Interviewing

The Interview That Doesn’t Suck.


If human talent is the killer app in our industry, why do we suck so badly at attracting, evaluating and retaining the best people?  And how does a flawed candidate manage to slip through the interviewing gauntlet that you and the rest of your management and HR team have set up?  Clearly these are huge topics worthy of books, not blog posts.  But I’ve never met a topic that I couldn’t try to oversimplify, so here goes:

Your interviewing process is misguided, your execution is awful and you’re focusing on all the wrong things.  But please, let me elaborate…

This week’s Drift is proudly underwritten by Voicera. Are your teams 100% focused?  Do you wish your teams had a 100% accurate Salesforce?  Sign up for Voicera and give them EVA; the Enterprise Voice AI.  Eva listens, takes notes and automatically updates Salesforce!  Act now and get special discounted pricing as a reader of The Drift.  Visit www.voicera.com/upstreamgroup.

Interviews are Not about Fact-finding:  Make your minimum standards on skills and experience clear to your HR team or recruiter.  Then leave the candidate’s resume in your desk.  Too many interviews end up being about the facts on the page (“…so you worked at AOL?”)  You’re wasting a lot of time confirming data points, which could be better spent on higher order discussion.

Focus Instead on Understanding the Candidate’s Process:

  • Tell me about an important deal or achievement at your last company:  what would not have happened if you hadn’t been part of it?
  • Tell me about the last time you had to deliver really bad news to a customer:  how did you handle it and where did things end up?
  • Tell me about a time when you’ve had to manage conflict with someone in your organization:  were you able to turn the situation around?

Seek Beliefs and Core Values:  The best hires and most-durable employee relationships are always built on the overlap between what a candidate believes and what the company stands for.  But we learn very little about what our candidates truly believe because we don’t ask.

  • Tell me something you believe in very strongly that’s not about religion or family.
  • Looking out at the next 10-15 years of our industry, what’s a trend or behavior that you’d bet your career on?

Stop Acting Like Lawyers:  (Please no hate mail from the Bar Association.) If you ask a dozen lawyers to review a document or agreement, each will find something to disagree with or object to.  Likewise, if you subject your candidate to a dozen different interviewers, each will only feel valid or whole if he or she finds a flaw.  First cut down on the number of interviewers; after a certain number, the evaluation doesn’t get bigger, it gets worse.  Second, make it OK for other interviewers to say “neutral” or “nothing to add.”

This is Not a Democracy:  Try to get everyone to agree on a candidate and you’ll end up with a very safe, very vanilla, compromise candidate.  No edge, nothing strong, nothing special.  Agree ahead of time who “owns” the hire and who he/she should truly consult with. (Hint:  who will be economically dependent or physically close to the new hire?)

Listen for Intent:  There’s one more thing we also fail to ask potential hires:  Do you want to work here?  Of course it’s probably not smart to signal your own intent to hire this person, but you can certainly find out whether they’re really into you – of if you’re just “one of their safety schools.”

  • We’re not there yet, but if it all came together tomorrow and the package and responsibility lined up, would you jump at the chance to work here?

Notice that this is the only “yes or no” question I’ve suggested.

I’ll be eager to hear how your next interview goes.  Happy hiring.

This post originally ran in 2014.  Unfortunately too many interviews still suck.


The Interview That Wasn’t.


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?

This week’s Drift is proudly underwritten by AppNexus. Join AppNexus at this year’s Yield Executive Summit, taking place on Wednesday, September 28, in New York City.  We look forward to an exclusive day of discussions and presentations with top influencers in digital advertising as we examine the essential tools that every publisher must have for successful monetization and digital acceleration.

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.


How We Interview…and Why It Sucks.


How We InterviewIf human talent is the killer app in our industry, why do we suck so badly at attracting, evaluating and retaining the best people?  And how does a flawed candidate manage to slip through the interviewing gauntlet that you and the rest of your management and HR team have set up?  Clearly these are huge topics worthy of books, not blog posts.  But I’ve never met a topic that I couldn’t try to oversimplify, so here goes:

Your interviewing process is misguided, your execution is awful and you’re focusing on all the wrong things.  But please, let me elaborate…

This week’s Drift is proudly underwritten by Evidon MCM, marketing cloud management software for large enterprises. Powered by more than 20 million Ghostery users, Evidon provides large websites with transparency to see and control the vendors that have access to their customer data and their online assets.

Interviews are Not about Fact-finding:  Make your minimum standards on skills and experience clear to your HR team or recruiter.  Then leave the candidate’s resume in your desk.  Too many interviews end up being about the facts on the page (“…so you worked at AOL?”)  You’re wasting a lot of time confirming data points, which could be better spent on higher order discussion.

Focus Instead on Understanding the Candidate’s Process:

  • Tell me about an important deal or achievement at your last company:  what would not have happened if you hadn’t been part of it?
  • Tell me about the last time you had to deliver really bad news to a customer:  how did you handle it and where did things end up?
  • Tell me about a time when you’ve had to manage conflict with someone in your organization:  were you able to turn the situation around?

Seek Beliefs and Core Values:  The best hires and most-durable employee relationships are always built on the overlap between what a candidate believes and what the company stands for.  But we learn very little about what our candidates truly believe because we don’t ask.

  • Tell me something you believe in very strongly that’s not about religion or family.
  • Looking out at the next 10-15 years of our industry, what’s a trend or behavior that you’re bet your career on?

Stop Acting Like Lawyers:  (Please no hate mail from the Bar Association.) If you ask a dozen lawyers to review a document or agreement, each will find something to disagree with or object to.  Likewise, if you subject your candidate to a dozen different interviewers, each will only feel valid or whole if he or she finds a flaw.  First cut down on the number of interviewers; after a certain number, the evaluation doesn’t get bigger, it gets worse.  Second, make it OK for other interviewers to say “neutral” or “nothing to add.”

This is Not a Democracy:  Try to get everyone to agree on a candidate and you’ll end up with a very safe, very vanilla, compromise candidate.  No edge, nothing strong, nothing special.  Agree ahead of time who “owns” the hire and who he/she should truly consult with. (Hint:  who will be economically dependent or physically close to the new hire?)

Listen for Intent:  There’s one more thing we also fail to ask potential hires:  Do you want to work here?  Of course it’s probably not smart to signal your own intent to hire this person, but you can certainly find out whether they’re really into you – of if you’re just “one of their safety schools.”

  • We’re not there yet, but if it all came together tomorrow and the package and responsibility lined up, would you jump at the chance to work here?

Notice that this is the only “yes or no” question I’ve suggested.

I’ll be eager to hear how your next interview goes.  Happy hiring.