Committing to a process
You probably experienced it yourself; at the last minute, the HR department sends you an invite to join a job interview which will take place in the next hour. In your invite, you will find a few links to the candidate’s portfolio, CV and perhaps a LinkedIn profile. You take ten minutes to scramble together some generic questions, which you used or heard in your last job interview. Before you go in, someone from your team shares with you the role this person applied for –and– prepared you are. During the interview, you have to readjust your questions and interview strategies slightly because either the conversation took too many turns or your interview partner preempted your plan by firing similar questions at your job candidate. What a bummer! Now, the interview is done and HR promptly reaches out to gather your opinion via email or slack. Your response is brief and you promise to get back in the evening. Boom, your job is done.
If this process sounds unfamiliar, well it is not. It’s extremely common in many workplaces I’ve been to myself, and stories relayed by colleagues corroborate this too (see report). Even though an increasing number of companies now use tools to streamline their hiring process and provide candidates and interviewees with a more structured experience, there remains plenty of room for interpretation, bias and ambiguity. This makes the results hard to compare and to understand, in hindsight, why some people are valued more than others. Importantly, layered over this are also biases, whether conscious or not, towards people from diverse cultures, unfamiliar backgrounds, age and unconventional ways of doing the work.
The best way to eliminate chaotic interview sessions, observational flaws and unconscious misinterpretations of results, is to go with a structured interview process. Structured interviewing simply means using the same interviewing methods to assess candidates applying for the same job. Research shows that structured interviews can be predictive of candidate performance, even for jobs that are themselves unstructured.
As a first step, I suggest crafting an interview protocol and stick to it, down to the number of questions you ask and how you phrase them. Then share it with your team members for input. This sounds boring but will improve your interviewing skills and the quality of the accumulated data. I created a template, which you can download to help you get started. The main idea is to first create four core competencies. I often use Role Related General Knowledge, General Cognitive Ability, Cultural Fit and Leadership. I then fill these ‘buckets’ with abilities, which I describe in verbs like reasoning, creative- and design thinking, learning, collaborating, mentoring, reflecting etc. I’ll then go ahead and phrase a lead question and a probing question, in case the candidate gave me an insufficient answer and I want to help her/him change the perspective and perhaps answer the question from a different angle or by adding more details. Needless to say, you need to provide similar conditions for all candidates and give everybody a fair chance. So if you hold one interview in a very noisy environment, this certainly negatively affects the outcome and performance of your candidate. Or say you have people sitting on both sides of your candidate, which causes the interviewee to split their attention into two directions. This is not an ideal set up, especially when you ask her/him to present something. Details matter.
Take notes. Not only is it in some countries legally required, but personally, I always make notes and rate answers during the interview, and I prefer to use a pen and paper so I don’t lose eye contact with the candidate. I find that typing away on a computer keyboard changes the attention and focus of both parties and it puts a ‘physical’ barrier –the computer monitor– in between the interviewee and you. Type up your notes right after the interview session into a standardized document. I use a Google Form since it gives me something I can reuse and share. Here we go — you already structured the most important part of the hiring process.