Friday, October 02, 2009

Recruitment Strategy Development - Impressive Interviewing

You can imagine what a daunting task it is to write a blog on a topic that has generated enough books to pave the way from St. Louis to San Diego. However since this blog is another in the series of high level blogs on Recruitment Strategy Development, it must be done.

Is interviewing taken seriously in corporate America? If it were, hiring managers would be trained to be more effective in the interviewing process. As a matter of fact, trained and “certified” hiring managers from every company function would be involved. For instance, there would a certified interviewing manager in accounting, another in marketing, another in sales, etc.

If Executives truly understood the cost of hiring the wrong person for a job, they would require the same or greater due diligence on the selection of a new employee as they require on the selection of a new corporate acquisition. This due diligence would include a meaningful job description, a meaningful interviewing process, and meaningful due diligence on the selected candidate after the interview (the subject of my next blog).

Let’s examine the cost of hiring the wrong person. The first assumption is that they are in the position for 2 years before they make the grievous mistake that gets them fired (after being put on plan). Let’s say that person is earning $60,000 per year plus full benefits (that they take Full advantage of! – especially the medical/dental insurance). They are in a decision making position, possibly team leader. Let’s also say they have some client contact (customer service is full time client contact). Does this begin to sound like someone your company has hired?

What are your “hard costs” of this hire? Did you pay a recruiting fee, relocation, advertising for the position (Internet postings, newspaper, other), attend Career Fairs, etc? Did you need to pay their expenses to interview in person? Did you need to call in an employment attorney prior to letting them go? If not, how about your own corporate counsel’s time? Were you sued by the candidate for wrongful termination when they were let go?

Many companies will glance at their “hard costs” of letting someone go but never even consider their potentially catastrophic “soft costs”.


Let’s examine the “soft costs” of someone who has been in a position for 2 years but is only doing part of their job – and not doing that well. What is the cost of the work that is either not done – or done by another member of the team? What is the cost of their disruption to the team? What is the cost of the credibility of the manager for hiring someone like them? Have they driven away a customer (There are certain companies with whom I will not do business any longer because they have poor customer service.)? What is the cost of managing, coaching, correcting them? What was the cost of the time spent interviewing them? Certainly potential candidates have heard rumors about their lack of work ethic. Has their employment affected your brand as an employer? How has that affected recruitment? I could go on and on – and so could you.

On one occasional I conducted an interview training session with a small consulting firm. The attendees included the CEO and CFO. At the beginning of the session, I asked the previous questions. The table with the CEO and CFO estimated that the potential damage to the company could reach to $1 Million over 2 years. Imagine hiring just 4 people like that over a couple of years. Potentially that could make the difference between profit and loss – or even between staying in business or going out of business. That is how important interviewing and selection skills are.

How does this impact your recruitment strategy? Would it be wise for your Executive leadership to back an interviewing training budget for your hiring managers this year? Once an Executive understands the potential negative impact of a poor selection, they may be willing to put more money in the due diligence part of the process. More importantly, once they understand the positive impact of the perfect hire, they may be even more willing to fund interviewing improvements.

Let’s assume that your Human Resource department has used their sources to develop a couple of candidates for a mid-level position. What is your process to determine if they are truly qualified for the position? Have you created a Visio diagram of the process so it can be easily examined and explained to a new employee responsible for the interviewing process? To complicate things, it is important to remember that “Recruiting IS Sales”. In any sales process, time works against you. The good news and the bad news is that in the United States, people may choose to work for someone or not if they are selected. Therefore it is important to move the recruiting/interviewing process along. Like managers, few candidates have been trained in the interviewing process. Therefore, if they don’t hear from you, they simply assume there is no interest and psychologically move on. Now you have lost that initial enthusiasm for your company and position.

When you create an interviewing process, it is a good idea for someone to do a phone screen on the candidate to determine if their skills and personality are a close enough match for your company. Why go through the time and expense of a personal interview if they clearly do not fit? If potentially they are a fit, then you create an interviewing team that will interview the candidate and then meet to discuss the person and give the thumbs up or down on them.

In the process, the hiring manager should be responsible for determining who should interview the candidate(s). Once the interviewing team is established, the hiring manager should ask the team members to focus on the aspects of the interview that are their strengths. It is a good idea for everyone to ask some set of the same questions, just to create a benchmark.

Let’s take a few minutes to discuss the interview and the questions asked. In over 28 years of recruitment, my experience has shown that when you give a manager a list of questions without training them to listen to the response, they will focus on the next question instead of listening to the response of the candidate. That’s not good. Train them to be active listeners. The response of the candidate will give them far more material to probe and it will be more on target than any list of questions the managers can start with.

Technical skill interviews whether they are IT, medical, financial, accounting, etc. can be easier to measure than a person’s motivation or cultural fit. You develop a “Test” with either right or wrong answers. Then you grade the responses. Set a level the person must pass in order to receive an offer.

In 1992, I was asked by MCI to develop a recruiting strategy to transition an IT group from Virginia to Iowa. We needed to recruit a minimum of 120 IT professionals to Cedar Rapids in 12 months. One of the Senior Managers suggested that we create a set of technical questions that we ask each programmer or programmer/analyst. We had a senior technical professional create the interview so that the answer was either right or wrong. Therefore we could grade them on technical knowledge. No matter how much we liked someone (the gut); if they did not score at least a 76, we would not extend an offer to them. As a result of our strategy and interviews we were able to recruit 133 professionals to Cedar Rapids in 12 months – and the technical team was able to get two new releases out on time. We may have been able to attract that number of people without the “test”, but they may not have been able to get the releases out on time if their skills were not up to par.

That metric is much easier to measure than the one for cultural fit. Interviewing for cultural fit generally requires an in depth behavioral interview with good follow on questions. Again, the temptation is to focus on the next question without hearing the response of the candidate. See the next example for the reason to listen.

In 1997, I was asked to begin to train a junior Human Resource Rep on interviewing. We decided to use an Executive Administrative Assistant position that we were recruiting for as the first step. She went through the resumes and forced ranked all of the resumes by how she felt they stacked up against the requirement. When I went through the stack, I ranked them roughly the same. Then I asked her to invite the top 3 candidates in for an interview. When the candidates came in, she introduced them to me. I thanked them for coming for the interview, explained that I was training the Rep to interview; and that if we went through the entire interview without me ever asking a question, that’s fine. It just meant that I followed what they said. However if I should ask a quick question, it only meant that I was a little confused about something. The first two candidates probably did not even realize I was in the room. They were fine.

The third candidate proved that active listening is important. The interview was going fine until the Rep asked the candidate what weakness she had (not my preference of words but it was on the table). The candidate said that her weakness was that she liked people too much. Well that was the first time I had heard that weakness so it really caught my attention. She went on to say that it probably really was a strength because it made her more effective. I thought, “Hmm, she has been coached.” The Rep was going to let it go at that and began to ask the next question. I excused my interruption and asked if I could ask a question. The Rep said “Sure!” I looked at the candidate and said, “When you were asked about a weakness, you responded and turned it into a strength. That was fine and I know that technique of coaching. However what we really were looking for was what areas as an Executive Assistant could you improve?” She proceeded with, “Well another weakness is that I am…”and turned that into a strength. So I said, “Let’s move away from weakness. If you were to come to work here, what kind of training could my client offer you to improve your skills?” Her response? “I Am Not a WEAK Person!!!” Wow! Probably not weak but she doesn’t listen and certainly was not a match for that VP. I apologized profusely. While the questions from the Rep continued politely, the interview was over – and she didn’t realize it.

Humans are wonderful beings. Like it or not, we are also somewhat predictable. Generally if we have found a way to succeed, we continue to use that same behavior time and again. That is the basis of behavioral interviewing. We may stop if we were a total failure using that method once but push come to shove, we will usually revert back to the original behavior while under stress.

Develop situations in your company that this person may face and ask them how they responded to a similar situation in a previous company. Those answers will help you determine if they are a good fit. Ask them about previous successes and failures and what they learned from each. After you ask a few additional questions, circle back and create a situation in your company that is similar to one of their failures; and ask them how they would handle it.

Making notes during an interview is fine if it doesn’t distract you too much (Never, never make notes on a resume and then save it!! When? Never!). The interview should be a conversation where you learn about each other and determine if the position is a good mutual fit.

When the interview is done, the last person with the candidate should thank them for their time. Then ask them if they have any further questions or concerns. Do your best to be sincere and truthful. Remember, they may be a current or potential future customer. Once their questions are asked and answered, manage their expectations for the next steps of the process. If your company is very interested in them, be sure to let them know that also. Remember this is the needs analysis step of the sales process for both the candidate and the company.

Within 24 hours the team needs to discuss the candidate(s) and determine if there is further interest in them. If there is interest, it is best to begin the post interview due diligence – and possibly generate a contingent offer based on the outcome of the due diligence.

The RecruiterGuy summary: document your interview process. Train your managers to become effective interviewers. Develop interviewing teams for each open position. Develop “technical tests” that must be passed. Develop a good behavioral interview for the cultural and motivation parts of the interview. Make the initial hire/no hire decision after the interviewing team meeting. Extend a contingent offer if this is the right person. Begin the post interview due diligence – drug test, background investigation, reference check by the hiring manager, and psychological assessment, if required.

Post interview due diligence is my next blog in the Recruitment Strategy Development blog series.