How to Fix Job Interviews to Uncover the Best Candidates

Are you interviewing the real candidate or the facade they think you want to see?

Are you interviewing the employee you’ll still have on day 91?

Managers start each interview hoping that this is finally the one. Most of us only interview when we need staff and no matter how many times we tell ourselves that the result will make our lives easier, the seemingly endless cycle of resume reviews and scheduled interviews gets in the way of immovable deadlines and all that real work piling up in our inboxes.

Job candidates start each interview trying to figure out what this particular manager wants to see, then doing their best to project that ideal employee while steeling themselves for the obligatory, crucial questions like “if you could be any animal what would it be?”

The vaporware candidate

Inevitably a meta candidate appears, hovering somewhere between the protagonists. This apparition becomes a composite projection of what the candidate wants an interviewer to see and what the manager hopes she is seeing.

This is the main problem with the traditional approach of perpetuating a stressful, formal, structured and, often, predictably absurd interview process. Managers never see the real person behind the temporary artifice built up during the interview and are often disappointed and confused by the results.

Of course, a formal, structured process feels professional and comfortable for many, but it doesn’t allow a manager to see the real person that will show up to work on day 91. As a manager with an established, cohesive team, I need to see that day 91 person long before I extend and offer, otherwise, how can I assess if they are going to be a disruption or an asset?

All of my interviews are video conferences (Skype, Hangouts, Meet, etc) because I only hire 100% remote employees. But, as all companies try to squeeze as much efficiency out of the hiring process as possible, performing at least one remote interview with each candidate isn’t unusual even if the job is only in the next town over.

At ease, soldier!

No matter if your interviews are face-to-screen or face-to-face, putting people at ease is key. Dispose of all the managerial airs and talk as fellow team members who will work closely toward a shared goal. I still enjoy seeing the change on candidates’ faces the moment they realize that I am being myself so they can too.

Humor goes a long way as well. I don’t want to work with someone who doesn’t have a good sense of humor and can’t laugh when the going gets rough. When the tone of the interview is right, small jokes, puns and clever references naturally flow into the conversation. That’s the type of candidate who will make their co-workers feel less edgy when clients turn irritable and invite collaboration to solve problems more effectively.

Even the moon has a dark side

I do not think it means what you think it means

Naturally, it can’t all be happy chats about the weather and cats. Managers really do need to know if someone can do the job and if they match the caliber of professional the manager is searching for. There are strategic, yet simple ways to achieve this during the “conversation”. (I know it’s sacrilege to some managers and HR professionals, but I refrain from even calling them interviews. “Job interview” is often synonymous with “interrogation” and that’s the last thing I want to inflict on someone I intend to work with for many years to come.)

One of the most telling early signs of a potentially good candidate is if they did their homework about the company they are interviewing with. If not, there is no hiding such an omission. I raise the topic conversationally, but very early in the first interview. If it is obvious they don’t know my company from McDonalds, the interview is still pleasant, just very very short.

Next, I lead the conversation into talking points about skill and experiences that help someone succeed in the position. Most career professionals enjoy talking about the one thing they spend most of their waking hours doing. They inevitably add in comments about how this or that opportunity gave them an advantage or turned into a valuable learning experience. I often end up being told memorable stories about strange happenings in previous companies.

Those stories not only make the task of interviewing strangers more enjoyable, but are particularly valuable because they say much about the candidate. Was the story inappropriate? Did they tell it well? Did it demean others? You don’t need to be a psychologist to see more deeply into someone’s true self as they unfold a anecdote.

Until I finally embraced this approach, I used to dread running interviews. Now I look forward to speaking with the best candidates. The mediocre interviews feel like a phone call with a relative you only speak to once a year, while the best interviews are like attending an interesting dinner party.

Of course, none of this takes the place of thoroughly vetting good paper candidates before proposing an interview date or additional qualification examinations afterwards that are required in specific industries. This is about treating people as social humans and not test subjects.

As a manager you have a choice. You can hide behind formalities and pull the handle on the hiring process slot machine in the hope that the real candidate behind the facade is a good fit for your company or you can talk to the real person behind the mask. Which one would you rather hire?