I Can’t Stand It No More: Breaking All The Rules of Interviewing.

pfLooking back at it now, when I was 23 years old I was what my friends affectionately referred to as a “late bloomer.” Which is to say, I had already fallen behind in life, or so it seemed, and I hadn’t really even started yet.

But there I was – nervous, sure, but feeling prepared for the moment, now that it was finally here.

I had, after all, done a fair amount of furtive reading about it, and of course, had spent the last several years indulging in secretive conversations with my girlfriends who all, it seemed, had actually experienced this rite of passage.

But the time had finally come, and there I was, an absolute wreck; my heart was beating a mile a minute, and I was sure that despite all my preparation and practice, I’d forget the basics, like the order in which you were supposed to do things.

I was sure I was going to screw up and ruin everything. As I went to the door, I adjusted my navy blue skirt, cast a critical glance down at my stockings to make sure they were straight (wouldn’t want to send out any subtle suggestions, even though we both knew what was going to happen), and took a swig of liquid courage. Anything I could do to fortify myself, I thought, as I made my way to the door to beckon him in.

As I opened the door, I turned up my lips in a well rehearsed smile, the kind that I’d practiced in the mirror for more times than I care to admit. I had pretty much perfected it by now, or so I thought – that look that was both welcoming and confident, yet not too welcoming or too confident – a little coy, maybe, but also one that tried to show I was in control, even as the butterflies fluttered in my stomach and a blush washed over my face.

“Hey, John,” I somehow managed to stammer. “Won’t you come in?”

There was no mistaking that invitation, and with those simple words, ladies and gentlemen, John became my first. And it was, well – it was good. For both us. Even now, I smile thinking about that day where this late bloomer’s flower finally blossomed.

I had finally interviewed my first candidate. Even better, after the act, John ultimately scored a job. He might not remember me today, but me? Well, you never forget your first.

I’m In You.

Peter-Frampton-Im-In-You-138219That first time, as our small talk segued into something more, well, substantial, the adrenaline coursed through my veins and my interior monologue was somewhere far from our conversation, wracking me with self-doubt. Was I doing it right? What if I didn’t remember some critical part of the process? What if I forgot what he told me he wanted, and what he was looking for?

Was it at least OK for him, or did my lack of experience betray me? What would happen after we were done? Could this encounter actually turn into a long term match?

I mean, really. What did I know about any of this stuff? My only previous experience was solo – doing it with myself in a mirror or at least taking a few practice runs with one of my pillows standing in for the subject.

Plus, it wasn’t like I had a whole hell of a lot of experience on the other side, either – I had only had exactly eight previous interviews in my entire life, and for the most part, those were done by people who fumbled and faked their way through the act worse than I did.

They were all quickies, felt oddly formal and rushed, and I left all of them thinking that there was no way in hell after that I’d ever get anyone to call me back. Which is all I really wanted – knowing it was satisfying enough for them to at least want to get to know me a little bit better. Even if it took a second or third time.

My very first ever interview as a candidate was for a high school gig with Spencer’s Gifts at the local mall; you know, the place where the inventory consists of a weird mix of drinking accoutrements, adult accessories and novelty T-Shirts. I think they asked about my experience running a cash register, but all I remember were the eerie purple glow of black lights shining against the Peter Frampton posters hanging on the wall, which was covered in red shag carpeting.

It was exciting for a teenager to even think about being trusted to sell such precious wares as Lava Lamps or Pink Floyd t-shirts – but like Peter Frampton himself once sang, “I’m in you, you’re in me, cause you gave me the love, love I never had.” And they also gave me a few bucks an hour, which was a pretty killer perk, too. Spencer and I got along, but you know how it is in high school – things change, people move on.

I Wanna Go To The Sun.

peter-frampton-comes-alive-les-paul-guitarI held three jobs during my college years, and while I’m sure they interviewed me, I don’t remember a single detail of a single one. I imagine the “hiring managers,” such as they were, were primarily concerned with my availability to cover evening and weekend shifts as well as my ability to show up on time and not provoke customers into fist fights.

Which is how I ended up starting my career with a string of prestigious, high impact positions such as ringing up orders at Burger Chef, overseeing the sign in sheet at the University’s Athletic Department, and keeping the stiff drinks and superficial conversation flowing while doing my requisite duty as a barmaid (I was particularly good at this job, frankly).

But I knew that I wanted more than a few drunks asking me for my number or being constantly surrounded by the stench of fried food or wet towels, so, naturally, Interview Number 5 was for a professional, post-college gig at a staffing agency.

I quickly realized that I was uniquely qualified, based on the above experience, for a role that was more or less a glorified coordinator responsible for administering typing tests to clerical candidates and operating a fax machine. And so I, like so many of us, somehow fell into my career in HR when they realized I not only knew how to fill out a cover page, but I could work my way well north of 90 WPM myself. I was on my way.

Interview 6 came at the branch of a local bank, where I had found another job when I got tired of playing secretary, Gal Friday and test proctor for temp workers, albeit doing much the same sort of work, but with bankers, who, turns out, were far more professional and easy to deal with than agency recruiters. I stuck around long enough in my HR Assistant role to apply for a promotion, and interviews 7 and 8 were with the VP, HR and SVP of HR for a newly opened in-house recruiter role. Hey, I thought, anyone can be a recruiter – why not me?

And now here I was with John, the very first candidate I’d found, courted and picked up for a date all by myself.

Show Me The Way.

Peter_Frampton_-_Shows_the_WayThing is, I didn’t approach this interview with John the First completely naive, unprepared and totally uninformed – I knew where jobs came from, after all, and wasn’t some Pollyanna or a Duggar daughter on her wedding night.

Although I hadn’t directly run a desk or placed temps into the contract roles that came across that infernal agency fax machine, I had, after all, worked at that staffing agency for a year, during the course of which I had seen my fair share of interviews.

Thankfully, that meant that unlike many first time recruiters, I wasn’t going from side hugs and no kissing to full out intercourse just because I finally had a job that actually required me to talk to candidates and figure out whether or not they were placeable, or where they fit best.

It wasn’t like mere hours before my first kiss at the altar, I was handed an IBLP pamphlet by my mother and told to just close my eyes and think of Jesus.

Nope. I was eager, sure. But this girl came prepared for getting down and dirty.

Thankfully, in those times long ago when I first had the recruiting reins handed to me, my boss spent a considerable amount of time teaching me about the birds and the bees of behavioral based interviewing, from theory and process to discussing legal stuff and how to prevent unconscious bias. He was grooming me, to be sure, and went so far as to give me homework and, when the mood was right, some role-playing of stressful or unexpected interview scenarios.

I sat second chair (he was Jack McCoy! I was Claire Kincaid! It was Law & Order!), shadowing him while he conducted several interviews, then finally let me take the lead on several more, which he observed and provided a litany of post-interview feedback, challenging my post-interview assessments and decisions. Sure, those first menage-a-trois could be frustrating. I knew I was ready. He wanted to make damn sure I was right.

He was, in short, a total hard ass. I learned a lot.

Do You Feel Like We Do?

framptonI was fortunate to have been given such thorough on the job training, but in retrospect, so too was my employer (at least in my estimation). One could safely assume that had the big boss man gone with some outside candidate who already had years of recruiting experience, he wouldn’t have had to spend an excessive amount of time preparing him or her to make sure that I was ready for my first time before turning me out on my own.

Had he hired someone with several years of experience in recruiting and/or staffing, he probably would have expected her to hit the ground running and start filling requisitions as soon as possible. He never would have questioned whether or not she was ready, “how” she conducted interviews or what level of interpersonal skill and situational savviness she brought to this most basic of applicant interactions.

The time he spent with me was not only valuable for my own professional development, but it gave me a model that I’ve since replicated at numerous organizations throughout my career. When I ultimately became an HR leader and was tasked with building my own team and department, with responsibility for hiring recruiting and HR practitioners on my own, I always – always – took the time to train them with the same rigor I myself had found myself subjected to.

It worked, after all, and no matter which employer happened to be employing me, I’ve found that training both new hires and new hiring managers with these same techniques creates a shared level of understanding and competency. I can’t imagine letting someone interview without knowing they knew how – even if they had the other side of the desk down cold. But I know I’m something of an outlier on this issue.

Think about it – how did you learn to interview a candidate before your very first time? Was it trial and error? Practice? By watching a bootleg DVD from Sweden with some impossibly attractive and nimble ‘entertainers’ just waiting to show off their ‘greatest assets?’

What about your hiring managers? Whenever we promote from within (“Bill exceeds all expectations as an individual contributor – hell, it says so on his performance review. Must be manager material!”) or hire someone from the outside (“Susie has three years of experience managing direct reports – she’ll have no trouble managing ours!”) we just don’t spend a whole hell of a lot of time actually training them – in depth – on HOW to interview, much less how to make the most effective selection decisions.

We don’t set baselines or benchmarks, nor do we really use any sort of protection whatsoever – we just toss Bill a handbook or Susie a process map and call it a day. We trust their instincts and our own faith that they will, in fact, have what it takes to make an important hiring decision. It’s a trust that’s too often betrayed, but a bad hire is, like a transmittable disease, easily prevented with a little education. Even if it might seem a bit awkward at first.

Baby I Love Your Way.

hqdefault (2)Recruiting and HR practitioners need to be the proverbial lube in the process to ensure that there’s a minimal amount of friction between talent pros and hiring managers during the interview process, and preempt any associated pains that come with finding out whether or not someone is actually a fit.

You know what I mean? We both share the same goal of scoring that perfect candidate, so we need to realize that we need each other as a wingman (or wingwoman) if we ever want to close the deal with someone who does it for both of us.

One way that we can do this, of course, is by actually taking the time to fully prepare hiring managers for every step of the interview process, letting them know what to expect and making sure that they know what they’re doing. This means going beyond a simple intake meeting and hoping for the best; it means going past just spelling out the workflow or explaining their role in the process and where they should send feedback. It even goes further than having a discussion to clarify the desired KSAs and benchmark the recruiting budget and required compensation associated with any given requisition.

Instead, we must, if we’re truly doing our jobs and proving that HR Business Partner is more than a buzzword or oxymoron, that we’re responsible for educating and teaching our hiring managers about not only the why of interviewing, but the how, stressing the importance of consistency and how to actually hire for job relevance or provide more meaningful feedback than, “we seemed to click.” 

It’s taking the time to discuss interview format, assist our hiring managers in developing and standardizing interview questions aligned with specific competencies, and making suggestions to that they can actually ask meaningful behavioral based questions and dive deeper into answers to figure out what a candidate’s done, not just taking what a candidate says they’ve done at face value, as we’re too often wont to do.

Yeah, I’m a fan of behavioral interviewing, but that’s because, well, in my experience, the best way to predict future performance is by looking for patterns in the past, and this approach has consistently worked throughout my career (and we’re talking a pretty long past, frankly).

In our role as educator and enabler, we can point out what an incomplete or incoherent answer looks like, and the dangers associated with allowing candidates to give theoretical or anecdotal evidence in lieu of actionable answers and tangible evidence.

We need to make sure our hiring managers have the tools to not only gather the right raw data from an interview, as it were, but to interpret those answers in a way where we’re using interviews not just as process formalities, but instead, as predictive intelligence designed to preempt bad hires and uncover high potential performers. Every company interviews, but the question is: are you getting any bang for your buck? Because if not, you and your hiring manager are probably going to pay.

This approach takes time, and sure, it’s kind of a pain in the ass. But our job is to enable our people to find and hire the best people, and this requires being part teacher, part coach and part consigliere. It also means saying to the newly promoted manager (or hell, even the most experienced managers), “I want you to be successful in this process. What can I do to help make sure you’re comfortable and fully prepared?” 

While the talk swirls around enforcing competencies and credentials through creating some form of “National Recruiting Association,” let’s not forget that one of the most basic ‘tasks’ that any recruiter or HR practitioner, or the hiring managers we support, must have is actually interviewing and selecting candidates.

Sure, we can add in a bunch of technology, like video capabilities and matching algorithms, but until the robots completely take over, a National Recruiting Association won’t compensate for the fact that interviewing isn’t just a recruiter’s job, nor a hiring manager – it’s everybody’s shared responsibility, and no one gets off from doing their part in what’s inherently a group activity, not a solo exercise. When we make a hire, it’s because it feels right for everyone involved – and everyone can walk away satisfied.

So, whether it’s your first time or you’re like the Wilt Chamberlain of interviewing, let’s make interviewing a pleasurable experience for everyone.

Now, any chance you can spare a cigarette? I’m spent.

unnamed (4)Robin Schooling is on a mission to make organizations better by making HR better. With 20+ years of senior HR leadership experience in a variety of industries, she consults with organizations, advises HR teams, speaks to HR and business audiences and writes for a variety of sites and publications.

Schooling has been an active and involved SHRM volunteer leader, holds a few of those HR certifications herself, and at one point in time even received an award as “HR Professional of the Year.” She has been known to search out the perfect French 75 and is a fervent and unapologetic fan of the New Orleans Saints, even if they did trade Jimmy Graham.

For more for Robin, check out her blog, follow her on Twitter@RobinSchooling or connect with her on LinkedIn.


Robin Schooling

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