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Helping hiring managers conduct better job interviews

My worst interview ever, as a hiring manager in an editorial group, went perfectly… on the surface.

I didn’t know it had actually been a complete disaster until the candidate called me up two hours later. Was he calling to thank me, or had he possibly left something behind?

No. The candidate suavely asked me to dinner that evening. I stammered, ‘You do understand that I am the supervisor of the position you interviewed for, right?’ ‘Oh, yes,’ he replied, ‘but I had so much fun speaking with you that I thought you would like to go on a date with me as well as consider me for the job.’

His inappropriate actions did not win him the job — or the girl. And more importantly, it was an unmistakable wake-up call for me that I needed to adjust my interviewing skills into something more structured, and less like a friendly chat. I worked hard over the next two years to learn how to convey authority better.

A lot of hiring managers interview poorly, truth be told. For one thing, ‘hiring manager’ isn’t a job title, it’s a role all managers have to play from time to time. They’re usually not trained to do it, and it’s a drain on what they consider their primary responsibilities.

Their interviewing offenses range from asking illegal questions about protected status, to stretching the decision out interminably, to being notoriously unstructured in their interviewing style.  Recruiting blogger Kiran Gali offers some hands-on advice on this last point in ‘Interview Tips for the Hiring Manager.’ He writes:

Often Hiring Managers do not have a structure around their interviews. When I say structure I don’t mean the sequence of questions, but I am referring to more about the logic. For instance, not many hiring managers know about the concept of using CAR (context, action, result) or STAR (Situation, Task, Action, Result ) models which are really helpful. If the candidate says that he has been able to hit a revenue of X Rs (or $) in the very first quarter of his last job, asking context related questions such as what was the target, how well established the product is, what was the most sales done by anybody in team.

Action related questions would be something like, what did the individual do get that sales, was it any different from anyone else, what specific actions he has taken to cross sell or up sell the product. Questions related to Results center around, what percentage of total sales he contribute, was there any dip in costs related to their sales or did it cost more, did he end up exhausting the sales pipeline, has success allowed good references and hence a perennial pipeline. To put it simply, what was the context, which actions the individual took that made the difference, and how did it impact the top or bottom line.

This seems to me like a very helpful methodology that many hiring managers may not be familiar with. The same post also gives advice on hiring managers’ tendency to keep candidates on hold, the need for hiring managers to take notes throughout the interview, and on training your hiring managers to engage in company branding. Recommended reading!

‘Hiring Managers Don’t Know Interview Questions,’ from the Cube Rules blog, focuses on reassuring candidates that their impressions are correct: many hiring managers really don’t know what they’re doing. Don’t worry too much  about the occasional weird question, awkward silence, or meandering conversation, they say. The key, they stress, is that there are really only 3 basic interview questions that you have to answer. They all boil down to: Can you do the job? Will you love the job? And, what people do you like to work with? If you can bring anything the hiring manager asks back to this, they say, you’ll be golden. (Still, it couldn’t hurt to start training hiring managers to be more talented as interviewers!)

To help your people move toward success, check out this amazing article from CIO magazine. It’s called ‘The Hiring Manager Interviews,’ and it is a collection of 16 interviews with high-ranking tech execs from such well-known organizations as the American Diabetes Association, Pacific Gas & Electric, Northern Trust, US Airways, Kohl’s, and many more. Highlights: exactly how Facebook’s head of technology grills applicants; how the CIO of Harvard Business School gets team buy-in by involving his whole staff; and how the CIO of Jack in the Box learned from her own hiring mistakes. It’s high-quality material that is sure to enrich the interviewing practices of anyone who takes the time to read it.

With a bit of effort and training of your management team, you can help them become great interviewers who make wise choices. As a plus to you, you’ll soon have a team of excellent interviewers available to help you make the right decisions for your organization’s staffing.

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