The Subtle Art of Being an Interviewer (when you are not used to it)

National Archaeological Museum, Naples. Picture by me 📸

Recently, I had to put myself in a candidate’s shoes as I was looking for a new role. It was an excellent experience because I got a reminder: the recruitment process is the beginning of the collaboration with candidates / future co-workers. If you suck at recruiting, you will have a hard time growing your teams!

Previously, I wrote an article about the Subtle Art of Hiring World-Class Engineers in which I shared tips to hire the best engineers from a theoretical point of view. With this new piece, I want to go further and share very pragmatic pieces of advice on how to impress while interviewing.

While being a candidate myself, I noticed too many stupid mistakes which led to creating a poor candidate experience. Why do you think people hate recruiters? Because recruitment is broken 💔 ⬇️

Real Google search from the 01/25/2019

Let’s try to find some quick fixes here. Disclaimer: the point is not to finger point anyone! Hence, I will focus on highlighting mistakes I faced and good behaviors to reproduce to create a stellar candidate experience (through interviews). I believe it can be useful to recruiters and professionals involved in recruitment.

➡️ A recruitment process aims at convincing the candidates to join your company, so here are some pieces of advice!


❌ Be late ⏰

We are all having busy days and dealing with unplanned events all day long. While interviewing, 50% of the time, my interviewers were late. This is absolutely not adequate.

💚 Apologize if you are late 🙌🏼

If you happen to be late, never forget to apologize! If a candidate made the effort of being on time, apologizing is the least you can do.

I can hear you (complaining in your mind): sometimes, the candidates themselves are late! Right, but as an interviewer, you are in a seduction mode — you are the one recruiting and candidates have often the choice to select among several companies when receiving an offer! You should be exemplary.

Funny story: an interviewer was not late but left me in a room for 15 minutes because the CEO wanted to pick his brain. Of course, the CEO noticed I was a candidate but did not seem to be bothered. Not 🆒!

❌ Forget to send information about an interview 🔍

Too often, I was missing information about where I should go or the people I was meeting. For instance, in order to enter a company’s building, I was missing an entry code > I had to call my interviwer 😬

Another time, I ended up facing two interviewers instead of one. What’s the problem you may wonder? Interviewing is stressful. Missing information or unexpected changes add stress to an already tensed moment.

💚 Always send an email to confirm an on-site interview

It might look silly but you need to optimize the chances of your candidates to succeed during the future interviews! How can you help? Send all the information about an interview: the address, the time & duration, the name of the interviewers, useful links about the company…etc.

By doing this, you enable the candidates to better prepare themselves and kick-ass! For instance, while working at Criteo Labs, I worked on a video with engineers to display the interview process and shared it with my candidates.

Great example of an email sent along a calendar invitation by a company at StationF

❌ Start the interview straight away

Too often, the interviewers entered the room and jumped straight away into the conversation without introducing themselves nor their companies. It’s very unpleasant not to have a bit of personal comments from the interviewers themselves. For instance: Why you joined the company in the first place? What’s your role whithin the company?…etc. Even if most of the candidates checked the interviewers’ background on LinkedIn prior to the interviews, it should be mandatory to⬇️

💚 Always introduce yourself 👋🏾

My advice is to always start an interview with a small talk about the company, who you are or your team. First, it can help anxious candidates to relax for a few seconds. Second, it enhances the candidates’ capacity to gather all the different pieces of information together about the job and to feel special.

❌ Use your phone during the interview

This is too frequent again and totally unacceptable! We are all obsessed with our phone. All the apps drain our energy away and make us unfocused. Witnessing an interviewer interacting on Slack, answering a call during an interview, checking emails is extremely disrespectful.

💚 Give the candidate your undivided attention

When you enter an interview, drop your phone! In order to optimize your listening abilities, forget about your 📲 during an interview. It’s extremely important to have a productive conversation with a candidate. Hence, you should create the right atmosphere to make the candidate feel listened. It implies focusing on what’s going on!

I would advise you to write notes on a notebook or a computer (only if you make sure to avoid Slack!). It shows you are focused and eager to report the content of the interview later, if needed.

❌ Ask generic questions, unrelevant to the candidates’ experience

There is nothing more annoying than having to answer to unrelevant questions. Too many times, I had to answer to questions which were not relevant to my background / interests.

💚 Prepare relevant and personalized questions

Most of the recruiters will tell you about structured interviews. Google has been a leader in terms of setting-up efficient structured interviews because it “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.

On a personal note, I use this technique. Moreover, I systematically prepare one or two questions based on the candidates’ personal experiences. My goal to show them that I paid attention to their background (and not someone else’s one). #lapersonnalisationbordel

❌ Talk more than the candidates

It’s tempting to talk for hours about how great your project / company is. However, interviews should focus on getting to better understand the candidates’ skills and motivations.

As an interviewer, if you talk more than the candidates, it will reinforce the impression that you are running an investigation, not leading a conversation. It can also discourage the candidates to ask questions about your company because they would feel it would not be the right moment (whereas it should be!).

💚 Allow the candidates to talk

As an interviewer, if you end-up talking more than the candidates you are interviewing, there is a problem.

The only acceptable exception could be a final interview or a non-technical one during which you want to “close” the candidates. Then, it would be a good sign!. It would mean you want to convince them to join. You would be in a “sales-mode”. 🎯

An interview is all about making it more like a conversation rather than an evaluation! So you may stick to asking questions, listening and answering the candidates’ questions.

❌ Wait until the end of the recruitment process to ask for the candidates’ salary expectations 💸

In France, very often, people are scared to talk about money. When recruiters start their careers, they are always shy to ask candidates how much they earn and how much they want for their next role. Not so surprisingly, 50% of the interview processes I engaged myself into led to a question about my salary at the very end of the processes. Sometimes, we found out very late that the expectations weren’t aligned and realized we both had wasted our time.

On the same note, I agree with a thread which Chad Loder started ⬇️: “[m]aking a candidate give a salary number [to a potential future manager] creates unneeded informational advantage. It adds anxiety into an already anxiety-ridden process.” The key here is that this piece of information may create bias in the way the candidates are evaluated and may disadvantage minorities.

On the same topic: “ The only time asking a candidate for their desired salary makes sense is when you’re a recruiter” .

💚 Ask the salary expectations during the phone screen

My advice is quite simple: during the first phone call, (preferably led by a recruiter) always ask for the candidates’ current salary and then for their expectations. Why? It will avoid both the candidates and the managers to waste time. Especially if, as a recruiter / hiring manager, you can’t match or surpass a candidate’s salary.

If the position you’re recruiting for has a specific range, you can also give it to the candidates and let them decide if it matches their expectations. The key is to avoid surprises and making people waste their time.

On the contrary, if you ask the salary information from the beginning, it can be a data point to track all along the hiring process. Will candidates change their mind or be consistent? As a recruiter, it’s a piece of information I methodically check.

However, you should absolutely keep this information to yourself until after the candidates have been evaluated by a fair interview process (you have a structured interview process, right ?) so as not to bias the evaluators.

Overall, I had been extremely pleased to be a candidate again. I am convinced it will make me be a(n even) better recruiter. Never forgetting about the basics is key to create a convincing candidate experience.

And, good news: I will soon join an amazing company 💣

Thanks for having read this REX feedback, feel free to reach out, comment or follow up on Twitter (MrsCaroline_C) if you want to read more about recruitment and tech in general 🎉