Interviewer Training

A morning at the dentist having root canal work, or a morning of interviews for new hires into your department? Tricky choice. Oh, and by the way it’s just been landed on you by HR, who are sure you’ll do a good job.

It’s now a common problem in fast growth companies who are hiring rapidly, as the central HR department tries to delegate the interviewing process down to the hiring managers. What does excellent look like? How do you ensure that you attract the candidates that will really add value to your organization, and that they accept your offer, and that they stay beyond 6 months? Conversely how do you avoid hiring potential troublemakers, or avoid legal action from a candidate with a grievance about the interview process, who claims discrimination? And how do you ensure consistency across multiple busy hiring managers?

It’s over 20 years since the phrase “war on talent” became commonplace after the McKinsey book of the same name. A 2017 study of over 600,000 individuals from business, research, politics and entertainment showed that high performers were 400% more productive than average ones. As a business, you want as many of those as possible.

So how should your organization ensure that you have an interviewing process that ticks all the boxes and gets you the very best candidates? Obviously you will need to have a competitive offer, but in addition you need to ensure that your interviewers;

• Understand your organization’s hiring process and their individual role within the process.
• Know how to prepare for an interview i.e. develop questions, review
CV’s and application letters.
• Understand how to conduct an interview which is legally compliant, that avoids bias and really gets the best out of the candidate.
• Know how to give good feedback and provide a consistent interview score.
• Understand the post-interview process and what happens next.

Interviewers need to strike the right balance between asking challenging questions which adequately assess the candidate’s skills, and with making the candidate feel that the organization is the right place for them to build a career. It’s partly a selling job; you want to highlight the “value added” of the organization, whereas candidates need to feel that your organization wants their talent, and that after joining they can make an impact and feel at home. Remember that the evaluation process is two-way, candidates are assessing you as much as you are assessing them.

In short, you need to ensure that your interviewers are trained to a high standard, and will be able to provide an interview that will leave the candidate feeling great about your organization, whether or not they receive an offer. Your training should ensure that interviewers can do the following.

Understand and explain your hiring process

Interviewers need to know how many stages are involved, the time frames and any pre-selection testing ie inbox exercises or Excel assessments. They need to show empathy with candidates, and be able to explain why the components are necessary, and how it all fits together.

Interview preparation

Candidates want to join an organization that cares about them and their development, and will be put off if your interviewers have failed to match up the role’s required skills and behaviors with those shown in the candidates CV and applications. This will also highlight areas for further exploration during the interview.

Well-conducted Interview

Interviewers should always start on time, introduce everyone and their role, explain that there will be taking some note-taking, tell candidates the duration of the interview, and avoid sitting directly opposite the candidate. Start with a general “settling“ question that a candidate will be able to answer easily, something that they will know, before launching directly into questions.

It should always be clear what you are looking for when asking a question. If it is obvious that a candidate is struggling to answer, then either rephrase it or give them a hint to try to guide them, or gently move on to another question.

Interviewers need to understand whether the type of question and how to score the response.

• Behavioral, where typically they will be looking for a strong example to illustrate from the candidate, using a framework such as STAR (Situation, Task, Action, Result) to score against.
• Strength-based, where assessment of body language and enthusiasm is used to establish natural innate strengths.
• Technical, where either specialist knowledge or literacy/numeracy/judgmental skills are tested.

Many managers have invisible or unconscious bias, and tend to prefer candidates with which they share common beliefs. This may lead to lack of diversity in recruitment, and all training courses for interviewers should include an element of unconscious bias training, so that least there is awareness and the opportunity to correct this.
Most countries expressly prohibit discrimination based on age, sex, religion, nationality, childcare requirements or medical conditions. These are defined as “protected” characteristics, and interviewers cannot directly ask these questions about these i.e. “Which country were you born in?”. Instead, questions must focus on the ability to carry out requirements of the role i.e. ”Is there anything that would prevent you from fulfilling the job requirements?”.
Training in unconscious bias and avoidance of discrimination should be mandatory for managers, both to improve inclusivity and diversity, but also to protect the organization from legal claims.

Interview Scoring and Feedback

Ideally there should be high consistency between different managers, when interviewing the same candidate; this is where scoring templates and model answers can really help. This helps both in selecting the right candidates, but also becomes the basis for informed and helpful feedback, as well as reducing the potential for discrimination claims.

What Happens next

All interviewers should be able to keep to the interview timing, so there is adequate time for wrapping up, questions from the candidate, and to explain what happens next, within what time frame. They should use the opportunity thank the candidate for attending, try to sum up the candidate’s strengths and how they would add value to the organization. This is still part of the sales pitch!

Much of the above will be second nature to experienced HR professionals, but for hiring managers, it is essential that they receive adequate training, and only conduct interviews when all are confident in their ability to deliver.

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