Last week, on Monday to be exact, I was rejected after a job interview. To make matters worse, I had waited for three weeks to hear if I had gotten the job, despite two very nicely-worded emails kindly inquiring about the status after my interview. And to make matters even worse, the rejection email I received included the patronizing line: “Perhaps you can come back in for an interview two years from now, once you have gained more experience.”
This was a job to be a yoga teacher. Well to be precise, a substitute yoga teacher. And to be even more precise, a substitute yoga teacher at a rock-climbing gym (not even a real yoga studio). Needless to say, I was furious, then hurt, then indignant, then vulnerable, then resigned. Who were they to tell me my down dog instructions aren't good enough and need two years of honing despite the fact that I already teach yoga?
But after the smoke cleared and I wisely told myself that perhaps the opposite of yoga is... utter rage at other yoga teachers, I realized what a lesson this audition provided me. I was reminded of what it is like to interview for a job, put yourself out there for a bunch of strangers, and experience the interview process as a candidate. It was a powerful reminder of what it feels like to be rejected, and how little things - e.g.., the timeliness of the interviewer’s response - make a huge difference about how you experience the process and ultimately feel about the organization. And, it was a reminder that when you’re interviewing, 24 hours feels like a brutal eternity, but when you’re the one doing the interviewing, 24 hours feels like a snap of the finger.
When all was said and done, my rejection was a huge reminder of how great managers have empathy for candidates during the interview process, and create a process that ensures both phenomenal outcomes and a positive experience for all.
Yup, that’s right. It’s good to remember to be empathetic and put yourself in the shoes of the interviewer, but what you really need is a well thought-through structured interview process that has empathy built in.
Before I share how to create a great interview process, let’s talk a little bit more about why a well-structured, codified, interview process, that every member on your team is aware of and follows is all around better for you, your employees, and the candidates you are looking to hire.
Why You Should Keep Reading This Blog About A Structured, Repeatable Interview Process
1. You get better output: research shows that hires that are made through structured, codified processes (specifically structured interviews with pre-determined questions) are higher quality, better hires that are ultimately more successful in their roles. Furthermore, having a structured process forces hiring managers to clearly articulate what they want in a candidate and be specific and precise about how they are going to determine if the candidate actually has those skills.
2. You reduce implicit biases: as we discussed in The Airport Test post, humans have a tendency to like people who remind them of themselves. When we don’t have a clear structure and process, we open ourselves up to being biased against people who are different from us. We penalize people that do not remind us of ourselves and run the risk of not fully and thoroughly assessing those people who we like. A structured process also forces us to examine why someone is “not a good fit.” Is it because the candidate doesn’t “look” like what we want a sales person to look like?
3. The candidates – regardless of if they are hired – have a better overall experience: First, even if you love a candidate and know they’re perfect right off the bat, they should still be put through the whole process. Often it’s just as important for the candidate to feel like he / she is getting fully vetted and is able to fully show his / her skills. If an interview process isn’t sufficiently thorough and “hard”, a great candidate might be worried that his future coworkers weren’t fully interviewed (and aren’t that good!). Second, when you have a clear interview process in place, with protocol for timely follow-up, who is in charge of what, etc etc., there’s less of a chance that a candidate will slip through the cracks or get accidentally dissed because a work fire-drill comes up (or that the candidate has to wait three weeks for a response!!). None of us purposely want to take forever to get back to a candidate or ignore responses – but we run the risk of doing so when other activities become higher priority.
4. In the long run, it will make your job SO. MUCH. EASIER. – you don’t have to recreate the wheel every time you hire someone. Your team is all on the same page about the approach and the expectations of what role they will play In the process. You get great at interviewing and get better and better at understanding what are great responses to your set questions and what are less great responses. And, the cognitive load of worrying about where things stand with interviewing a candidate is off your mind – it’s now on paper and clearly managed.
Okay – so now onto how you create a great interview process.
A Step-by-Step Way to Create a Great Interview Process
1. Outline each step of the interview process (from how you will screen candidates to giving an offer). For each step, include:
Who is in charge of the step and who is involved.
The timing between each step that you will commit to (time to get back to candidates, ideal time between interviews, etc)
What materials are needed to support that step (e.g., background check, screening guide, cultural values interview).
2. Create interview guides for every interview or screen you do
Be thoughtful about what questions will result in helpful responses and structure them as behavioral (“Tell me about a time when your leadership abilities got called into question.” is FAR more useful than “What’s your leadership philosophy?”)
FORCE every interviewer to stick to the guide. This does not mean you have to be robotic, cold or not conversational. It just means that your interviewers are actually testing what needs to be known.
3. For each new role, write a list of what are the must have’s (from a capabilities perspective) and what are the nice-to-haves.
You want to test and hire a candidate that absolutely has your must have’s, but you might have to compromise on some of the nice-to-haves. Be crystal clear about what they are and create the right interview guides to test those (see Step 2).
Case you’re trying to avoid? You hire a candidate that is mediocre in your must-haves and mediocre in your nice-to-haves because you’re just happy that they hit on all capabilities. Nope – hire for strengths.
4. Create a written assessment or presentation that the candidate can spend time preparing that further test the capabilities in step 3.
The BEST way to assess a candidate’s ability is through their work product. That’s hard to do in an interview, so try to come as close as possible to a simulated activity that will show you what their work product is like.
5. Develop a structured way of collecting interviewer feedback quickly after each interview; and make sure the feedback is structured around the key capabilities that are being tested (not just “What did you think about Kevin?”)
Insist that the team doesn’t discuss the candidate until each interviewer has had a chance to put their feedback in writing (why? Remember mental contamination? Whether we like it or not, our thoughts get biased about what the group thinks).
Make it crystal clear who the decision-maker in the process is. If you are just looking for input about a candidate, but the person giving the input doesn’t have the power to nix a candidate, make sure that is known. Or, on the flip side, if anyone has the right to voice “no” for a candidate and that eliminates the candidate from the running, make that known.
There’s much more you can do to continue to improve your interview process (what about guiding principles about how you hire?), but this post is already well-past my length limit, so I’ll leave it at that. But, because I care so much about a structured interview process, here’s a template of an interview process that I’d encourage you to build off of!
I think one of the most frustrating parts of my rejection from the substitute-yoga-teaching-at-rock-climbing gym job was the feeling that I wasn’t worthy or important enough to be acknowledged (but it did lead me to this awesome rejection playlist). A simple email response to my multiple emails that said “Hey, we are still deciding and need more time.” would have been far superior to rude radio silence.
We are never going to be able to say yes to every candidate, just like we are never going to get a ‘yes’ for every job we interview for. But, if there is one thing you take from this post, it’s a reminder that a little empathy goes a long way when you’re the one doing the interviewing.
It stinks when you get rejected from a job; but it builds empathy for when you may have to reject candidates as a manager
The best way to make sure candidates have a great experience and you get great outcomes is to have a clearly structured interview process
Also, having a clear process reduces biases and makes your life easier
So put all of the steps of your process in writing, determine decision-makers, be clear about what you want in a candidate, and create interview guides and assessments that actually test that!