Creating a great candidate experience is one the most critical components for success when hiring. The biggest challenge in doing so is that most hiring managers do not have formal training on how to interview candidates well, let alone create a good experience for candidates. At risk of burning some bridges, I’m going to pick on technical companies to illustrate my point and share advice on how to do better.
The career progression for most hiring managers in a technical space starts with going to college for a specific degree, e.g. chemistry or mechanical engineering. They leave school, join a company as an individual contributor and after a handful of successful projects, they become a manager. They adopt responsibility to oversee people and hire additional people. There is never a training program that teaches them how to interview applicants effectively (or manage for that matter; a topic for another day).
What happens next is other individual contributors are identified and brought in to interview, usually with the help of an internal HR team or recruiter. The technical hiring manager will use a list of scripted interview questions and give prompts like, “tell me about a time you were resilient.” Not only do scripted interviews feel impersonal, but they give the impression that the hiring manager is not actually interested in the individual applying (e.g. interviewing is just an item to check off a list). Discouraged by a lackluster interview process, candidates will look elsewhere for a company with more enthusiastic management.
The interview process is a complex dance of balancing both specific questions to determine if someone can do a job and fluid conversation to assess personality fit. Without training in the latter category, the result is an off balance conversation that does not reliably filter in the right people. To drive this home, imagine a first date where one person asks the other 100% of the questions and they are all focused on previous experience. There would never be a second date.
So, how can we do a better job of creating a great experience?
Start with defining the ideal process, from first touch point all the way through to onboarding a new hire. Speed of communication needs to be emphasized, as well as clarity of expectations for hiring managers. Who in the company is talking about culture and what the company does? When does that happen? Make sure each person’s role is defined well.
When bringing someone in for a meeting, incorporate a facility tour (when applicable) before settling down in a meeting room. Make sure to offer water or other refreshments. Many conversations start with the nebulous, “tell me about yourself.” Avoid that and ask a more specific question instead, e.g. “Tell me about why you chose to pursue X,” where X could be a degree or former company.
Additional questions to ask in an interview:
- How does this position fit into your vision of your life? (then ask followups on what someone wants long term personally and professionally)
- What quality in a manager would you be most afraid to lose and why? (then ask follow ups based on their response)
- Teach me, in as much detail as possible, about your [field]? Assume I don’t know anything about the field. (then ask clarifying questions)
During the meeting, give applicants room to ask their own questions early. If helpful, imagine you are talking to a friend’s parent at a barbecue; address their curiosity like it’s a conversation, not an interrogation.
As the meeting wraps up, there should be a process for what happens next. Who is following up with who, what the timeline is for feedback and next steps, and when the candidate should expect to hear more should all be made clear. If an applicant is not moving forward, sharing actionable feedback will be appreciated and stick out to the candidate (most companies don’t do this). If there is a next step, it needs to be scheduled within 72 hours of the most recent communication.
For more on this topic, reach out at email@example.com or on twitter at Quinn_Hanson22