Over the years, I have participated in more than 500 interviews. As a candidate, as a peer, as a hiring manager, as a moderator on panels and even that one time where I interviewed twice in one day because they mixed us up. I once interviewed over 20 candidates in one week.
Did I mention I once got interview by a CEO’s dog? Yeah, that happened.
Here is what I have learned and use as a hiring manager.
No two interviews were ever the same. You would think with that many there would be some deju vu or repeats. But, no, I felt every one of them was run differently, had different patterns and workflows, or some oddity to it. (Again, who has their dog interview the candidate? Am I missing something here?)
And not every interview should be run the same. As we will get to below, you should match the interview process to the day-to-day activities for that role.
It Really Matters Who You Know
This can be a referral from within, a shared coworker from the past, or a mentor or coach reaching out for them. I always find these to be a mixed bag, and learned to ask clarifying questions:
- How well do you know them?
- What is their strongest quality?
Not all referrals are the same, and these questions (and more) can help weight them.
And it’s the way they refer you — or you refer them — that matters. Be it email, text or phone call, and even the words they use, it can sink or buoy the introduction. Getting a referral is nuanced, and there is an art to it. (I feel a whole other post coming just on referrals.)
Time of Day Matters Greatly
I have found the worst time to interview someone is between 2–5 PM. Can be their time or your time, but either way, those conversations often end up being dull and uninspiring. It’s the doldrums of the day.
Best time tends to be 9–11 AM, and after work. Why after work? Because if they are still with a company, they often feel more at ease not talking ‘on the clock’, so to speak. They can also be distracted by having to step away to take the call.
A Conversation Only about Hard Skills Is a Red Flag 🚩
If your interviewers are only throwing out questions about your technical skillset and not interested in learning more about your soft skills (problem-solving, collaboration, communication), run. You are not being hired to join a team so much as punch out tickets.
Goes both ways: if you are only asking questions about technical skills and not sussing out how they work with others, you need to look at how you manage your team. Your interview questions should match how you manage your team so as to be direct reflection of what they are applying to, and what you are hiring for.
A Good Interviewer Is Incredibly Rare
When was the last time you were actively coached on how to interview well? When was the last time you read an article on best practices in interviewing? Or, asked a candidate to give you feedback on the interview and process? Likely never. And it shows to candidates quite easily.
I still remember those epic interviewers. I felt seen, valued, and inspired, even if I didn’t get the offer.
You take the time to grow in your role and career, I strongly suggest taking the time to also grow in being an interviewer. Your company may have resources, or even reimburse you for coursework. A leadership coach or career coach is another goods resource for this. The return on investment is massive in that you will hire better, and have lower turnover.
Hiring for “Culture Fit” Can Be Deeply Problematic
While it’s essential to have a cohesive and positive workplace culture, there are potential problems associated with over-indexing on culture fit. Beyond the legal risks—it may be viewed as discriminatory—you tend to drift into homogeneity, groupthink, develop a resistance to change, and miss out on bringing in fresh ideas and perspectives.
- Organizational culture refers to the collective beliefs, behaviors, customs, and social norms that define how things are done within a company.
- Company values are a set of guiding principles and beliefs that define what the organization stands for and what it considers important.
Hire more for values than culture (there’s a balance here!) Integrity, customer-centricity, creativity, curiosity, trust, these are guiding principles. Your company should have their values written down, and you should have interview questions that line up with them.
Phone vs Zoom vs In-Person Is Wildly Different
This is pretty obvious, but what I want to point out is that I found interviews to go much better when you can match it to how they will be working with you, and with customers (internal as well as external). Meaning, if this role is for Sales and they will be spending a bulk of their time on email and the phone with customers, consider that the bulk of their interview be over email and the phone. You will get a better read on them than just in-person.
When you can match the interview process to their day-to-day, both sides get a glimpse into how each side works and presents. And you should be seeing them in their prime.
You can’t interview over email! That’s odd. Think again. You can interview over fax and semophore, if it made sense to the role. I once interviewed over HipChat (predecessor to Slack and Teams.)
Panel Interviews Are Not for Every Role and Organization
I once worked at a startup that though they would save time by only doing panel interviews. Every candidate spoke to a recruiter, then a panel, then the hiring manager. They thought they were saving time and going fast, but it was a logistical nightmare, and really wore out the teams.
And to the above, not every role works that way. In some cases such as academia, a panel interview makes more sense as they tend to hold similar meetings in their day-to-day. For an executive assistant? It doesn’t fit their day-to-day.
How to Conduct a Virtual Panel Interview
You got asked to lead an online panel interview. Now what?!
Bonus Round: The No-Interview Process
Ready for this? Try the no-interview process where you do one interview and ask them to come on for a week (or a few days) as a paid contractor. (Okay, “no-interview” is a bit of a misnomer, but I’m going for dramatic here.)
This works great for the type of candidate that has a strong and proven background, plus a strong referral, and did a great initial interview. Bring them on for a week to sit in on meetings, have lunch with coworkers, do work on projects, collaborate on a problem.
Granted, this is difficult for those candidates still employed, but with so many people out of work at time of writing, this could be a great option for some candidates.
I’ve done this a number of times over the years, and it worked out well. I remember one candidate was a shining star on paper and had a strong referral, but then broke out the casual racism at lunch. Adios, dude! Another was not as great in the interview, but on paper had some amazing experience. The whole office loved her energy that week, and we made an offer before the week was up. (I still feel she would have never interviewed well in the traditional sense, so glad we we did this with her.)
A good hiring process is not just a means of filling vacant positions but a strategic function that can have a profound impact on an organization’s overall success, from productivity and innovation to financial performance and brand reputation. It’s an investment in the future of the company and its ability to compete effectively in the marketplace. It’s how you show value to existing employees and teams in that you are taking the time to hire people who will have shared values, and continue to foster a safe space for diversity and inclusion.
Or, look at it like this: it is often better to leave a position empty than fill it with the wrong employee. Your hiring process matters greatly. You can lose more than that role as a ill-hired role can cause others to leave.