Hiring managers and candidates alike will tell you that the interview process is broken. Candidates can offer up horrific stories of bad interview experiences (like the candidate who drove four hours to an interview only to find out that the hiring manager wasn’t there and was asked if he could return the next day). Hiring managers can do the same, from ghosting to poorly prepared candidates, interviews can feel like a waste of time. Even when the interview goes well, it can be hard for either party to know if there is a good fit. After all, how much can you really learn about someone in an hour or two?
While the use of behavioral-based interview questions has improved the process, this methodology is steeped in the idea that the past is the best predictor of the future. And, how true is that really? We all change and grow. How we handled a difficult client five years ago is most likely not how we would do it today. To get a better understanding of a candidate’s current mindset, interviewers must shift from judgment to curiosity. In short, take a coach approach.
Coaches dig deep - quickly
The cornerstone of any coaching conversation is listening. Coaches ask open-ended questions with the goal of understanding. Coaches are curious and non-judgmental. They seek to understand not only their client’s actions but, more importantly, the underlying thoughts and motivations behind them.
This technique can also be applied when interviewing candidates. Take the popular interview question, “What are your strengths?”. Normally a candidate will list off several strengths and the interviewer will ask either why he or she sees them as strengths or perhaps ask for examples of them in use. A coach, however, would first ask how the client defines the strength and why that strength is important to them. For example, if a candidate says one of their strengths is being highly organized a coach might ask, “What exactly does being highly organized mean to you?” or “How do you define being highly organized?”. A follow-up question would be, “Why is it important for you to be organized?” The coach approach allows the interviewer to get to the underlying motivations of being organized.
This type of questioning can be applied to all aspects of the interview process. It’s even a nice compliment to behavioral-based interview questions. The idea is to tune into exactly what the candidate is saying and ask questions about the words they have chosen. It’s natural to assume when a candidate says they are organized that we have the same understanding of what the word “organized” means, but in reality, we might have very different definitions. Moreover, it’s not as important to know that the candidate is organized, but rather, why they feel they must be well organized or why organization is important to them.
The other critical component of any coaching conversation is following the energy. We’ve long been taught to observe body language for cues about excitement, nervousness or even honesty. Likewise, candidates have been taught to mimic their interviewer’s body language. This means that body language by itself is no longer a true “tell”. Following the energy simply means listening for changes in tone of voice, pace of speech, or listening for emotion to indicate what the candidate might be feeling or thinking. When people are excited you can hear it in their voice. Likewise, you can also detect feelings of insecurity or stress. A good coach listens to not only what is being said, but how it is being said.
Lastly, coaches hold their client’s agenda. Simply put, the coach is there to serve the client. One of the reasons many candidates feel the interview process is broken is that companies can lose sight of the fact that the candidate is interviewing them too. Be sure to hold your candidate’s agenda by allowing them ample time to ask questions. Most candidates require more than the usual fifteen minutes at the end of the interview. Better yet, schedule a separate time for the candidate to interview you and the members of your team.
By incorporating some basic coaching practices into your interview process, you will not only get to know candidates on a deeper level, but you will enhance their interview experience as well.