I’ve interviewed potential hires in both my current and previous jobs, and the differences between the approaches we took at each place are quite stark. In one of those jobs, the process was quick but consequently ended up in a lot of hiring errors. On the other hand, I always felt super drained after the long interviews at the other gig. I’m sure there’s a good balance between making sure to hire well on one hand and spending too much time on the process on the other. But where exactly do I draw the line?
I’ve realized interviews, and screening candidates in general, are an artform more than an exact science. Hiring is generally “best guess”. Hopefully though, remembering the points below might lead you to making better returns on the effort you spend on screening.
1. Interviews are two-way.
One thing I always remind candidates in interviews is that they are also there to learn about our company so they can make a better decision. Interviews are not just you assessing a candidate. It’s also an opportunity for the candidate to assess you. Things will turn out much better in the end if you hire someone who is actually interested to work for you.
Giving the candidate time to ask questions is not a formality. It’s a real opportunity to make sure the candidate knows what you’re about. Instead of waiting at the end for questions, take the opportunity to spread out information about your company wherever it’s relevant. If you ask the candidate about what kind of work culture he prefers, you might share some tidbits on how your company currently does things as well. Better yet, ask them questions that reflect your values and they’ll likely learn a lot from that.
2. It’s always better when they self-qualify.
Candidates backing out of your screening process because the company wasn’t what they expected might sound like a loss. Honestly though, it’s always better when they do this. It saves you time and eliminates the risk of hiring someone who would just leave after a few months.
It might be tempting to embellish your pitch and paint an unrealistic picture of how your company will work out for them, especially when you have a candidate who seems perfect for the role. Unfortunately, one thing CV’s often don’t tell you accurately is what the candidate is really looking for in a company. If it turns out to be a bad match, you’ll end up regretting that more than you would regret missing the hire.
3. The Law of Diminishing Returns applies.
At the company I work for, technical interviews used to run for 3 hours – sometimes even longer. One of my proudest accomplishments so far is getting that down to 2 hours at most. Still pretty long, but a 30% reduction in a panel interview duration adds up to a lot of effort saved in the long run. This isn’t just me trying to save time, however.
If you can’t stay attentive in a meeting that drags on for more than an hour, neither can a candidate who’s still assessing his own options. There’s a diminishing return to what information you can get from your interview as it drags on. He will not be 100% after hour 1. He’ll definitely be itching to finish by hour 2. Heck, you’ll be pretty tired yourself.
It’s great for you to demonstrate interest and exercise careful judgment, but as I’ll explain in #4, you probably don’t need to spend too much time in trying to achieve this.
4. The 80/20 rule also applies.
The Pareto Principle applies when it comes to interviewing. Specifically, 80% of what you need to know can be acquired through 20% of your questions. What does this mean for you? Basically that you need to come prepared and that you should always learn from experience. Every time you interview someone, consider the questions that gave you the most insight into making a decision. Use those questions frequently.
Of course, preparing for your interviews is equally important. Coming up with exactly the best 20% of questions is no easy feat – in fact, it’s downright impossible. But with enough preparation, you might come up with a pretty solid set of topics that will at least open up meaningful conversation.
In the end, it’s always just a vote of confidence anyway. Which brings us to…
5. You’ll never really know for sure until they start working for you.
There’s this article from Rands that I like to share with everyone who has recently joined my team. It’s called “Ninety Days”. I like to share it because as I joined my current company, reading this gave me a lot of insight on what I should be looking to do. More than that, it also validates my hiring decisions. Coming out of an interview, I almost always have my doubts about a candidate. In fact, it sometimes takes my panel a full hour or more of debriefing to come to a sound decision (not my proudest moments).
As Rands points out, it’s okay to be unsure. That’s what the onboarding period is for. You get a chance to actually learn in-depth about a person and how well he or she fits in your team. Of course, you have to be upfront about your assessments and the risk they’ll be facing. Letting someone go because you made a hiring mistake is not pleasant, much less so for your new hire. Simply let them know that the possibility exists so that they can take that into consideration when they decide to accept your offer.
6. It’s okay to end an interview early.
In contrast to the last advise, there might be cases where you’re pretty certain about a candidate. More likely, you’re certain that they won’t work out. Sometimes, you’re certain that they will. You realize this early in the conversation but you feel like you still need to fill in the full hour you scheduled with them, just to err on caution.
The fact is, if you’re convinced about a candidate, it’s highly unlikely you’ll come up with any question that will invalidate your conviction. Confirmation bias is a thing with us humans. The more convinced you are about something, the more you’ll lean towards affirming it. So maybe those extra few questions won’t get you much of anywhere, unless it’s to build even more interest with your prize candidate.
This goes both ways, too. If you can, give interviewee the option to excuse themselves in case they have to be somewhere. Frankly, it’s unlikely they’ll use that card. But offering it does show respect for their time, and that always leaves a positive impression.
There are no surefire ways to make a good hire, but there are definitely ways to get better returns on your effort. In the end, every minute you spend screening is a minute that may be spent elsewhere, but that’s not to say those minutes are not important. In fact, as a manager, screening is arguably your most important tool in building the right team.
But like any job you do, spending less time for the same successful outcome is always a desirable result. Remembering these principles might help you achieve just that.
Making a decision on hiring is an exercise in assessing the opportunity against the risk. A bad hire can mean hours of onboarding and a few months of salary going down the drain. On the other hand, being overly cautious might lead to you missing out on a game-changing hire. I recently wrote a book on risk management and would love for you to read it in the hopes of helping you better navigate risks when it comes to hiring. Click here for instructions on how you can get the book for free!