The hiring process is broken; in fact, it is broken in far more areas than HR professionals realize. Focusing on training your managers to create better, more human, interview experiences is a critical starting point.
Our work has been centered around the supporting people in getting to that next level in their career, or preparing for their next role. It gives us a front row seat to the stressful and complicated hiring processes our clients must navigate, particularly the interviews themselves.
We polled professionals on LinkedIn™ in May 2022 to be as unbiased as possible and gathered data to write this article. We asked them whether they remember how they felt during their last interview. We received 863 votes of which 49% indicated they felt comfortable while the rest felt anxious, intimidated or interrogated.
You may be asking yourself whether candidates are supposed to feel comfortable during interviews to begin with, it’s an interview after all. Aren’t we supposed to see how they operate under “pressure” and who they really are when faced with “real world” scenarios?
The truth is that interviews are typically a very nerve wracking experience for most candidates, so they are operating out of fear and in a power dynamic that is heavily weighted against them. There is nothing real about that experience, and candidates feel it. We wanted to find out more about the candidate experience, and thus we asked…
We questioned whether interviewers could have done more to make candidates feel comfortable and found that only 55% did. Could interviewers have done more to make candidates feel more comfortable? Absolutely, every single time.
When we invite guests into our home, do we go out of our way to make them feel comfortable? Do we strive to create a positive and memorable experience so that they want to choose to come back in the future?
If we want to know who candidates really are, we need to make them feel as comfortable as we can. When they feel otherwise, they put their guard up, which causes them to answer what they think we want to hear rather than what they want to say or really know. Discomfort causes them to make more mistakes and think less clearly. We, as hiring managers or HR leaders, are not getting the best version of a candidate when they are in this state.
Let’s ask ourselves whether we and our managers do all of the following…
Let’s take the first one as an example: do we read their resumes ahead of time? We polled 683 professionals, and learned that 84% of them felt interviewers didn’t even read the resume ahead of the interview.
Then we wanted to know about timeliness.
It seems we leave a lot of candidates waiting on us. How come it’s not okay for candidates to be late but we can? When they are late it’s unprofessional; however, when we are late we are just busy.
Candidates have minimum expectations that employers take them and their time seriously. They encounter interviewers who never took a moment to read their resumes, but expect them to be completely familiar with their organization.
When these very first etiquette requirements from the employer side go unobserved, the candidate is bound to ask themselves what they can expect of the rest of the workplace experience.
We could demonstrate this with every question listed above, but you get the idea. In this current market, and with more human-centric business relationships taking precedence, it’s time that we stop with this double standard. And while HR professionals might check off the boxes in terms of welcoming prospective employees and providing a comfortable experience, we know that not all managers have been given the skills to do so.
From my client’s anecdotes and looking across organizations, it seems that Human Resource teams are inconsistent in training everyone involved with the interview process whether due to time/resource constraints, lack of executive buy-in, or a culture that simply accepts poor treatment of candidates. This poses a few risks: 1) the interview process becomes unnecessarily lengthy and ineffective, 2) those interviewing can potentially create unnecessary legal issues, and 3) you lose the candidates that might otherwise thrive in your environment.
Let’s keep in mind that anyone representing the company has the opportunity to create a negative image of the company. As HR people professionals, it is our responsibility to create a welcoming environment, and mitigate these risks. And candidates expect that HR teams are accountable for this as evidenced by this poll.
So do a quick mental assessment-has everyone involved in the interview process in your organization been trained? Or, are they interviewing to the best of their abilities? Or worse, are they interviewing based on the way they were interviewed in the past for good or bad?
Whether it is a job seekers market or not, it is our responsibility to ensure those who are invited in for an interview are treated both respectfully and fairly. We are the ones who put out the job posting, we are the ones who should be welcoming them. Furthermore, healthy organizations have leaders who strongly believe that culture is everything. And culture starts with that first meeting.
So how does a time-strapped HR leader ensure a positive experience? Here are some easy changes you can make that will contribute to your culture and get your managers thinking differently.
How many times have we attended interviews and the interviewer was late and had no idea who we were? How does that make us feel? Why did they choose us? Why are they asking us irrelevant questions while they read our resumes for the first time?
Ensure that your managers leave time on their calendar for preparation prior to the interview, or in larger orgs task talent leaders with prepping hiring managers in advance and checking in. If they are on the hiring committee, have upskilling conversations about the best practices for interviews so that they can learn, grow, and make better choices for who joins their team.
Sigh. Who is interviewing who? If you ask around, you will hear that candidates should have the opportunity to really get to know the employer. How does an interview where both people interview each other work?
Oh… that’s a conversation. Make it feel that way. Welcome them with a smile. Ask them how they are. Offer them a bottle of water, coffee or tea if you interview them in person. If you interview them online, let them know this would have been the experience if they met you in person.
Tell them that you don’t want to interview them but get to know them both personally and professionally, and mean it. The moment you signal “this is no longer a traditional interview” they put their guard down, relax, and become themselves again. Managers should be encouraged to come to the table as equals, sharing their experience of the organization and the role as well as getting information about the candidate's abilities and working style.
informal conversation about matters that are not important
Anyone who believes that finding common ground is irrelevant doesn’t understand how human relations work. You can talk about anything (as long as it’s legal) that enables you to get to know the candidate better. And you should.
Why? Because you are not wasting precious minutes that could have been spent drilling the candidate with questions. You are using precious minutes to understand who they are on a human level. Aren’t soft skills the new power skills anyway?
You can focus on their hard skills first; however, failing to make candidates feel comfortable will contribute to them failing or performing poorly with regards to their technical skills. And it will not provide you insight on their other relational skills. Is this the way they will typically feel at work? No. Create a similar environment.
Candidates should learn how to interview better, it is in their best interest to understand how. And I love working with them to help them feel more confident. Having said that, this doesn’t excuse employers from learning how to interview effectively.
Who wrote the job posting after all, and is interested in finding the ‘perfect’ candidate? If we want to find the ‘perfect’ candidate, which we know doesn’t exist, then we must provide them with a perfect interview environment that enables them to shine.
We must apply the same rules to interviewers as we do to candidates. Make eye contact (into the camera if not in person). Present a listening posture, leaning in. Help them learn how to soften their tone, and pause for questions so that it’s not an interrogation or intimidating experience. Invite them to understand and reflect on how they show up when they walk into the interview room or turn on Zoom.
And most importantly, make sure they have a framework so that they are comparing each candidate with scorecards.
Finally, train your managers to ask themselves if they are treating the candidates with humanity and respect, or just repeating bad interview habits or going through the motions because they have more “important” things to do.
We have mentored more than 300 professionals to land multiple interviews in a short time frame and convert each of them into job offers. Interestingly, they rejected job offers from employers who performed poorly during the interview process.
Seasoned professionals, the kind any organization is interested in, have many opportunities available. Culture is, and will continue to be, just as important as any other factor so make sure candidates experience the best version of you and your team.
It is in your organization’s best interest to ensure every candidate is provided with an interview environment in which they can perform to the best of their abilities. Help them feel comfortable and you will see both their personal and technical skills shine.
We are in a candidate-driven market; losing qualified talent will cause you to lose money. More than that, a little bit of the culture that you work so hard to build will be lost with each candidate that walks away with a poor experience.