Five Ways to Interview for a Long-Term Hire

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Five Ways to Interview for a Long-Term Hire

I thought I'd also share a post of mine from back in February that was published on HCM Essentials about ways to interview for long-term hires:

Interviews are a critical part of the way we hire. By the time candidates make it to the interviewing stage of the application process, the company has invested significant time and resources in them, and the interviewing process is designed to be the last threshold for determining which ones will make the cut.  Interviews are a fantastic way to get a feel for who applicants really are, what they care about, and how they’ll gel with the rest of the company. The only problem? Most interviewers have no idea what they’re doing.

Most people who walk into the room to interview a new candidate don’t go in with a strategy. They likely haven’t been trained on what to ask or even what to look for. They end up missing out on a huge opportunity for insights that could make the difference between the right hire and the wrong one. Here are five tips to ensure that your interview is helping you find the absolute best fit for your company.

1. If you’re looking for a long-term relationship, you’ve got to talk about the future. 

Just like in romantic relationships, the success of professional relationships hinges on both parties being aligned about “where things are going.” For new hires, that means talking about a career trajectory right from the start. Retention starts the second a company engages with a new candidate, and laying out a desirable career path is a strong way to set things off on a positive note. This type of discussion serves two purposes: first, it sets the employee’s expectations, so that if the relationship does move forward you’re both on the same page about what it will look like—which might also make the difference between winning the hire or not. Second, it allows the interviewers to really flesh out the often intangible parts of the process that are clear indicators of fit, beyond basic skills and general values. Make sure to enter the interview with a clear concept of what this career path might look like, and set aside time to discuss it in full.

2. Have a clear, well-thought-out interview process in place. 

The interview sets the tone for the rest of the relationship, and in a competitive talent market, first impressions are important. A streamlined interview process makes for a better candidate experience and instills confidence in the organization as a whole. It also makes the best use of your resources. In-depth technical testing is important, but can be a significant time investment for both the candidate and the company. Hiring screenings should be deliberately laid out so that the most basic come first, preventing any unpleasant realizations much later in the process when resources have already been expended. In most companies, this means that recruiters screen first, then hiring managers, then technical teams. Only then should the candidate be brought in for a round of onsite interviews and potentially given an offer.

3. Keep your interviewers balanced and consistent. 

Everyone’s opinion varies. If you want to spend your interviewing process getting a feel for the differences in your candidates, rather than the differences in your current employees, your best bet is to keep your interview panel the same. You’re also going to want to make sure your interviewers represent all of the company’s varying interests. A well-balanced panel can assess candidate responses in their particular area of expertise, so your business ends up with a complete picture of the person. Of course, employee time is valuable, but failing to invest in a full interviewing panel could end up costing you far more. Minimize friction by standardizing the process as much as possible so employees can build sessions into their schedules and use their time effectively.

4. Give interviewers background in advance. 

Another way to make the interviewing process more efficient? Prepping your interviewers with background information and even prepared questions before they walk in. Having that foundation ensures that they don’t waste time casting around for what to ask, and that they don’t overlook anything they might need in order to make a complete and fair assessment. Interviewers armed with data from the start can understand candidate responses in context and make better judgments as a result.

5. Test for skills. 

Resumes aren’t reliable. Not only do people misrepresent themselves (a Career Builder study found that 58 percent of employers had caught applicants in lies), but the factual information provided may be a poor representation of the person’s merit. To truly understand a candidate’s capabilities, you have to experience them firsthand. For some roles, that might mean looking at a portfolio or sample of previous work, which is helpful, but even those samples could be skewed by being the result of collaboration with others. The best indicator of future performance is a skills-based test that will give you an unbiased sample to work with. Prepare some sort of challenge or examination that will give you a clear understanding of candidate ability, and you’ll have far greater likelihood of making a successful hire.

You want to hire people who epitomize your company’s values, not a simple checklist of career facts. You’re hiring people — not profiles. Find the people who will serve you best by taking the time to get to know them. It’ll pay off in the long run.

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Salary Talk - Is it ok?

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Salary Talk - Is it ok?

You may be familiar with the new law passed in Massachusetts barring companies from asking about salary. This was done as a way to help bridge the wage gap and is a great first step towards wage equality. Only time will tell if this will become a trend and spread to other states, and whether it does or not, there are some things recruiters should be doing to pivot their salary talks, and things great recruiters have been doing all along.

Back when I first started recruiting (I learned how to recruit from Software Engineers, so a different experience than most), I never even thought to ask about what candidates were currently making, because to me and to my boss, it was irrelevant. We cared about what it would take to bring them into our team. We understood that it may be different than what they’re making now, and that cash compensation isn’t always what’s most important to people.

Fast forward a few years to when I started working at a recruiting agency and things changed drastically. All recruiters were instructed to ask both what candidates were currently making, and what they’re looking to make next. The emphasis was placed on the first question, and this was a conversation many of our (especially newer) recruiters struggled with. Recruiters were often reprimanded when they didn’t secure salary information and forced to try again which made a potentially uncomfortable exchange, worse.

So, having experienced the extremes of this, I thought I’d share my thoughts on the inevitable salary discussion:

Why even bring it up?

Every organization has it’s own system for how their compensation plans are structured, most do what they can to align with a certain percentile of industry standards, others set the bar much higher or lower and make up for it with equity and other factors. Especially in the VC-backed startup world, it’s not safe to assume that everyone is making the perceived market value, or even if people understand what “market value” truly is. You might also have a tight budget, and the superstar you fell in love with might easily break the bank and skew your internal leveling. This is why it’s vitally important to get salary information very early. I usually do during my initial recruiter screen.

How should you approach that conversation?

In addition to digging into a candidate’s skills and experience during an initial phone screen, I always try to find out more about what they’re looking for and are interested in next. As part of that discussion, it’s easy to ask something along the lines of “What are you hoping to make in your next role?” and candidates are usually very open and receptive. If you still get push back, I always ask for a general range and let them know that we’re just looking for a ball park to ensure our numbers aren’t so far off that we can’t find a happy medium later.

What if they flip the script?

Many candidates get the advice to ask what the role pays instead of disclosing salary. I’m not a fan of this, and encourage recruiters not to throw out a number. There are a variety of reasons for this including the candidate being more junior/senior than this role, or potentially being a better fit for another role later. Also, recruiters will generally have an approved range and it’s nearly impossible to tell where the candidate will fall within that range until later in the process when their skills are more thoroughly tested. Mentioning the pay early will become the number they’re looking for, which may hurt their chances and will definitely make the actual offer nearly impossible to negotiate.

Salary talk isn’t scary, but it should also be done the right way to ensure that there is a level playing field for all candidates and all potential new hires. Whether this new law will begin to spread to other states or not, it is probably a good best practice to start incorporating new approaches to this important discussion.

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Creating a delightful candidate experience

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Creating a delightful candidate experience

You hear the buzzword "delightful" all the time right now. Every company claims to strive for and/or offer a delightful customer experience. What does that really mean? And, should that be limited to customers or should that be part of the fabric of how they treat interactions with anyone?

In my opinion, it should really be fundamental to every company process and interaction. Here, I will focus on delightful experiences as they relate to candidates

What makes an experience delightful?

Simply put, a delightful experience is one that evokes delight from the intended party. You can't be in a room with a designer, PM, marketer, or founder right now and not hear it thrown around several times. Why is this so important? Well, there are many choices for each and every option out there, and the team is in place to ensure that you choose them over the other options. Having a beautiful and friendly UI goes a long way at making products/services more approachable to the public, and having a stellar customer support team further gives delight throughout the customer lifecycle. Things that make life easier for the user and cause them to feel special often fall into the delight category.

What does this mean for candidates? 

Not every company has a clearly defined hiring brand (something I'll get into in a later post), but whether they nurture it or not, they definitely have a brand and it can easily work in their favor, or just as easily work against them. Especially for companies that value user experience and happiness, that is (or at least should be) built into their hiring brand as well. Candidates that have done their research and are interested in their company, will expect a similar experience and will expect that the team also values these things and it would come across in their interactions with them. It generally does if the impression of the company from users is true to the experience within the company. However, some companies do a great job of creating beautiful products, but fall flat in the human interaction department.

What things contribute to a delightful experience for candidates?

I think that it can be easy to forget that hiring is a two-way street where both parties have something equal to bring to the table and would equally lose if one party backs out. From the beginning, leading with empathy and with respect go a long way. 

Starting at the beginning, things like the tone and voice from which the job postings are written begins to paint a picture of the team and culture for potential candidates. From here, the process to apply should be quick and easy and clear. I am a big fan of removing any barriers to application as I don't believe the company is yet in a position to ask for more from the candidate than their interest. 

On the sourcing side, our industry has a lot of work left to do. However, it is a very easy place to start infusing delightful experiences. I am a firm believer in a  few things around sourcing: 1) never cold-call 2) do your research! 3) create human connections. Staying as far away as possible from the salesy/schmoozey messages I'm sure you've all seen, and instead crafting personal and sincere messages goes a long way. Clearly showcasing that you both know what you're talking about as well as why you're talking to them, is something that should always be the norm. In conversations with potential candidates, keeping that human element is wildly important - they are not a number, they are not a means to an end. 

Once someone is interested, the way to a continued delightful experience is by timely and appropriate communication. I've seen recruiters go each and every way here from seeming to fall off the face of the world to obsessive over-texting. The balance here is to understand them as a person and go with what is most appropriate for them. Do you know that they are insanely busy with work? Don't call them during the day and/or expect them to call you with a rundown of each interview. Do you know that they've already left and are interviewing all over the place? Then make sure to reach out, even if you don't feel like you have an update, to help ease any anxiety and to let them know that you're on their side. Be their advocate and give them advice. 

Make sure that their interview experience is just as delightful as all of your other interactions. Prep them (again in an appropriate way) for interviews. Let them know who they'll be meeting with, any insights you have about what they should know ahead of time and bring up during the meetings. Make sure that all parties come prepared (candidates & interviews) and see the value of sharing their time. Keep things running as smoothly as you can, but be open and transparent if things need to change. I think it is very important for each interviewer to spend a bit of time with the candidate just talking. It's easy, especially in technical interviews, to hop right into their rubric or list of questions. Someone will respond much better to you if you make an effort to get to know them a bit first and share a little bit about you.

As interviews go on, and as candidates get closer to that elusive offer, I think it's very important to make them feel as if they are part of the team. At a minimum, there should be a portion of the interview process that includes lunch with the team, or another type of team interaction that is true to day-to-day life there. Ensure that the offer negotiation portion of their process is open, honest, and fair as well. Remember that you are still their advocate, and should never turn into an adversary. There are times where things don't work out, and that's fine, it can happen on either side. If the experience has been a delightful one, the company is much more likely to be able to bring that person on at a later date, and that candidate leaves with great feelings about the company. This natural evangelism leads to more users and candidate referrals and strengthens the company's reputation and brand.

Real world examples

At Dropcam we called the phase from knowing we wanted someone to when they actually started, our wooing phase. We wanted them to feel like part of the team already so that it would be a no brainer for them. Part of this is swag, because everyone in the industry gets swag, but it goes way beyond this. We had senior members of their soon-to-be team regularly reach out to check in with them, we always sent them a product early and encouraged feedback, we invited them to formal and informal events, and we kept them apprised of any company updates we could share. If some members on the team were reading a certain book, we'd send one to them too, or if we knew they'd have to get up to speed on a certain technology before they started, we would send things around that as well. I sent gifts of congratulations if I found out a candidate had a big life event, and it was always appreciated. 

I read on Quora the other day about a delightful experience someone had interviewing at Stripe, which we all know has a reputation for valuing hiring. They mentioned that after interviewing they as a candidate received a handwritten thank you note. Those types of touches, clearly leave lasting impressions. Kudos to them for living up to the lore. 

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The importance of defining a candidate profile before beginning a search

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The importance of defining a candidate profile before beginning a search

In the sourcing training classes I've taught, one thing that always sticks out to me as immensely important, but all to often forgotten, is the idea of creating one (or more likely, many) candidate profile(s) before you even begin to craft your first boolean. 

In theory, this makes complete sense - you need to know who you are looking for before you start to look for them, right? However, in practice, it's easy to fall into old patterns and start your search based primarily on qualifiers. 

What is a candidate profile? 

There is a big difference between someone who is qualified for a job based on a series of factors (think the "must haves" in a job description or ad), and someone who would be the ideal fit (think those "nice to haves" and bonuses, as well as the intangibles of the team). From there, you want to optimize for that ideal fit, as well as consider who within the pool of all potential, qualified candidates for this role, would not just be a great fit, but find the job an ideal fit for them too.

So, you can think of a candidate profile as a general series of criteria that shows both ideal fit for the role (within a specific team, at a specific company), as well as an ideal fit for the potential candidate. 

What does that profile look like?

I will generally format my profiles in a standard way, that way if I am working with a team on the roles, they can be easily shared between everyone and updated based on feedback as the search progresses. Having multiple profiles allows the recruiter to be able to develop individualized pitches for candidates that would be attracted to the same role for different reasons.

EXAMPLE

Summary | This candidate comes from this background and is interested in these things.

Qualifications | Specific experience and interests that would align with the summary above and will be slightly different from the initial list of criteria that was presented by the job.
This is not a list that simply regurgitates the qualifications of the job.

Pitch | The specific pitch that would get the candidate you're targeting interested in the role you are pitching to them. This should be different for each profile, and you would eventually build out templates and ads based on each pitch.

How to edit and refine the profile

As the search ensues, be mindful of the specific feedback coming back from candidates of each profile. You may notice common themes, and if so, you may want to either pivot your profile, or add to your existing ones to further refine them. You might also find that one of your profiles might not be as ideal as you had originally thought. This is why I always encourage early and frequent calibration. If you have direct access to your hiring manager, it's good to share your profiles with them for feedback. Over time, your profiles will naturally change based on changes within the team, so you'll want to continually revisit them.

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