We all know the wedding tradition “something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue.” It’s meant to bestow luck, good fortune, or happiness on the new couple, and you can’t plan a wedding without hearing the phrase.
Marriage, however, isn’t the only relationship that involves thoughtful planning, self-awareness, good judgment, and commitment. Hiring a new employee may not involve the same level of intimacy, but the stakes can still be pretty high. It’s important to know yourself (well, your business) and to get to know a good deal about your candidate. The getting-to-know-you phase before a wedding is called courtship; before hiring, it’s called recruitment. And there’s a good chance you’ll be doing quite a bit of it as the economy starts to churn again.
Every step along the way—from writing a job description and ad, to reviewing resumes, to interviewing and reference checks—is designed for the candidate and company to get to know each other. Each part of the process is important, but it’s the interview stage that sits at the heart of the matter. The interview itself often happens in multiple steps, like a series of dates. The smartphone screen is just the first date; by the time you’re at the second or third interview, you might be introducing the candidate to your work “family.” So how do you get the most out of the interview process in order to make a good long-term match? Like a wedding, it’s worth hanging on to something old—as well as embracing something new.
Simply being “old” doesn’t make something bad or irrelevant. If it’s been around for a while, there’s likely a good reason. And my top choice for something old in recruiting is the behavioral-based interview. To be fair, this interview method is not nearly as old as some, but it has been around since the 1970s!
Behavioral-based interviewers ask candidates to describe examples of how they have handled certain types of situations in the past. We all have a pretty keen sense that people don’t tend to change their behaviors very much over time, at least once they become adults. So asking these questions about past experiences will give you a snapshot of how the candidate might handle a similar situation once they join your team.
It’s important to be consistent with all your candidates for the same position, so write out your questions in advance to help you stay on course. To come up with your behavioral-based interview questions, think about the work environment and situations the person in this job would need to handle well to be successful. Take a look at the key responsibilities involved in the position and focus your questions on relevant scenarios.
You are not looking for a yes/no answer, but rather a “short story” that tells you what the candidate did in the past, and therefore, what they are likely to do in the future. This means asking open-ended questions that start with phrases like “Describe a time when... .” or “Tell me about a situation where you...” or “What do you find most challenging about... or similar ideas.” Don’t be afraid to leave a few minutes of silence for the candidate to think about the question before giving their response.
Then consider if their answer describes what you want in an employee. Would you want your employees to handle an upset client the same way? Did they provide a specific example, or just generalizations? Words like “always,” “usually,” or “I can’t think of” are signs that the answer isn’t specific or that the candidate doesn’t have a relatable experience to talk about.
Let’s take an example. You want to find out if an applicant for a dispatcher position can handle stressful situations. Instead of asking “Can you handle stressful situations?” try “Think about the most stressful situation you’ve had to handle at work and tell me how you handled it.” The candidate is likely to tell you not just how they handle stress at work, but also what types of situations they consider stressful. You could gain a lot of insight from a question like that.
So what’s new in interviewing? You guessed it: remote interviewing! Now I’m not suggesting you do away with in-person interviewing altogether, but over the past year we have certainly learned the power of Zoom and other similar video conferencing platforms. And after all, you have probably been starting your interview process with some type of phone screening for years.
It is wise to conduct multiple interviews with a candidate before making an offer, and a video conference is a great intermediate step along the way. There are times when it is not feasible, or at least not convenient, to meet with a candidate in-person at all (for example, if you are considering hiring a remote employee who is located at a distance from your operation).
Aside from today’s health considerations, interviewing via video can usually take some of the time, money, and anxiety out of the middle stages of the process. Candidates will likely be more at ease and more able to “be themselves.” Managers or team members at other locations or working remotely can participate in the interview. And remote interviews can generally be scheduled faster than site interviews since candidates have to make fewer arrangements (time off, childcare, transportation).
When using a video conference to interview, treat it like you would an in-person meeting. Let the candidate know what to expect—names and titles of the people they will meet, how long you anticipate the interview to last, and even how formally people will be dressed. (“It’s casual Friday around here—most of us will be in jeans and golf shirts” is a nice heads-up even if you’re meeting virtually.) Have your questions prepared, and make sure your background reflects what you want the candidate to see. Give the candidate an opportunity to ask questions during the interview. Dedicate the time and focus on them, rather than trying to multi-task. A good candidate will do the same for you.
Of course, there are both pros and cons to the remote interview, so if it is possible to meet with your candidate face to face at least once, I highly recommend it. There’s no better way to help your candidate understand your work environment and company culture. And then there’s that human element: This industry is about the personal touch, and you want the chance to make that connection.
In our rush to return to the old things we’ve been missing, it’s useful still to embrace something new. [CD0421]
Amy Cooley is HR Administrator for The LMC Groups. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.