Let’s assume the following: A) You’ve written a job description that is concise, intriguing and honest; B) you’re doing this all on your own, without the help of an HR person; C) you don’t have a standardized system of recruiting and vetting; D) you aren’t so obsessed with your company culture that you’re looking for the exact right combination of personality, pedigree and the answer “honey badger” to the question “If you could be any animal …?”; and E) you have the capacity to empathize with people, generally. Got it? Now here’s what interviewees want.
Truly value new perspectives. Candidates should not feel like they’re trying to join a club during an interview. Has an obsession with culture worked for some companies? Yes. But don’t be so obsessed that you come off as a goggle-eyed evangelist. The only difference between “culture” and “cult” is “ure.” As in: “Ure kinda creeping me out with all this culture business.”
Says Michael Williams, director of strategy and growth at Wine ’n Dine, a food and restaurant app based in New York City: “We don’t want to craft a culture. We want it to be natural and authentic. And in order to reach that, it’s important for us to have a diverse team with diverse interests. We don’t want someone who’s just going to fall into the same patterns that we’re already in, see the same problems the way we see them.”
A prospective employee should be looked upon as an addition who represents possibility, not as a slot-filler. This has the power to change your whole approach to interviewing.
Sit next to us. At times, literally.
This happened to me once, and I will never forget it. My prospective boss shook my hand from across his desk, then walked around and grabbed one of two chairs in front of the desk and invited me to sit in the other one. We sat as equals and had a conversation. Not an interview. A conversation. It started things off in exactly the right way.
Says Pamela Skillings, co-founder and president of Skillful Communications and a consultant specializing in interview coaching and career counseling: “You’re going to get much better information if you make the person feel comfortable. Body language plays a role on both sides of the table.”
Wait a beat after we finish answering a question.
This is a journalist’s technique. When an interviewee has stopped talking, wait just a moment before you ask the next question or make the next point. Often, interviewees will give you their best answer once they’ve gotten the obvious answer out of their head. Many times you’ll be surprised by how great the second-tier response is.
Don’t ask: “Where do you see yourself in five years?”
This question is useless. Most people know to say something that suggests they would be committed to the organization and want to grow within it for the next five, 10, 20, 50, 100 years. What good is that?
Says Skillings: “The reason people ask is to find out if the candidate is just looking for a steppingstone and is going to leave after a couple months if something better comes along.” Which is unknowable and easy to mask.
Don’t ask: “What am I going to find out about you six months in that I won’t like?”
Because this is an impossible question to answer. Also, it’s cruel.
Tell us how we did on the thing.
You know -- the thing. Maybe it was a test. Maybe it was a few ideas for improving a process or a product. I was interviewed by the editor in chief of a major magazine once, and right as I was about to leave his office, he said, almost as if it were an afterthought, “Why don’t you look at the latest issue and tell me how it could be improved?”
I spent the next three days working on these tasks. I turned it all in and never heard a word back. Awful.
Listen to our references.
One of the worst things I’ve ever done for an employee was not listen to a reference who was all but screaming: “Don’t hire her!”
So: Listen to them. Don’t necessarily act on what they’re saying, but listen. Ask open-ended questions like “What else should I know about this candidate?”
And please, for the love of God, let us know what’s going on.
Prospective candidates hang on every word, every clue, every indication. If you say you’re going to make a decision in a week, then make a decision in a week or let them know you need more time. Let job candidates know their status -- even if they are no longer being considered for the position. And if you’re stalling, and letting people hang, ask yourself why.
The interview, while socially fraught, is not the trickiest part of the hiring process. At least not for the interviewee. No, the most vexing part for the interviewee is the waiting.
And one last thing. The correct answer to the animal question is: baboon. Intelligent, wily team players. When you’re hiring people, look for baboons.
Roll Out the Welcome Mat
Below, a template for a single email to be sent to a new employee a few days before he or she starts work. Adapt as necessary.
Dear [name of hiree],
I’m so glad you chose to come work with us here at [name of company].
On Monday, I would arrive at [optimum time, not too early, not too late]. I [or someone else’s name] will be here to greet you.
One thing to keep in mind is [something in your company that could seem very odd to people coming to work there]. We’re not sure why this happens, but [expression of bemusement]. You’ll get the hang of it.
While you should get your bearings on your first day, I think you should begin to think about [specific task]. That will be an important focus during your first [specific time period].
I’ve scheduled a lunch at [restaurant that serves a cuisine described as “New American”] on Monday with you, [person hiree will be working closely with] and me for 12:30.
If you have any questions at all, call me at [number].
Best, [Your name]
P.S. This is gonna be [extremely positive adjective, edging right up to hyperbole, but not quite]!