Interviewing is a critical part of the recruitment for any organization. It helps organizations
understand how candidates think and act, and ultimately helps with the final decision-making process. The recruitment process helps to answer key questions. Does the candidate possess the required skills for the role? How will the candidate add to the culture of our organization (notice that I haven’t said “fit with the culture” - more on that another time)?
During the interview, a candidate’s hard and soft skills all come into play, making for a stressful and sometimes nerve-wracking experience for candidates. As such, candidates often spend hours and sometimes days preparing for an interview. Sometimes they have to access childcare, take unpaid time off of work and pay for transportation to an interview.
Sadly, many interviewers fail to recognize the power they wield over candidates. Rather than
looking at the candidate as a highly skilled individual who brings much to the table, many
interviewers enter the process from a place of suspicion. They view their role as interviewer as an opportunity to weed out bad candidates until only one remains rather than one of finding the best candidate amongst several excellent candidates. The difference may be subtle, but it’s important. When the emphasis is placed on weeding out candidates, interviewers tend to approach candidates with suspicion and attempt to trip them up. When the focus is on finding the best candidate amongst a group of well-suited candidates, there should be a willingness to embrace curiosity in an attempt to truly understand the candidate and a tacit acknowledgement that the high stakes, do-or-die interview model may not yield the best results.
Once, I interviewed for a leadership position where I was interviewed by several members of the organization’s board and a recruiter. As part of the process, I was asked by the recruiter to prepare a presentation on an assigned topic. Moments into the presentation, one of the board members in attendance interrupted me to ask me a series of back-to-back questions, some completely unrelated to the presentation. Later, I found out that he’d done this to test how quick I was on my feet and off the cuff.
Later on, the recruiter asked me to share my presentation notes. I explained to her that the
notes were intended for personal use and that it would take more time for me to update the
notes to be able to share them with the selection committee. A few days after the interview, I
was contacted by the recruiter again as she asked me if I could meet with a board member who was unable to attend the previous interview. It was the day before a scheduled trip and in the middle of my vacation. Reluctantly, I agreed. A few days later, I received another such request for yet another board member.
The unwillingness (or perhaps inability) of these board members to consolidate their plans was a big red flag. An even bigger red flag was that the board members thought that it was
reasonable to ask me to sacrifice my personal time to accommodate their disorganization.
Similarly, the disruption of my presentation to see how I respond on my feet, embodies an adversarial, ‘gotcha’ mentality that turns so many interviews sour. As you might imagine, I decided to withdraw my application for this role.
Here are some suggestions for what to do when interviewing (not an exhaustive list):
1. Compensate interviewers for their time.
Paying candidates for interviews lets candidates know that you understand that their preparation for the interview is a form of labour. It also, given how many people are forced to take time away from work for interviews, helps remove financial barriers by limiting the financial impact of the interview process. Lastly, paying candidates can help steer organizations away from exploiting candidates. Is a four-page book report truly necessary to apply for this position or is this more of a gatekeeping strategy? By paying candidates, organizations may be forced to reflect upon whether their interview process is accomplishing their stated goals.
2. Share questions in advance
Candidates should be allowed to think through their responses, carefully reflect on their experience and consider how best to present that experience in response to the questions. Interviewers shouldn’t assume that the language of the interview is the candidates first or preferred language. Giving questions in advance allows the candidate to access translation support if needed.
3. Give unsuccessful candidate an option/opportunity for feedback
For prospective candidates, there are few things more deflating than finding out that they did not get the job. This news is particularly difficult when the candidate has gone through multiple unpaid interviews, writing evaluations, presentations, tests, and more. To lessen the impact, consider providing opportunities for candidates to receive feedback on their interview process. This will help interested candidates to prepare for their next big interview and to feel as though the hours of prep time, ironed clothes, and time away from work weren’t all for naught.
Meeting candidates from a place of humility rather than suspicion is foundational to overhauling the often-flawed interview process. Recognizing that interviews are a form of labour that often requires significant preparation is critical to developing a process that is respectful, fair, and reciprocal rather than adversarial and exploitative.
Co-founder and Principal Consultant, Evenings & Weekends Consulting