Are Your Interviewers Good Enough?

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When you interview people for a job you are asked to make a judgment call on whether the people you interview are good enough and suitable for your company, but what makes you think you are good enough to do the interview and represent your company? Are you suitably trained to conduct a proper interview and make that decision yourself? I suspect not.

The vast majority of hiring managers whether they work in HR or not have never been trained how to interview people; the psychology, the questions to ask, what not to ask, how to decide who is good enough or what good enough looks like.  Many will have the information needed to sell the company and the job to each candidate, but fail disastrously by simply asking the wrong questions, focusing on the wrong competencies in a person’s background appropriate to the role, not listening to the answers given and not exploring each answer or further.

I know some companies train and certify every manager before they are able to open a Requisition, before they are able to hold an interview.  Why don’t more do it?

What is often forgotten in the recruitment process is the candidate.  There are plenty of articles and blogs written about how poor the candidate experience is in the majority of companies, yet little attention is given to the quality of interviews.

Do you realise you could be missing out on very good talent for your organisation because your interview processes or the people doing the interviewing is substandard, boring and in some cases illegal.

In an interview a good candidate will be interviewing you and your company. Or they would be if given the chance to.  They too have to make a very important choice.  To a greater extent the decision the candidate has to make is far more important and crucial than the decision you have to make.  If they get the decision wrong it could screw up their life; if you get it wrong you rectify and move on.   Candidates therefore must be given the opportunity to represent themselves and as most interviews follow a typical Q&A format the right questions need to be asked to elicit the appropriate answers or at least stimulate the appropriate level of discussion.

I will give you an example from recent personal experience.  I was being interviewed for Director, Global Recruitment by an HRD.  The role was very senior and of a strategic leadership nature, yet a ridiculous amout of time was spent going into detail on a project I worked on in early 2008, that was purely transactional and not at all relevant to the role I was being interviewed for.

Where were the questions about the ATS they are about to acquire and deploy, my thoughts related to the announcements from LinkedIn made just that week, to the use of social media, candidate experience, employer brand, the impact of the AWR or many others more relevant to the most senior resourcing role in the organisation.  I think you get the point.

This is not a rant nor is it a specific observation on that one incident – there have been others in the last 7 weeks – this post is purely an observation about the lack of attention and lack of priority given to one of the most important jobs/functions in a company; that of an interviewer.

So before you judge a candidate be sure you judge your interviewers’ ability,  otherwise you will be failing your candidates and losing out on the good people you set out to acquire.

How many companies train and certify their managers before they let them near an interview room?

Do you?

  1. Couldn’t agree more Gary!! I understand the challenge of getting all potential interviewers trained up (although this can be made easier by using CBT packages) however it is so important…Another way to improve the quality of interviews is for the Hiring Manager to interview jointly with the Recruitment Manager who will undoubtedly be able to provide more structure and enable the hiring manager to focus on the areas most relevant to the role. This always worked well although was clearly impossible to do every time. In my experience, many hiring managers feel uncomfortable doing interviews – why not ask for support from the recruitment consultant working on the vacancy? My colleague did this recently for a client and it really helped make the assessment process fairer for all candidates and enabled the decision maker to have consistent information to base his decision on.

    • Hi Sophie – thanks for taking the time to read and comment. I like the train of thought and in fact at one of my former employers no one was permitted to sit in on an interview unaccompanied unless they had been certified in a two day course. If a hiring manager needed to hire and therefore interview applicants before certified they could only do so if accompanied by a previously certified member of the Resourcing teams. It didn’t matter whether they were a newly hired manager, and promotion, a VP or a junior manager there were no exceptions. It worked very well and made sure that all interviewers were fully aware of their responsibilities both legal and procedural and how to structure an interview etc.

      I am not so sure that it would be appropriate for an agency sales person to sit in on an interview. It is not something I would permit. I cannot see any situation where this would be acceptable – but I am happy to be convinced by my HR colleagues.

    • Jacob Sten Madsen
    • November 22nd, 2011

    In 10+ years background in recruitment (agency, search&selelction and in-house/on-site) I have only once with my very first role with Angela Mortimer in London had or seen any kind of training/coaching.
    Quite shocking really and only through experience and own interest in the subject have I come to a reasonably advanced level. On the other hand

    I have been subject to the most appalling interviews and questions/approaches (perhaps that is what it takes, to have yourself seen how bad and unprofessional someone can be for you to ensure that no candidates have similar experiences!!!).

    It ought to be on top 5 priorities of any talent acquisition manager/leader to ensure that there is the correct and sufficient interview capability with anyone carrying out interviews, reality is that is very very far from the case.

    Don’t know if anyone else have had similar experiences but appear to me that far too many people in the talent acquisition, recruitment and HR business are appallingly ill equipped when coming to interaction with candidates.

    @Sophie’s comment; Only in companies where the HRD or senior talent manager has a true meaning and authority backed by senior management can you impose a ‘must apply’ methodology towards hiring managers. Too often HRD’s are not doing that (read; being to weak and playing to the tune of the business) meaning the entire interview experience and with that reputation of a company at risk.

    Heard at CERN webcast Friday last week about Pepsi Co. where apparently neither any recruiters nor hiring managers let loose on candidate interviews before a certain skill level or at least training in interviewing has been completed, – now that sounds to me like they have that part pretty well covered.

    • Thanks Jacob – you are quite right of course. I know PepsiCo is not alone in certifying/training their Recruiters and Hiring Managers but they are sadly in the minority

    • Claire
    • November 22nd, 2011

    A few weeks ago I had an interview for a large USA hotel group coming to the UK for an accounts role and the bloke I saw was far from prepared.

    He didn’t ask me the standard questions like :
    what do you know about us
    why did you apply for this job
    what makes you suitable
    tell me about your last role
    what are you good at
    how would your last job describe you

    He asked me NOTHING in fact he just went over my CV and talked about 1 item at each job – I think just so he understood what it was.

    The interview was not in their pre opening office as it was too small so we went to an M&S coffee shop where everyone next to us could hear what we were saying

    At the end of the interview I evern had to ask him if it was ok for ME to ask him some questions. What a joke as he was just trying to the end the interview as he had no idea what he was doing.

    Safe to say I didn’t get the job – what a waste of time that was!

    • Thanks Claire

      a good example of a bad experience. Knowing you are not unique doesn’t make it any better does it?

      Hopefully if those of us in HR or Resourcing leadership positions make enough noise about this issue it will slowly be addressed, however I expect it is yet another in a long line of resourcing and hiring Nirvana’s.

      It is sad and clear that the majority of hiring managers think they know how to recruit or interview because they were once an applicant and interviewed for the job they have. It’s as if that is all the qualification they think they need.

      The idea of training managers how to participate in the hiring process and how to interview is very simple, yet the reality of putting it into action is a big big project that not everyone will embrace. It can be done, every company can do it but it takes appetite at the top and time, lots of time.

    • Sinead Carville
    • November 22nd, 2011

    Great post and totally agree that more respect beds to be given to candidates. After ask they may be customers at some stage!
    Totally agree that interviewing skills are lacking for many line managers (it’s on my agenda for next year). But I would also argue that when interviewing someone for a role we are trying to predict potential performance in that role. Surely that in itself requires a range of skills for all interviewers in order to have the best chance of getting it right.

      • Sinead Carville
      • November 22nd, 2011

      Apologies for my typos ….silly auto correct!

  2. Hi Sinead

    I don’t get it. Do you really think it is possible, let alone fair for interviewers to predict the future performance of an applicant, in a role they have no experience or track record of in your company, during a one or two hour interview? The answer is no it isn’t.

    Surely the purpose of the interview is to assess whether the person is suitable for the job you have open at that moment in time – to try assess them for anything else is a big big stretch. How would you do that when the majority of hiring managers and HR departments are incapable of doing that for people already working for the company? I think it’s more than unrealistic to ask interviewers to use a crystal ball as part of the interview process. I don’t get it. What skills and attributes do you guys use to help as part of the assessment and how do you measure the results/scores objectively and consistently?

  3. Gary,

    Great post

    The reality is that many hiring managers see the interview process as:

    a) A screening process
    – when actually it’s actually also a marketing a sales process. It’s a two way street as you say

    b) A standard process

    Larger firms seem to have sanitised the hiring and interview process into a series of standardised systems, box’s and ticks

    – when in fact every time you hire the approach needs to be tailored to needs of that hire at that moment in time
    – and, indeed, not all candidates should be interviewed in the very same way. Their background, ability, where they are in the search process compared to competing organisation

    Certification and formalised training would help – but as you know, much of the above skills and subtleties come with experience. And also organisations giving people given the scope to use common sense and intuition – albeit it within a framework

    But I sense there will be an apetite for change as one “dodgy interview” can quickly undo the great work done by a firm’s marketing machine simply due to the power candidats will have via the word of mouth social tools at our disposal. This blog post being a classic example of the future!

  4. Sorry – one part of a sentence got wiped!

    Under point b) last paragraph should have read:

    – and, indeed, not all candidates should be interviewed in the very same way. Their background, ability, where they are in the search process compared to competing organisation makes every person unique and so the interview approach needs to be adapted for each person

    • Sinead Carville
    • November 23rd, 2011

    Hi Gary

    Thanks for the reply to my reply!

    I did not say predict future performance, I said predict future potential performance. Whilst we are striving to determine suitability of candidates for said roles, we ultimately are hoping that they will perform and behave in a certain way within these roles. And I agree this is a big ask and therefore anyone involved within the recruitment process requires in depth training and coaching in this area.

    The approach in my business is quite fragmented with selection methods for senior roles being quite robust whilst selection methods for customer facing roles can be unstructured. I will be looking to formalize the process next year for all business roles for the very reasons that you have set out above.

    Once again thanks for the post. It has really probed my thinking in this area.


  5. Hi Gary

    I want to say I really enjoyed your blog, but thats untrue – I enjoyed the insight, but the fact this is not uncommon, just makes it infuriating to say the least.

    I think there is an under lying belief that interviewing is easy. In some respects it may be, if you are in what I would call a ‘deselection’ mindset – Interviewing people with a viewpoint of deciding if someone’s not right for a specific job. However like you rightly say – what about the wider talent pool of an organisation? The underlying skills you don’t uncover because you’re too focused just on your own role?

    The other infuriating observation I’ve made when it comes to interviewing, is the lack of preparation – eg clearly having not even read the CV of the person they’re meeting. To not allow themselves time to prepare before meeting someone is offensive to the candidate, damages the brand of the organisation, and also presents the recruiting manager in a bad light.

    Ultimately, even if someone is not right for what you are looking for, you want to leave them wanting to work there, surely? Whenever I interview someone to work with me, I want them to go away thinking, “I didn’t get the job, but I really wish I had.” I can recall one of your earlier blogs where you spoke of a role you didn’t get, but wish you had – I’m sure the actions of the interviewer influenced that?

    I may not be the best interviewer in the world, and I am sure we could all recite examples of where we’ve got it wrong, but working to improve this can only increase our chances of recruiting successfully in the future.

    Sorry, rant over!

    • Jacob Sten Madsen
    • November 23rd, 2011

    @Sinead’s comments
    I worked in a global organisation where we had 1/3 of all hires 100% from internal applicants. On that basis for every single hire made, whether graduates or senior we were looking for the long term potential and whether the individuals had the 1. prerequisite skill/knowledge and background to be able to have long term potential. 2. had the right passion, attitude and engagement It was usually split into 30/70 (70 being the passion/engagement part) but I saw examples of it being 25/75!
    I suppose this is what Sinead is hinting at and I do not think any company in the world would not strive for such a mix nor disagree with it.
    Everything from paperclips to man on the moon comes from people with a passion and ability why the force of man is in the right place and circumstances of unbelieveable dimensions.

  6. I’m pretty sure there is a strong correlation between the decline in interviewing/assessment skills and the rise of the niche sector specific experience so many companies demand when recruiting externally.

    • Interesting point Mitch – what’s your further thinking on that?

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