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How to Bring your A-Game to the Recruitment Table

In order to win the war on talent, you have to bring your best to the table. Here's how to make sure you excel in the interview.

Recruitment isn’t an easy job. You have to be on it at all times. You need to be sharp, listen for clues, ask the right questions and never, ever drift off. So, I ensure I excel using gallons of coffee, a good preparation and I follow up on actions immediately. I know that as a recruiter, you have to bring your best to the interview to be able to compete and win in the search for talent.

Organizations rely on the effective and flawless execution of recruitment processes to make sure they can attract the right talent. It’s needed to win what some call “the War on Talent”. We may be in a job market that is not as hot as it was. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that there is a surplus of hard-to-find crucial candidates. That means that as a recruiter, you put your best foot forward. You have to be at your best and don’t drop the ball at any time. You make sure you stick out compared to the competition. Make sure you avoid these pretty common mistakes during the interview itself.

1. Winging It

It doesn’t matter how good you think you know the role and how certain you are of your skills. You can’t go into the interview without appropriate preparation. Before you interview your candidates, you make sure you have a briefing with the hiring manager. In that briefing, you focus on the criteria the hiring manager wants to focus on. Look for specific job requirements and specifics that are a little bit more abstract in nature. I call that the candidate’s perfect profile. Your understanding of this profile makes sure that you can select the perfect candidate. For that purpose, ask questions that truly matter for finding the perfect candidate.

Then – the interview. No matter how tired you are and how many back-to-back appointments you have, you need to come prepared. Don’t forget: from the candidates’ perspective, you may very well be the first point of contact. With your interaction and behavior, you set the tone for the candidates’ perception. You effectively drive the appreciation of your – and possibly – the candidates’ employer. If you don’t focus on the interview, there is a large chance the candidate will notice. In the least bad case, the candidate will be nervous. In the worst case, it may put off the candidate. You may lose the candidate altogether.

2. Not Interested

This one is similar to the Lack of Focus mentioned in the previous paragraph. However, this one is much, much worse. I understand. There can be many things that cause you to lose interest in the interview. The assessment you make in the first 7 seconds yielded a “no, not this one” response. You don’t like the answers to your technical questions. The candidate messed up by giving the wrong answers. There is just no click. All that happens in the life of a recruiter. But you have to be above that, and maintain professional and respectful behavior.

Again – a candidate with a tiny amount of perception will see that you’re no longer in the room. You may have drifted off, are cleaning your nails, looking out the window, or thinking of dinner. Stay in the room and in the interview. If you can, find an elegant and polite way to end the interview. If you have the authority to do that, that’s a solution. I ensured that I had a ‘secret sign’ with the meeting partner. Usually, it meant I turned over the resume, and it ended quickly thereafter.

If you conclude in a polite way, you preserve the relationship and maintain a possible brand ambassador for the employer. It is a small world: you never know if that comes in handy one day.

My advice: assume you’re not seeing something, and give the candidate the benefit of the doubt. If you have a second interviewer with you, have him or her take over. Compare notes afterward. Even better: use AskAway’s video interview process, power through, and give yourself and the team the chance to look afterward. Give it a shot. Try it for free.

3. Closed Questions

This is nothing new. Anyone who has ever conducted or has been part of an interview, or watched an interview knows that closed questions are deadly. Anything that can be answered with “yes” or “no” or anything else single-syllable-like is highly effective if you are looking for a simple statement or a fact. If you want more elaborate answers, you have to force the candidate. The candidate needs to be nudged to answer a question that requires more thought. Elicit an opinion, thought, or description of a situation or event and behaviors. If a question like that gets a one-word answer, you’re in trouble. But it won’t be because the question wasn’t good, the candidate may not be.

To summarize, an open question usually starts with the words “what…”, “why…”, “how…”, or “describe…”, and requires an explanation and context in the answer. While you may be going for the same type of answer, the response may be different. It depends on the open or closed sentiment of the question. “Did you start the fight?” is closed, while “How did the fight between the two of you start?” is open-ended. They may both yield the answer that the person asked started it. But in the second open question, you will likely get more context. And that’s when you learn.

By the way – asking a closed question isn’t wrong, necessarily. It can be a good check of whether a situation is applicable. “Can you describe to me how you lead a team?” That’s a silly question if you haven’t checked whether the candidate has. It may return an awkward response. Asking, “did you ever lead a team, and if so, tell me how you lead?” makes more sense.

4. Focusing on Skills and Experience and Not on Attitude

It requires a delicate balance: you have to ensure that the candidate has the appropriate level of knowledge and experience. You may have minimum criteria for a successful candidate, so that’s what you focus on. The culture fit is also important: the candidate ideally is a nice fit for the broader team.

Friendly personality, helpful, good listener, to name a few items. Several years of experience in the right roles. Project management and financial forecasting. Ticks all the boxes.

But a considerable portion of the interview needs to be focused on the attitude of the candidate. You need to be able to understand if “results-oriented” means that your sales manager will drive the customer service employees crazy with pressure to get stuff delivered. Whether “leadership skills” actually means “micromanagement”. A candidate’s attitude can be an important predictor of future behavior, success, and performance. Open-ended questions that focus on the candidate’s role, actions, and behaviors are necessary to determine the right attitude for your organization.

5. No Follow-up Questions

It’s perfectly fine to have a setlist of questions. I love it, especially when you interview more people for the same role. If you have a list, you make sure you ask all candidates the same questions and that’s good for an honest and clear comparison.

But a fixed list of questions doesn’t mean that you work down your list and that’s that. You have to listen actively, and look for keys and clues to dig into. If you get an answer that isn’t entirely clear or there’s more to it, you follow-up.

“Yep, I was responsible for the release of that new product, and it was pretty hard.”

Interestingly, you should immediately think and follow-up. “Was the release successful? Why was it hard? How did you overcome the trouble? What did you learn?” And so on, and so forth. You’d be surprised by the direction interviews suddenly take if you probe a little bit. Right, wrong, or indifferent.

Final Thoughts

This the second piece in our series on optimized recruitment processes: find the first article here. Next time, we’ll take one last look at your role as a recruiter, and where you can truly bring it home. We hope you like this series, and it helps you. Remember, as much as the candidate only has one opportunity to make a first impression, so have you. In theory, you have the upper hand, but make sure you keep it that way. The code word: focus. Good luck!

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