Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Bridging the Candidate-Hiring Organization's Interviewing Experience

"We build too many walls, and not enough bridges" ~ Issac Newton

The hiring process and interview experience, when constructed with intention, discernment, and by respecting the dignity of all parties involved, can be a bridge --  a bridge that supports, upholds and carries your company’s values, mission and culture. Just as you as a hiring organization are forming your first impressions of candidates—candidates form their impressions about your organization by how they are treated. So: if your hiring team is non-responsive, disorganized or unprofessional, that "throws up" a wall -- one that is divisive, chaotic, and creates a problematic interview experience for your staff and for candidates. 

The Interview Experience, when done with thought, dignity and respect, bridges gracefully into a two-way street: where both parties are mutually discerning, mutually sizing each other up, in term of fit, alignment.

General guidelines for improving the candidate and the hiring teams' experience:

1. Application Process: The experience starts from the very beginning. The job profile that you share should be concise and to the point. And the application process should be simple and streamlined. It really should never be more complicated than: (a) here’s the link to upload your resume and (b) here’s the link to upload the cover letter. Complicated IT systems that are asking candidates to upload all of their data, field by field, take up a lot of time, and aren’t respectful of a candidate’s time. Keep it simple: just as you want the candidate to be flexible, nimble and quick, show them from the very start that you, as an organization, are also nimble and quick and don’t fetter candidates with cumbersome, lengthy uploads.

2. Communication. Always tell candidates what to expect in your process, each step of the way. Starting with the acknowledgement that confirms tat “we received your resume” email, keep them informed in a timely manner, at each touch-point in the process. The timeline we agree to as the hiring organization is a response within 24-48 hours per “touch point.” Over-communication is also fine – meaning: if there are delays on the hiring organization’s part, be proactive: let the candidate know that there are delays. Keep in touch. In short: communication to candidates lets them know that they are important to you. It sends the right message about the kind of future employer you would be.

Likewise: pay attention to how the candidate communicates with you. Does the candidate let days slide by without responding to a scheduling email? Does the candidate send a timely, prompt, non-generic thank you note/email after each interview? Actions speaks louder than words. A lack of communication on the candidate’s part can provide insight on how engaged and how organized/”on it” the candidate might be.

3. Promptly Send Professional Disengagement [i.e.: rejection notifications]. Do it as soon as you and your hiring team – at any touch-point within the candidate engagement process -- decide not to move forward with a candidate. Never, ever “ghost” a candidate – meaning: if you decide the candidate doesn’t fit, don’t go radio silent. The biggest pet peeve complaint – hands down – that I hear directly from candidates, that I see via LinkedIn posts from disgruntled candidates…is that recruiters/hiring team(s) just drop the candidate, with no explanation, and ignore the candidate’s repeated request(s) for an update on whether they are still considered an active candidate. It’s a professional courtesy and it protects the reputation of your organization to professionally disengage. Have template disengagement notifications developed ahead-of time, tailored to both legally and professionally let the candidate know where they stand (i.e.: is the door open to apply for future roles? Did they lose out because the competition was fierce and your organization is pursuing candidates whose skill sets better align? Etc.). Important: if the candidate is pretty far along in the process, especially for candidates who took time off from work to make it to your offices for the interview—it’s more respectful to handle the disengagement by phone, rather than via email/letter.

4. Candidate Prep. Your candidate shouldn’t go into the interview “cold.” I’ve developed a template Thought Starter document for candidates. The Thought Starter document helps to guide candidates in their research of the organization; and in turn – will help them to frame thoughtful, “going deeper” questions. While the Thought Starter document doesn’t “spoon feed” the candidate the precise types of questions to ask/anticipate – it helps to steer them to the right resources, to research the company and prep for the interview. And yet again, ‘actions speak louder than words’ – it’s clear that, if the candidate did not do their prep-homework (if they just asks generic questions) -- they wouldn’t have the curiosity, initiative and the inquisitive nature that’s needed to be a fit. Candidate prep on their end ultimately makes for a better candidate engagement experience.

As part of the prep process on the hiring organization's end: read and digest the candidate resume and materials before you interview. Know who you’re speaking with. If the very first time you're reviewing the resume is minutes before the candidate comes walking in the door, you’re short-changing the process. As an aside: have an agenda of who the candidate will be meeting, and each interviewer’s title, to share with the candidate before they step into your offices and/or are teed-up for a video conference. This only applies to candidates further along in the process – once they’ve already been screened and are moving through meeting more team members in the organization. An agenda like this enhances the candidate and hiring-team interviewing experience; and it’s especially interesting to see whether the candidate has done his/her pre-interview research homework, and knows anything about who the interviewer is.

5. Team Prep: Candidate Interview Packet. Your team shouldn’t go into the interview “cold.” They also shouldn’t be trying to frantically read the resume 5 minutes before they interview a candidate. The day or 2 before the interview, provide interviewers with a complete Candidate Interview Packet document. Ideally, this packet contains three (3) key elements: 1) candidate’s resume; 2) interview-screener notes (handled by HR and/or the recruiter, templated in format and content), and 3) work product samples that reflect the candidate’s actual work/capabilities. This packet is given to the hiring/interviewing team, and they need to read it beforehand. Why? This information helps the organization interviewers to “go deeper” with the candidate. The Candidate Interview Packet is “continuity of thought,” and avoids the candidate being asked the same questions, over and over and over again, by your interview team. Assign roles to the interviewers and map out who is going to ask what. For instance, the candidate screener notes contain information that gives the context and rationale behind each job transition, so that candidates aren’t asked repetitively about why they separated from employment from a prior employer. Just as we expect our candidates to be well-prepared, the interview team likewise needs to be well-prepared, and spend time reviewing the packet before the interview.
Here’s the rationale: Knowing the candidate will enhance the experience. Communicate this to the hiring team so that they can share relevant personal experiences and tailor the conversations to the candidate, rather than conducting a cookie-cutter interview.
An important question to ask the candidate at the end of any phone screen or interview is:
“Is there anything you didn’t get a chance to tell us today that you think we should know?”
Even if the candidate doesn’t get the job, this question is open-ended and lets the candidate share information that can help inform the go/no go decision.

6. Structure & personalize the interview process. Both the candidate and the hiring team want to know what the process is from start to finish and what each party can expect at each stage. This is handled by some companies by posting an interview flow chart on the website; another firms have mapped out the process on the interview room wall. The more transparent and organized you can be, the better the experience will be for everyone. Use a structured interview process - where each interview has a specific hiring team (usually top-down) and a specific purpose; has a clear objective; and each candidate consistently goes through the same set of interviews. Usually these are kept to a minimum: One to 3 rounds at maximum. Round 1 is led by the Hiring manager, and should dig into skills set and capabilities. Candidates progress to Round 2 only if they pass muster in Round 1. Round 2s are typically a broader cross-section of the team: other senior managers; peer level interviews are typical at this level. If at all possible, keep all interview rounds either 1:1 – or 2:1, at the biggest. Panel interviews (having 4 or more of your staff interviewing one candidate) are not ideal in terms of format. If that’s your organization’s structure and you do panel interviews to streamline the process, give the candidate a heads-up that this will be the process. Round 2s should be digging deeper in to both skills/capabilities as well as cultural fit.

Keeping the process tight and streamlined helps you make decisions quickly; avoids overlapping interview questions, and allows you to only have as many interviews as you need to come to a go/no go decision on a candidate [less is more. Having a candidate back for more than 3 interviews could send the message to the candidate that your organization is disorganized and indecisive.]

When possible, do Round 1-Round 3 interviews in-person, at your offices. If geography and time is a barrier, it’s a fall-back to do interviews via video chat or phone. Initial screeners (done by recruiters or HR) are fine to do by phone.

7. Non-Hiring Staff. Include your receptionist and/or interview coordinator as part of your interview team by soliciting their feedback. The receptionist is often the first greeter that the candidate meets, and can provide feedback about candidates, especially how they behave when they think no one is watching. For instance: was the candidate polite or impatient? Did they respond promptly and intelligently to emails to schedule the interviews?

8. Hospitality. Dedicate someone to greeting candidates; shepherding the process (e.g.: poking their head in the door if an interviewer is running long and/or running late) and making sure that the candidate and the hiring team get enough breaks. Snacks are a huge plus, as is a tour of the office. Having one point person for the day of interviews goes a long way in making the experience an engaging and warm one. If your hiring organization is planning on taking the candidate out for a meal, OR ordering-in a meal--find out ahead of time if the candidate has any food restrictions and/or preferences. It sends the right message that your firm cares about the candidate and their wellness. [Think: you wouldn’t want to bring a vegan-candidate to a steakhouse…].

9. Optional: Candidate Post Interview Survey. The candidate process experience is one that ideally should be continually refined and improved. A tool for this a post-interview survey, usually done 30-days post interview. If budget permits, it also sends the right message to reward a candidate for his or her time to complete the brief survey (e.g.: sending the candidate a gift card to a local coffee shop). While the post-interview survey is more of a “nice to have” vs. a must have--here are some suggestions for questions to ask, geared to improve the overall experience:
The How-To Approach. Thirty days after a candidate exits your process, see if they are open to debriefing, and sharing their valuable insight into your hiring process. A candidate in the running for a position OR who was hired won't give you honest feedback (so don’t go there!); and the thinking is that thirty days is long enough for rejected candidates to give you feedback without anger. Keep it simple – limit to 3-5 questions:
1.     How was their experience overall - what was helpful and what was not helpful?
2.     Did the team do a good job interviewing them?
3.     Did your team take the time to find out who they are and what their strengths and weaknesses are?
4.     Would they recommend your company to a colleague or friend? Why or why not?
5.     Would they apply again if another appropriate job came up?

For the candidate’s perspective -- see LinkedIn Article: 16 Tips for Improving Your Candidate Experience. The LINK is https://business.linkedin.com/talent-solutions/blog/2014/11/16-tips-for-improving-your-candidate-experience-10-is-a-must

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