Master That Interview - Part 1

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Over the years that I have lived in UK, I have attended many interviews. I have also interviewed many people. Both scenarios included different types and levels of jobs – from the manual labour work to senior roles. I will risk a statement, that no matter what role you are being interviewed for, it is usually a daunting experience. I will also add, from my own experience, it can be as hard on the other side of the desk, for different reasons, but still not an easy task to interview people. I want to tell you though, it doesn’t have to be this way.

Most recent experiences in interviewing for me, were from within the company. I was looking for the new accountant for a dealership. Very important role, requiring not just a set of accounting skills and knowledge, but also a right person, with right characteristics and attitude, due to the type of the business. For those of you, who never had a pleasure in interviewing anyone, let me explain a little about what is involved in the process. You know all the times that you might have been waiting to hear back from the potential employer, thinking why is taking so long, there are in fact very complex processes taking place.

Recruitment is not an easy task. In fact, when I was finishing my studies at University of Derby in Human Resources Management, my chosen topic for the dissertation was “Sales Executives recruitment in motor industry, the impact on the business and the cost of getting it wrong”. Still very much an issue in many automotive businesses. Nowadays though, not just an issue with sales staff but in almost every part of the business.

We usually recruit in two scenarios – someone has decided to leave the business, whether for an external or internal opportunity, or the business has grown to the point that it required additional workforce in place.

If you think of recruitment as a tree – these would be the branches:

Reaching out to potential candidates – currently we can choose from many options. Online advertising via own websites career section, any other online recruitment specialists, newspapers, social media, external recruiters and head-hunters, word of mouth and so on.  Remember the note on importance of networking in business? It can come very handy while recruiting!

Collecting applications from potential candidates. These could be in different shapes and forms. Some companies, especially in public sector, for example NHS, education, local councils, they ask you to complete lengthy applications. I came across those, that were up 50 pages long! To be honest, to me it was discouraging. On few occasions, I just didn’t see the point and gave in. That is probably their way of shortlisting – those most “committed” will get through the whole of it and others will give up. Some employers will only ask for the copy of your CV, maybe a covering letter. Some companies may use initial screening test. They all vary, but the common goal is to be able to review the first wave of candidates.

Once the screening takes place, based on the application or CV, most suitable candidates will be invited to the interview. Let me clarify what I mean by most suitable at this stage, are people who either carried out similar work, worked in the industry, have a degree in a desired field. This is the dangerous part of the screening process. I personally really dislike looking through CVs. Afterall it is a piece of paper, that for a creative person wouldn’t take long to put whatever employer wants to see. Obviously, that could be verified very quickly, but it does still happen.

Secondly, it is impossible to get to know persons character and attitude from the CV. It is ok if you only had 5 applicants, you could potentially see them all. But what about when you had 150 people apply for one role? Who has time in their busy working day, to read through all those applications or CV’s? A lot of businesses nowadays implement “killer questions”. Dependant on the answer, some of the candidates may already be rejected at this stage. It is a shame. I for example, during my career employed people with no experience, but with great potential I have seen in them. Ideal characteristics, values, personality that would allow them to learn the job and fit within the business.

I am a great believer that when recruiting for certain roles, I want my employee to have a level of flexibility. At times, when we recruit people just because they have experience, could prove fatal. They can be full of bad habits and they are not willing to change. I have also had those instances. I employed someone who looked great on paper, had all the skills and I was under pressure to fill in the position. Only few months in, they turned out to be a problem. Bad character, negativity and no willingness to do things the way we needed them to conform, because they thought they knew it best. They did the job for last 10, 15, 20 years, so how could they be wrong?

Of course, above is based on purely few examples from my past 15 years career, but nevertheless we need to be prepared this could happen. As the next step would be to start inviting people for an interview, I would want to spend more time on the subject. I believe as employers, we need to do more than just ordinary interview. This is the time that affects both sides. Interviewees can get nervous, interviewers may not be good at getting best out of people. Both scenarios take a special person. It is not natural to all people, to be able to sell themselves in front of strangers, remember all aspects of the job, facts about the potential employer and come up with real life examples, as it is expected in structured interviews.

Person interviewing has a big task on their hands too. Another natural human behaviour is, we are mostly bias. Even when we don’t want to be, it is a characteristic that is difficult to lose. It is a human nature. We are naturally attracted to people who are like us, maybe share same interest, are similar age and so on. The important thing is, to try and squash this behaviour and open yourself to what’s maybe different, but better for the business. Normally, a good idea would be, to invite a third person into the room. Maybe your superior, maybe a colleague from that department. Again, it is all dependant on the level of the job, that is being interviewed for, but firstly, that extra person might make the atmosphere a little more relaxed, secondly, they could be taking notes. Whenever interviewing, taking notes is taking our focus from the person, so having additional person in the room to assist, is a win win situation. Plus, they can share their opinion and view on the candidate.

I found, what worked for me on few occasions, was to arrange an assessment type scenario. For the trainee or lower skilled role, where what counts more than experience, are certain characteristics is a perfect solution. It was a group setting, where all chosen candidates were invited on same day and same time. About 2 hours assessment, inclusive of presentation about the company and the role, couple of group exercise, one role specific exercise and short 10 minutes interviews with all candidates. That event allowed me, to see how people behave in group settings, how they interact with each other, it takes pressure of them as they are all in the same position. You can get to see what attitude they display. Make sure you prepare well if you decide to try this type of recruitment event. It should be planned for, you should have one or two extra people helping you, who would also be observing and taking notes. Once you shortlisted candidates, you can arrange main interview, to find out more about the chosen people and their skills.

Thanks to arranging an assessment, you might be able to not only fill in a position, but you already have potentially few candidates for future roles. You start to build a candidate base without spending hours interviewing each one.

When sticking to ordinary interview, make sure you don’t schedule too many people in one day. I personally, find that I can’t see more than 2 people in one day. If each interview was to take between 45mins to 2 hrs, if we try to see more people, it will all start blending into one – the candidates, their answers, their characteristics. You don’t want this to happen. Potentially you could lose focus, stop listening to the candidates and your mind could be wandering in all other directions. You owe it to the interviewees to give them attention they deserve. After all, they made it so far and they are trying to impress you.

I will repeat myself, but filling in job openings is not an easy task. With current economy and uncertainty, people don’t always want to risk changing jobs and companies, so attracting right people, is not an easy task. That’s why I am a great believer, in ensuring the above conditions are met. Remember to build your network, prepare for interview – you are representing your business after all, be open and consider having second person in the room, maybe you can arrange an open assessment centre. Consider training someone up, can you see the characteristic and personality that will be a right fit with your company culture? It could be more beneficial to you, than a technical skill (of course I don’t refer to roles such as engineers or any other skilled workforce, where skill and knowledge is a must).

I hope this note helps you a little bit, whether you are getting ready to interview your future workforce or whether you are due an interview sometime in near future. I will focus on the best way to prepare yourself, when attending an interview, in a separate note.

In a mean time, good luck!