This article contains actual statements made during post-interview debriefings and has been contributed by Jason Sanders, Ivy Exec's Vice President of Executive Search
Each time one of my candidates goes on an interview, I receive feedback about a client organization, their job opening, and the personal impression they create. I generally hear good things about my clients, but I am sometimes surprised to hear that they make a few very basic errors.
Most hiring managers think of interviewing as a chance to gather information about a new potential hire. They also recognize that they represent their organizations, and want to create a great impression with candidates. If you avoid some obvious pitfalls and follow some basic steps, you will maximize your potential to outdo your competition, and hire the best candidates.
When a recruiter debriefs people that you have interviewed, would you rather have them say, “They didn’t even have my resume and had to scramble to find a copy.” OR “The interviewer asked a lot of direct questions about my background?”
If you have read this far, you are unlikely to make the basic mistake of failing to prepare for an interview. If you simply take five minutes, or even three, you will put yourself in the right frame of mind. Make sure you have a resume, if you have received one. Take a look at it. It’s that simple.
Would you rather have them say, “He barely asked me any questions; he seemed to just want to talk about his organization,” OR “I feel like they have enough information to evaluate whether I am a cultural fit?”
TIP: Ask at least a few well-thought out questions. The biggest mistake candidates make is to over talk an interview. Make sure you do not make this mistake as an interviewer. Prepare some specific questions beforehand, or just have your boilerplate ready. When you interview politely, but incisively, you will leave your candidates with the impression that you are competent and thorough.
Would you rather have them say, “It sounded really great, but I need to check with my friends to see what their reputation is in the marketplace,” OR “They definitely told me about some challenges they are facing, and I think I can help?”
TIP: Provide realistic information, including drawbacks at your company. Certainly don’t dwell on the negative, but tell your candidates that you understand and are dealing with issues that your organization faces. Every company has warts. Painting too rosy a picture will diminish your credibility, and send your candidates away looking for answers. On the other hand, framed properly, obstacles may present interesting challenges for your best candidates to tackle.
Would you rather have them say, “They seem ready to make me an offer after only one interview day, but I am not sure I am ready to commit,” OR “They have offered to have me meet more people, but I don’t think I need to?”
TIP: Offer opportunities to speak with others. Hiring managers that exclude others from interviewing generally do so for two reasons: 1) Pressing business needs require a rapid decision. And to a lesser degree, 2) they want to maintain tight control over the hiring process. Making good hiring decisions and attracting senior candidates takes time. In order to wait for an outstanding candidate, you must have a strong interim business plan. This provides leverage and a greater sense of security. You will recruit better talent, and put yourself in a stronger negotiating position when you decide to make an offer.
Some managers have difficulty giving up control of their interview process. If you are conscious of this tendency, you have probably begun to address it already. Remember, if you are a competent leader, your people will represent you and your organization well. If you feel they create a poor impression, you have a bigger issue to solve before bringing new hires on board.
Would you rather have them say, “I think they are going to make me an offer, but I am not sure if I want the job,” OR “I am interviewing with a number of firms, but this is my first choice if they make the right offer?”
TIP: I believe that no offer should be made without a commitment to accept it. I realize this cannot be the case in every circumstance, but it should be the standard that we try to achieve. You should try to understand your candidate’s true interest level. You want to avoid extending an offer, sitting back and waiting for an acceptance, then getting rejected. Checking your candidate’s interest will help you close the deal, and, if not, will at least give you useful feedback that you can use in subsequent interviews.
Would you rather have them say, “She thought I was interviewing for a manager job, when I am a director already,” OR “They have not told me the level yet, but I am willing to make an investment in the company, if the compensation and responsibilities are appropriate?”
TIP: Get the level right, or don’t commit. Many candidates fall on the line between two levels during their executive job search. You may also find yourself interviewing someone without having fully prepared for a meeting. In either case, do not discuss the title, and keep an open mind. Presenting the wrong level will surely turn off good candidates.
You should also discuss the appropriate title with your recruiter. Generally, we are good at discussing information and impressions about a prospective employer. When it comes to talking with a candidate that does not fit neatly, we need strong, clear guidance from clients to avoid miscommunication.
Would you rather have them say, “I really like this opportunity, but I have an offer that I don’t want to let go of,” OR “If they make me an offer at the right level, I will discontinue conversations with other companies?”
TIP: Always ask how far along a candidate is in their job search process. Even if your candidate is “not looking,” they will probably start once they become interested enough to interview with you. Candidates like to weigh their options, and most will try to maximize their opportunities as soon as they begin discussions outside their own firm. Find out about competitive situations, and you maximize your chances of hiring great people.
Would you rather have them say, “It seems like they don’t really have an opening, but they may create a new position just for me.” OR “They have been trying to establish themselves in my area for some time, and I can help them get there?”
TIP: Justify the position. Candidates may feel flattered when they hear that you are creating a new role to accommodate them. They may also feel insecure by not knowing how they really fit into your organization. Whether you are responding to the opportunity presented by an outstanding candidate, or if you have been looking for quite a while, you should give the impression that you know where you are headed. Consider what will happen to the position beyond the need to satisfy an urgent business demand. If you can clearly explain what the new hire will be doing a year or two after she starts, you will put yourself ahead of your competition.
Would you rather have them say, “I have been hearing different things from different interviewers,” OR “I have been hearing consistent messages from all the people that have interviewed me?”
TIP: Provide a consistent, coherent vision for your organization. Of all the areas listed, this gives hiring managers the most trouble. You must address this issue for your candidates and for your team, but most importantly for yourself. If you hear flatness to the verbal delivery of your future vision, or if you are getting negative feedback, put your interview process on hold and reconsider where you are headed. (Don’t forget to tell your recruiter this!)
If you broadcast a weak message, you will attract mediocre candidates. If you cannot find your voice, it may be time to correct the course of your own career. We all face frustrations, but a sense of purpose helps us see past immediate obstacles.
Would you rather have them say, “I feel like I would just be a cog in a machine over there,” OR “That is a very interesting, entrepreneurial opportunity?”
The strongest professionals look for the ability to take responsibility for their actions, and to experience upside reward based on their own success. When I hear that a candidate views an organization, or an opportunity as entrepreneurial, I know that my clients have represented themselves well.
The word “entrepreneurial” suggests many positive traits. It signifies that people interact openly and strive for the common good. It identifies an organization that rewards success, and provides no specific limitations on achievement. It connotes an ability to sit at the front line of a business, and have a significant impact. Even if you work in a large organization, opportunities exist to act like an entrepreneur. If you can express the traits that allow your company to provide an exciting place for people to work, you are on the right track.
The lessons here all point to one overarching theme that any hiring manager needs to follow. Think before you act! Companies make significant investments of time and money to secure the best talent. They also make a personal commitment to expose themselves to potential rejection during a hiring process.
You must attract people and build relationships to grow a successful business. Take the time to consider each hiring decision, and each candidate, and then reap the financial and emotional rewards.
Jason Sanders is Vice President of Executive Search at Ivy Exec, a web-based recruiting company that combines next generation technology with human power to deliver customized hiring solutions targeting high caliber professionals to help place them in executive jobs. Ivy Exec can help you hire great talent, to learn more check out Ivy Exec's Ivy Suite.
This post can also be found on Ivy Exec's Blog