The Interview That Wasn’t.

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As I’m about to begin the search process for a new team member here at Upstream Group, I’m thinking a lot about the challenging, often-flawed, interview/reference-check/hiring experience that so many of my customers go through all the time.  In an industry as dynamic and talent-starved as ours, the “people challenge” seems even more exaggerated.  So best not to make it even more difficult by flubbing the interview process, right?

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So here are a few thoughts on what so often goes wrong and the easy fixes that we seldom adopt.

Everybody Plays it Safe.   The interviewer asks predictable questions about career progression, reasons for leaving past jobs, and what the candidate knows about the company.  The applicant dutifully answers just the questions that are asked and doesn’t seek to introduce any new information or insights.  Instead, be prepared with a wildcard question (“Tell me about an experience or quality that’s not on your resume that somehow defines you?”) and see if the candidate introduces something provocative and meaningful.  Better yet, ask them to run half of the interview.  (“I’ve got a few questions, but I want you to be prepared to run the last 15 minutes of the interview.”)  This will tell you a lot.

The Hiring Team Isn’t Organized.   Many companies conflate “thorough interviewing” with “a lot of people meeting the candidate.”  The vast majority of those seeing the candidate will have had the resume and cover letter in their possession for somewhere between 30 minutes and half a day.  Instead, the interviewing team members should each have a specific role or area of concern to explore with the candidate.  So Josh then weighs in on collaboration skills, Rachel focuses on the strength of the candidate’s customer relationships, and so on.

The Talk/Listen Ratio is All Wrong.  Perhaps it’s because we come from sales backgrounds, or maybe we just feel strongly about where we work, but most interviewers end up “selling the company” to the candidate (even candidates they don’t feel strongly about) and eating up most of the airtime. Instead, aim to create an environment where the candidate does 75% of the talking.  This will allow you, the interviewer, to really evaluate the quality of the answers and ask important short follow up questions.  The second question you ask on a topic yields by far the best information.

We Ask the Wrong Reference Questions.  The one question you must ask previous employers is a simple one:  Would you hire her again?  Any pause, hedging or qualification to the answer is a really important clue.  Many past employers are loathe to give someone a bad reference due to liability or the desire to simply not make an enemy.

We Don’t Close.  And They Don’t Either.  Like flawed sales calls, flawed interviews end with a whimper.  As interviewer, you can conditionally close the candidate.  “Knowing what you know so far, if offered a fair package would you want to join our company?”  Again, listen for the pause.  You want to know whether you’re first choice or the safety school.  Even better, ask the candidate “What final question do you want to ask me?” and see if they ask you for the job.

Want to hire better?  Then run better interviews.

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