• The same can be true for entrepreneurial companies that, despite having grown well beyond the start-up phase, are still using an intuitive, fly-by-the-seat-of-their-pants approach to hiring.

• Large, multinational organizations, where operating units are highly segregated, may be wedded to a wide array of hiring practices and policies and resist a standardized approach.

• Companies that hire infrequently may be challenged to even know what they are looking for in a great candidate.

Essential components of an efficient hiring process

Different organizations will require tailored approaches to hiring. However, it is useful to focus on a core of essential components that will ensure a comprehensive yet expedient screening and assessment of potential new hires.

• Identify your interviewing team: It’s important to decide at the launch of the search who is going to be involved in the interviews, guarding against peripheral participants and their desire to creep into the process. Be brave, bold, and decisive; be prepared to exclude hangers-on and to explain why their inclusion may hinder rather than help the process.  Make sure there are some alternate team members identified in case the chosen ones are not available. More importantly, make sure everyone on the hiring team is fully aware of the job requirements, the interviewing methodology, the role they will play, and their commitment to the process you’ve laid out.

• Initial screening and meeting: Not all organizations will retain a search firm to help find candidates but those that do should expect a thorough screening. Any candidate provided should be capable of meeting most job requirements. The best search firms use a two-stage approach: an initial phone interview, followed by a face-to-face meeting.

To get the most out of your search partner, rely on them to create a detailed position profile for the job opening, based on all the technical and soft-skill requirements and expect them to provide a robust search strategy so that you know where and how they are focusing their proactive recruitment efforts. At this stage, there are usually no formal personality/behavior or assessment tools – this will come later in the process.

• Planning for the interview stage: Interviews will likely commence within four to five weeks after initiation of the search. Plan your team’s availability accordingly. Schedule long-list and short-list interviews within a few days of each other to ensure you maintain momentum. In case the individuals on the hiring team are not natural interviewers, get the talent acquisition team or search partner to prepare a list of questions in advance. Schedule time to collect feedback from interviewers and, if possible, get them all in the same room and see if you can reach a consensus on the successful candidate.

• Role of the senior hiring manager: It’s important to get promising candidates in direct contact with the person responsible for the hiring. In the case of senior executives, this could be the CEO. For positions further down the chain of command, it could be a department or team head. The most important principle is to ensure that people with intimate knowledge of the job be involved in vetting (and selling) the top candidates. This meeting is a great opportunity to see if the candidate has the right ‘chemistry’ – a term that can include alignment with organizational values.

• Interview with a senior HR professional: While it might seem to contradict the creation of efficiencies in the hiring process, do not skip this step as some entrepreneurial organizations do. Contact with HR is important to ensure a potential hire meets all of the broader needs of the organization. Given the perspective that HR typically has, they will be able to offer information about the different business units, the people, and the levels of engagement. A meeting with an HR professional is also a great opportunity for candidates to ask questions they may not have felt comfortable asking the hiring manager.

• Peer or subordinate review meetings: It often makes sense to have other stakeholders in your organization meet with and assess a prospective candidate, particularly as you narrow the selection to one or two finalists. It also helps ease a new candidate into an organization by empowering others in the hiring process.

A word of caution: it’s at this stage that the interview process can veer out of control. Many employers known for their lengthy interview processes give in to the temptation to schedule numerous meetings with people who really have no business being involved. This is a sign of an organization that lacks confidence in its interview process, is trying to be inclusive at the cost of being effective, or is trying to manufacture certainty through additional but ultimately unnecessary meetings. And remember, while peer and subordinate perspectives clearly matter, be honest with them, the candidates, and yourself that they are not the decision makers.

• Stay in close contact: Show respect for candidates by opening the lines of communication early and staying connected with them regularly to let them know what’s going on (either directly or through your search partner). Nothing sours a company’s reputation like an endless, disrespectful hiring process. Constant contact will also ensure that you do not get surprised by compensation expectations at the very end of the process.

Some of the largest organizations are learning these lessons the hard way. Recently, Google renovated its hiring process after discovering that some of the steps in what was considered to be one of the most complex interview processes anywhere–including notorious brainteasers like “how would you weigh your own head?”–were not providing predictive information about future success. As a result, it dumped some steps and streamlined its process.

Everyone wants to be thorough when hiring. Especially at senior levels of an organization, it’s essential to know as much as possible about who you are hiring and do all you can to ensure the person being hired meshes well with your organization.

Advance work to standardize the process and determine exactly which stakeholders need to meet with prospective hires will pay dividends in two ways: better hires, and a better reputation among top talent as an employer of choice.

About the Author

Lisa Knight

Lisa Knight is a Managing Partner at Lee Hecht Harrison Knightsbridge. Lisa is a career executive search professional with 25+ years of experience in the industry and works primarily with clients in energy/utilities, retail/consumer, technology and professional services to help them advance their businesses through the acquisition of top talent.

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