June 20, 2014 ↘︎

Help your interview candidates to keep calm and carry on

I’ve recently been an external panel member for a client who has been interviewing for a brand new role. I found being a part of the process really interesting but at the same time really frustrating. More often than not the interviews felt challenging and stressful with the constant thoughts going around my head – remember to ask everything in the correct order, questions must be worded the same, time must be the same, poker faces on please. The result being the creation of a rather sterile interview environment that focuses more on making sure you don’t say the wrong thing rather than helping the nervous candidates to reveal their true self. 

My 5 interview observations.

Listening to the other panel members and the poor candidates trying to keep calm and carry on I made the following observations which I wanted to share with you so if you are looking to recruit soon you can bear them in mind.

  1. Are you culturally ready to change?

    Many of the roles that touch or influence digital these days should really run much deeper within your organisation. For example, when hiring a content marketing manager the role needs to have the ability to connect, engage and call-upon anyone within your organisation. Does the rest of your organisation appreciate that? If no one internally is ready to adapt the way they work for this new role then you’re likely setting your new recruit up for failure.

    Firstly you need to pave the way internally, with everyone that this role may connect with or need help from, before you hire. Get them onboard to help you establish how this new way to work might look. It’s much easier to introduce your enabler once people are mentally prepared. You might uncover some interesting internal candidate opportunities along the way too.

  2. Don’t get blindsided by process.

    Most organisations tightly structure their interview process, and rightly so. However, this process can often cause a number of issues that hinder the panel and the candidates from getting the most out of each other. For example, it is valuable to see how an interview candidate can think on their feet but tying them up in knots by asking a 5 minute, 8 part question is pointless.  Contrary to expectations this does not give you an even playing field to compare your candidates.

    If you’re looking for multiple qualities and criteria from your candidates then ask questions that allow them to play up their strengths independently of each other. Trying to tick all the boxes from one answer is practically impossible and as a panel member you tend to get lost in the poor candidate’s ramblings rather than focusing on what they are really good at. 

  3. Let them guide your thinking.

    I am a firm believer in embracing each new hire as an opportunity to redefine a role. Be open to seeing something different, don’t be a cookie-cutter, no matter what level or type of role you’re hiring for. When you are reviewing your candidates make sure you’ve noted down their specific strengths so you can compare what each will bring to the role. If you are hiring for a brand new role then this is really important.

    For example, if you’re hiring a content manager, how digitally focused do you want them to be? How much understanding do you want them to have of the technology environment versus the importance of brand identity in content? Get the balance right. Accept that everyone will bring a different balance.

  4. Let them share what they love.

    For the new content manager hire we decided to set the candidates a 15 minute presentation task. Interview candidates were asked to prepare a short presentation focusing on specific areas of content marketing that were interesting to my client; education, stakeholder management and long-term success. This worked really effectively because it allowed the candidate to be rehearsed, calm and practiced in what they wanted to talk about as well as letting the panel members really get to see what the candidate understood about content marketing and how they interpreted the question. Everyone was different in their approach and content, giving us the chance to clearly understand the candidates strengths.

  5. Don’t lose sight of the end goal.

    The interview process is long and emotionally draining for both parties. As a panel member I found myself flip-flopping between candidates and liking everyone, finding reasons everyone would fit the role. That’s simply not possible. This is where you can’t lose perspective on what you wanted to start with. If you need someone to demonstrate leadership and be confident in their ability to manage stakeholders when you can’t be present then stick to that. If you want someone with huge amounts of creativity and energy then stick to that. This is really important if you have followed my first tip.

Let them shine

The interview process will always be a challenging and stressful experience, it throws the candidates into a situation of “them versus me” that they probably haven’t felt since being at school. As a panel member try really hard to empathise with them. At the end of the day this isn’t a case of you trying to trip them up with what they don’t know or haven’t done yet, instead it’s about you listening and asking the most appropriate questions to let your candidates talents shine.

The content and advice contained in this post may be out of date. Last updated on June 20, 2014.
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