Author: Nat Jones – Principal & Search Director, Cordia Resources
As I approach my 20th year in the Financial/Accounting Recruitment niche, it struck me recently that nothing in our business surprises me anymore. Whether working with the candidate (a job seeker) or the client (a hiring company), we see and manage people through the job search and hiring process more than you can imagine. It can be exhausting breaking the bad news, but helping people improve is all part of the deal. For instance, as a candidate, you may think you nailed that interview, but, you actually made a major misstep. As a client, you may think you’ve got that candidate wrapped up, but in reality YOU talked for the entire hour and the candidate is no longer excited. But beyond the daily grind of successful match-making, there’s never a lack of humor, head-scratching, or embarrassing tales from the core element of our business – PEOPLE!
In our service-natured, emotional roller-coaster of a business, a client interview is the main stage for progress or failure. As recruiting professionals, we see and hear things you wouldn’t believe. This is usually due to a lack of preparation (or execution) on either side of the candidate/client handshake. For those of us industry lifers, we are taught early on in this business to anticipate weakness through observation and evaluation. Anyone with interviewing skills has experienced candidates saying, doing (or wearing) ridiculous things during the short time they sit in front of you. Some of you may have been interviewed before and you watch that hiring manager make his or her mind up quickly, and cuts the interview short. It can get uncomfortable on both sides of the interview experience.
Over the years, I’ve read many well-written articles, insightful pieces and recommendation blogs focused on how candidates should prepare for and execute an interview – eat a big breakfast, know professional attire, be armed with great questions, eye contact, review the financials etc. It’s all good advice and has impacted many (I hope). But, after making hundreds of placements for fee-paying clients in the DC Metro area, I thought I’d hop across the table and try out the other chair. How can I use my experiences help prepare clients for the interview?
Presumably, the thought of starting the hiring process either terrifies or invigorates people. For the latter, it’s a chance to go find someone like them; maybe mentor and grow them – with a true hope that you can and will create a leader. For others, the hiring process can cause uneasiness, uncertainty, nervousness, or even annoyance that it’s a distraction from your work routine. As recruiters, we remain as dependable agents for various “pro-bono” offerings – just simply part of our professional imperative and ecosystem. So, along the way, we basically learn who isn’t a fit, and why, and we do our very best to pay it forward in every single candidate experience. With that in mind, I would like to offer up some suggestions (or tools) for the INTERVIEWERS. These tips are from my career-long interview experiences with corporate hiring managers and numerous agency clients. Hopefully these may enable you to actually look forward to interviews, stay more efficient, and perhaps make more hires!
- 1) Know Your Role (in the interview) – Are you THE hiring manager? Or, are you a potential peer? Or subordinate? Were you pulled in just to shake a hand? You should know your role and stick with it. Lean on your manager for guidance or advice on how to position yourself in the process. Combining different levels of staff in interviews without planning can be disruptive to making a hire.
- *If there are multiple people, or even a panel-style, it is imperative that everyone meets beforehand to discuss approach and goals.
- 2) Know the Candidate’s History – In order to be properly prepared it’s important to know where things stand with the interviewee, WHY interest exists in this person, and who the stakeholders are in the decision. For example:
- How far has this candidate gotten in your process?
- How many interviews has he/she had?
- Is he/she an internal referral?
- How do they stack up against others interviewed?
- Have you met with them before?
- 3) Review Resume BEFORE Walking In – How simple does that sound? With your head up (and not desperately scanning the resume to help form topics or questions), you create a better rapport and overall impression with a candidate. You’d be amazed at how much you can retain and learn with a 1-2 minute review of a resume, though I recommend at least 3-5 minutes. Don’t start from scratch unless you are a victim of your own schedule. And if you do, just admit it – the candidate will respect you more! (first impressions are key). Also, scan the resume for any conversation starters to help build up a little rapport for the start of the interview. Warming candidates up with rapport consistently creates comfort and a nice first impression.
- 4) Know the Basics – Your recruiting agency or internal HR partners should routinely supply you with information on topics that do not need to be discussed during the interview. Why? Because this should be covered in the beginning and not “leaned on” as last resorts for topics of conversation during the interview. When brought up re-actively, they can seem redundant to the candidate, create doubt, repetition, perceived disorganization and ruin an impression others worked hard to make. Any good recruiting process should avoid too much repetition. Examples include:
- Salary History and Requirements – Some numbers never hurt! Also, why introduce the elephant in the room, when it should already be present? You should know this either because you or someone in your company or organization vetted the candidate. If you know going in, you don’t need to ask (avoid the awkwardness).
- Tenure Explanations or Job History - (Common question: “So, why are you looking?”). Don’t judge a book by its cover. Nobody like short tenures, but make a judgement call after you have all of the facts. Cover this topic with your recruiter so you do not waste time on this during in the interview. Let your recruiter do the work by screening the candidate and help get you prepared and educated on who you’re meeting.
- Commute – This should never be discussed unless the candidate brings it up. Some candidates do not mind commuting farther than you – try and remember that. Resist judging a candidate because YOU think it’s too far – there may be more at play here (job stability, better hours etc).
- 5) Build Quick Rapport – Have you ever been nervous in an interview? Have you ever had a 4-hour interview, with eight people? There is nothing wrong with greeting a candidate, checking in, and providing initial comfort to the process – offering a glass of water, thanking them for coming in etc. Use any and all commonalities discovered (before you walk in!) from the resume for a quick conversation starter. Your busy schedule aside, that first impression can go either way and taking a breath in the beginning to be supportive will help.
- 6) Prepare Questions – Compile your own questions before you go in to produce an organized, efficient interview process. Think strategically and realize that having prepared questions gets you the best, most authentic results from candidates (positive or negative). Candidates respect when interviewers are organized and have a plan. Somewhere between “winging it” and 100% behavioral interviewing, there is a great balance when you create a plan before you walk in. Use the time wisely and it will yield a greater evaluation benefit.
- 7) Don’t “Talk to Talk” – A common sign of being unprepared and/or nervous is talking too much and hogging the conversation. Most interviewers who lack interview training forget – it’s not about them. Over the years I have had clients who do most, if not all, of the talking, and it’s hard for the candidate to promote their skills and interest, let alone even ask questions. Sometimes clients will even make their mind up based on the level of engagement of the candidate, while they’re doing most of the talking. There is nothing wrong with beginning the conversation with some company education, something about yourself and the open position, but keep it short and sweet and focus on your interview goals – ask targeted questions that allow you to check off your boxes as you finish up!
- 8) Don’t Vent! – You have an obligation in the interview to evaluate the talent in front of you, to ask and answer questions. This is not a time to share frustration, unhappiness, stress or fundamentally private information. We have all heard it before, and it’s never fun to accept that employees are using the interview as a venting session.
As recruiting professionals, we work tirelessly to provide our candidates with helpful, detailed and accurate information about the company, role, department, growth and beyond. We do our part, and always hope that it’s reciprocated from our clients. When we debrief with candidates, we can tell if clients were prepared, organized and engaged. Interviews have been a permanent fixture in the hiring process for a very long time, but you really wouldn’t be able to tell based on some of the results. Sometimes, it just doesn’t go well. There is a flow to the interview process and your company will benefit by landing those tough hires if everyone is prepared and on-board.
My personal focus (and one reason why I love what I do) has always been to support everyone I work with, celebrate the successful matches, and to let people down carefully. I want people to be better at whatever role they play in the process. But, just as you work hard to support both ends of the interview process, it’s the embarrassing or easy-to-forget situations that can help create improvement and growth. After all, what we are talking about is people selling themselves in front of people who have an open requisition. Ask any veteran recruiter, and they will tell you – we never leave anything to chance. This comes from years of receiving interview feedback and taking it back to the candidate process. I am thankful to all my past and current clients for their candid, straight-forward and at times, harsh feedback. Whether we wanted it or not, we are career coaches, situational educators, and involuntary therapists. We find ourselves routinely evaluating and assessing the dedication, techniques, strengths and holes in our candidate and client process.
Depending on current deadlines, webinars, or month-end close, I’d venture to guess that setting time aside to prepare for an interview typically just takes a back seat to everything else, but it is kind of part of your job. Sometimes, it probably feels as though you don’t get paid for it (interviewing people, that is). Maybe you aren’t an extrovert, or interested in trying to fake it, or promote a job - or your company culture. Maybe you just aren’t an invested or effective interviewer. If any of these scenarios ring true, you are not alone. Interviews can sneak up on you, and make you feel like someone shoved you onto the stage – without any lines. With that in mind, it is my hope that the above tips can and will help you gain greater benefit from interviewing candidates – and ultimately speed up your hiring goals!
Please reach out to Nat at firstname.lastname@example.org with questions or comments, or to ask about a free consultation for how Cordia Resources can help solve your permanent or temporary staffing needs.
About Cordia Resources
Cordia Resources (www.cordiaresources.com) is a leading recruiting, professional consulting/staffing and executive search firm specializing in placing accounting, finance, contracts and human resource professionals throughout the Washington DC area. As part of the Cordia Partners services platform with access to an unmatched pool of talented accounting professionals, we provide expert financial recruiting and staffing solutions to our clients in the commercial and not-for-profit markets, including government contracting, technology, professional services, hospitality, real estate, and more.