Avoiding Interviewing Disaster

I hesitated to write this post as it felt like it was all going to be ‘Interviewing 101′….and then this happened…..

I personally experienced the following in a single interview session I went on :

  • Both interviewers were late — with no advance warning or apologies
  • One interviewer did not introduce themself, or give me their background
  • The second interviewer joined the interview later and was on their laptop throughout interview
  • No apparent goal for the interview
  • No attempt to get to know me — no questions to me
  • No time management — I had to let them know time was running out
  • No prompt follow-up about results or next steps

This was all in the hot Bay Area market and they were trying to hire a critical engineering leader! It sounds crazy when you spell it all out but this was a colossal waste of everyone’s time. It made me wince to think about all the missed opportunities they probably had in their hiring.

Here are my tips for having getting the best results :

(1) Pre-brief the interviewers — discuss the position you’re hiring for, what needs to be evaluated and, broadly-speaking, who will probe on what areas to prevent overlap or duplicate questioning

(2) In the interview itself :

  • introduce yourself — your name, position, short description of what you do
  • build rapport — your goal is to make the interview candidate as relaxed and comfortable as possible so they have every opportunity to show the best of themselves
  • sell — I don’t mean ‘sell’ in the sense of inauthentic ‘hard sell’ but instead using opportunities to talk about what you enjoy about your job, what the company is good at, why you joined, and so on. The goal is to identify what the candidate cares about and connect those things to the role.
  • manage interview time — don’t end abruptly. If you are doing a technical interview, this may mean you have to shepherd the candidate to a stopping point. Don’t just ‘cold stop’ them in the middle of an exercise because you’ve run out of time.
  • leave time for questions — make sure there’s time for the candidate to ask questions — this is another key opportunity to talk about why you enjoy working at the company and enjoy what you are doing

(3) Debrief — get the interview team together ASAP afterwards to come to a hire/no-hire decision. Tips for a good debrief :

  • have someone be a moderator who wasn’t on the interview team (i.e. is somewhat impartial). It will be easier for them to spot themes in the feedback and ask questions to clarify
  • all interviewers must come prepared with a hiring recommendation :

Strong Yes — “this person is a great fit for the role”

Yes — “I tend towards hiring but have some reservations”

No — “I tend towards not hiring but there were some positives”

Strong No — “this person is not at all a match for the role”

This decision should be based on their experience in the interview and not swayed by any other conversations or others evaluation. No-one is allowed to be ‘on the fence’ — if that’s how an interviewer is always coming out of their interview then there’s something they need to change about how they interview.

  • interviewers reveal their decisions and then do a short roundtable on what went well and areas of concern (DON’T regurgitate the whole interview)
  • moderator identifies any themes of feedback and stimulates discussion around whether concerns are mitigated or whether strengths outweigh weaknesses
  • a decision is made in the room so that everyone understands why and there’s an opportunity for final debate. DON’T have someone in a position of authority take the information and make a non-transparent decision later.
  • have the team share what to stop/start/change to improve the interview process

My opinion is that not all interviewers have to be a “Yes” of some kind, going in, for the candidate to be a ‘hire’. There are lots of reasons that a “No” might not be a concern — there may be plenty of counter-examples from other interviews that are particular item of concern for the “No” interviewer is unfounded, or the interviewer may feel they messed up the interview somehow.

Shadowing

A great tool to use when you’re adding new interviewers to your pool is ‘shadowing’.

  • Pair the new interviewer up with an existing, experienced interviewer
  • Have the new interviewer ‘shadow’ the experienced interviewer for 3 interviews — meeting beforehand to discuss observations about the candidates resume and swap notes on areas to explore with the candidate, and meeting afterward to debrief, with the shadower providing their evaluation first.
  • Then, have the new interviewer LEAD 3 interviews, with the experienced interviewer shadowing them (sharing input and feedback before and after, as before)

Note that the shadowing process is NOT about the shadower having to agree with the assessment of the experience interviewer; it’s much more about understanding how to evaluate candidates and run a good interview.

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