Can we salvage the interview process?

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We’re hiring (!) here at Aspire, so we’ve been reading far and wide to discover the best and most creative ways to approach the hiring process. From the first interview to the final offer, how can we find the right candidates for our company?

No one (and we mean no one — not hiring managers, not candidates, not college students, not CEOs) likes the standard interview process. Questions like “Tell me your story” and “What’s a time you made an unpopular decision” give all of us horrifying flashbacks of that time we sat in a twelve-on-one interview and stumbled through a response about nominating a new soccer captain in 8th grade.

Oh wait, that’s just us?

Well, at any rate, the traditional hiring system at its best gives us a pinhole-sized glimpse of how a candidate will perform in a job. At its worst, it leads us down a self-selection-bias rabbit hole.

The hiring process’ failings begin before you ever read a resume or sit across from a sweaty-palmed candidate. From A to Z, we need to rethink hiring so it produces productive, qualified employees who are satisfied with their position and future with the company. We agreed with a brilliant critique of the shortcomings of the developer interview process by Sockpuppet: “Being good at navigating hiring processes requires a basket of skills that isn’t correlated with job performance.” So let’s start changing that from the beginning.

The Resume Stage 

When you start collecting new kindling … er, resumes, to review, the vast differences in background and skill sets can be overwhelming. It’s useful to have a preset barometer of the skills you’re willing to cultivate in a candidate and those he or she needs to arrive with. Are you looking for someone who is already performing this job at a competitor? Will your ideal candidate be contributing productively on Day 1? Or would you prefer a candidate who has demonstrated the ability to quickly learn specific skill sets?

From the get-go, estimate how comfortable your candidates are with the requirements for the job. If the skills you’re looking for are teachable or transferable, consider allowing candidates to teach themselves prior to entering the interview process. A potential candidate who led a nonprofit’s social media outreach may not have direct experience for the content manager role you’re looking to fill. She might, however, be able to take a 8 hour course and reveal a capacity for quick growth that will put her in the running for the position. 

Sockpuppet notes that in a previous employer’s hiring process, candidates who weren’t familiar with the specialized work they did “got a study guide, a couple of free books, and an open invitation to proceed with the process whenever they were ready. Those $80 in books candidates received had one of the best ROIs of any investment we made anywhere in the business. Some of our best hires couldn’t have happened without us bringing them up to speed.” 1 

Maybe the resume isn’t the best way to weed out unqualified candidates. The perfect fit for your company might never have done work justlikethis before, but instead have developed parallel skills. They haven’t managed a sales team, but they’ve controlled a network of disparate vendors across the country. Maybe a resume isn’t how we should be judging our ideal candidate. Maybe we need to learn more about their potential than their past.

The Actual Interviews 

You’ve chatted with your applicants, given a few a tutorials on the role, and moved them to the Big Day. Now what?

Regardless of a role’s day to day responsibilities, interviews tend to favor extroverted, confident candidates. Those who prefer to think problems through before forming an opinion will invariably seem less qualified than candidates who crack a great joke before launching into an eloquent speech in response to the problem — regardless of the content of each candidate’s response.

Interviewers are taught to check their biases at the door. We’re taught to think twice before dismissing a candidate, and to make sure our favorites aren’t just the ones most like us. But the interviews themselves aren’t set up to support us in that endeavor. Instead of following a structure that would produce replicable, comparable results, interviewers are allowed to ask their own questions. These can range from the famous “a lilypad doubles in size every hour” question to the off-the-wall “if you could be a shoe, what would you be?” questions.

While these questions often indicate a lot about the culture of a firm, they’re rarely indicative of a candidate’s qualifications. Allowing interviewers to adlib introduces unnecessary variance to an already stressful situation. The Muse, a career advice site, recently wrote an entire article advising candidates on how to navigate an interviewer who isn’t quite on track.

It shouldn’t be the interviewee’s responsibility to ensure their best qualities are shown. The actual interview should consistently illuminate the candidates who will best fit the job and the company, regardless of whether the hiring manager had one too few cups of coffee the morning of the interview.

All of the variables in the interview process nearly guarantee candidates hired by different managers will vary widely. As a result, the choice of candidate is often reduced to a gut check. Would you want to spend a layover in an airport with this person? From the 5 hours you’ve spent getting to know this person, do you think he or she would be good at this job? This may be successful, but when it isn’t, it’s companies who bear the cost of poor candidate selection.

If you’re combing through your interview procedures in your head right now, see how it stacks up to this checklist about the ideal interview process from Sockpuppet:

  1. Is it consistent? Does every candidate get the same interview?
  2. Does it correct for hostility and pressure? Does it factor in “confidence” and “passion”? If so, are you sure you want to do that?
  3. Does it generate data beyond hire/no-hire? How are you collecting and comparing it? Are you learning both from your successes and failures?
  4. Does it make candidates demonstrate the work you do? Imagine your candidate is a “natural” who has never done the work, but has a preternatural aptitude for it. Could you hire that person, or would you miss them?
  5. Are candidates prepped fully? Does the onus for showing the candidate in their best light fall on you, or the candidate?

Makes you wonder why you’re relying on the airport rule, doesn’t it?

The Final Decision 

You’ve now spoken to enough candidates to feel confident about your top 5 or 6 prospects. They scored well on your standardized interview process, and your hiring managers give them the thumbs up too. At this point, how do you differentiate between those that are great people, and those who are right for your company? 

Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg has one rule for hiring. “I will only hire someone to work directly for me if I would work for that person.” 2 How much would your business improve in the next 15 years if each person hired someone smarter than themselves? Our pride often steps in to protect our jobs. We worked hard to get where we are, and we’d like to guard against replacing ourselves. But if we continue to grow too, we’ll move on. And when we do, we’ll need the next person to be able to do our jobs better than we could have imagined. 

We’ll never have perfect information about a candidate before offering them a position at our company. We will always have to trust that the little information we receive in the hiring process is indicative of who that person will be in the months and years to come.

What we don’t have to do is trust disparate data points that are influenced by hundreds of outside factors. We can restructure our hiring process to fairly and accurately compare candidates by tying it more closely to the actual job the candidates are looking to snag. Those who do this best will end up with the best employees — and that’s the true goal of the hiring process.

Hear more about how you can build a better workplace from all angles from Aspire!

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