Why most companies get at least half of their interview process wrong; and how to make it right

It may sound absurd to claim most companies get at least 50% of their interview process wrong, but please allow me to explain. My main premise is the idea that details matter more when great pressure is applied to a situation. Think of playing in the Boston Symphony. It is the peak of instrumental performance – the place where the pressure to perform is at its highest; the place where the greatest amount of detail is necessary in order to deliver maximum performance.

Most leaders understand the great pressure around identifying, attracting and hiring the right talent in today’s business climate. With that understanding, the recruitment detail on which I would like to focus is the nuanced definition of an interview process. I understand everyone has an idea of what an interview process is and have probably not given the definition much (if any) thought. Give it a try; how would you define interview process? What is THE central focus of an interview process? Exploring this nuance is necessary precisely because if you get the definition (central focus) wrong, you will then proceed to perform at a less than peak level, and with today’s (high pressure) climate around recruitment that could be a recipe for poor performance, or worse.

To perform well at something requires that you know (with great detail) what that something is. Here is an overly simplified anecdote. You are invited by your “competitive” friend to participate in a bike race, and of course you, being equally competitive, accept the challenge. On the day of the race you load up your bike and drive 75 miles to the race venue. Upon arrival you begin to unload your mountain bike. You then notice that everyone around you is unloading 10-speed bikes for what is to be (unexplained to you) an over the road race. How do you think you will perform in the race? It is not enough to say bike race. Elevated performance lies in the details and starts with definitional nuance.

Like the aforementioned bike race, the central focus of interviews must be defined with greater detail for maximum performance. With that backdrop the question again is; “What is the central focus of an interview process?” Here are the common (wrong) answers:

  1. Sales focused – Organizations and candidates selling their value propositions to each other.
  2. Academic or Scientific focused – a collection of tests and assessments aimed at finding the right data to determine the right candidate. As a company, Google and others believe this is the answer.
  3. Candidate Evaluation focused – Uses data as well as interview intuition to evaluate if a candidate is the right one for your organization.
  4. All of the above
  5. What else could it be?

If the wheels are spinning, please read on. To get to the answer it is important to give reasons why the wrong definitions do not work. So, let us begin there:

  1. Sales focused – this fails because this focus picks the candidate that displays the highest degree of salesmanship. The candidate that looks good, is affable, has a good sense of humor, is confident, is energetic, articulate, and may even smell good, etc. tends to win a sales focused process. What is often missed is candidates that consistently achieve results, exceed expectations, take responsibility, make things happen, solve complex problems, collaborate, coach, mentor, develop, lead. This candidate may not (likely would not) win a sales focused process. For many other reasons, this process produces a 50/50 win proposition at best.
  2. Academic or Scientific focused – this fails because non-desperate candidates will reject you. Would you want your candidacy for a job to be determined by the outcome of a series of tests? How about determined by an algorithm? Would you trust the tests or algorithms ability to illuminate a complete understanding of you and all your unique experiences? Probably not.
  3. Candidate Evaluation Focused – This is getting closer but will also be rejected by candidates. Companies that utilize this approach sound like this: We are going to test you, assess you, evaluate your competencies, learn about your ability to perform, etc. to determine (it is right here that this goes wrong) whether you are worthy to work for us. You may not use those words, but that is what it feels like to candidates. This focus is one-sided and does not allow a candidate equal opportunity to get to know you, which is why the best candidates likely will reject it. Great candidates will not leave something of value behind to step into the unknown – would you?
  4. All of the above – Cannot be, as the combination of the 3 only constitute half of a fully effective process.
  5. Here is the answer: It is Relationship Focused – evaluating and forming the employee/employer relationship. This is intrinsically what candidates and companies seek whether they know it or not. It is what you would seek if you were exploring other opportunities. It is what you seek when hiring on your team. It is how we are wired as humans. Of course, the relationship formation process must include all the relevant practical experiences and expectations without which the process would also fail – so evaluate away, but make sure to let the candidate do the same. 

Now, if the process is centrally about relationships, then it demands mutuality because that is how relationships form. Both parties getting to know each other through the accumulated work experiences and situations each have navigated. This is vital as it allows both parties to clearly and honestly see into what they would be getting.

When both parties see the other clearly/honestly, better decision-making will happen. Assessments, tests and evaluations are be helpful, especially if used mutually, but only in subordination or support of the idea of building relationship. With your definition now properly formed, order all your recruiting activities to this (relationship focused) end and you will build a winning formula for decades to come.

Understanding how to utilize limited interview time to accommodate this mutual process is what we are experts at executing. Our process of executing this relationship focused model has been resolutely validated; our 97% retention rate has dramatically outperformed the 60%, or less, produced by the rest of the retained search industry.  

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HansenBack is an Executive Recruiting firm based in Minneapolis. We have a 30+ year track record of helping our Clients hire and retain excellent executive leaders.

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