The Interview Process is a “Two-Way Street”

“People are not your most important asset…the right people are. Those who build great companies understand that the ultimate throttle on growth for any great company is not markets, technology, competition, or products. It is one thing above all others: The ability to get and keep enough of the right people.”

I suppose that statement might seem pretty obvious, especially to those who work in #HR or are #hiringmanagers or are company #CEOs but unfortunately unless the process of attracting #talent is conducted properly, the ambition to actually secure the right people is severely jeopardised.

Much of the time that I devote to a #Headhunting assignment is spent talking to candidates.

As an #executivesearch consultant, my commitment to a candidate and their future is as much a part of my job as the commitment to my clients to provide them with an excellent service. I invest considerable time with my candidates, explaining the role and the opportunity, assuring them of the employing company’s credentials, talking them through the process, what to expect and how to approach the client interview.

But receptive as all candidates are, my efforts and theirs are pointless if the clients themselves either don’t know how to conduct and lead an interview or fail to allow the candidate the time they need to make the necessary impression and impact during their one chance to do so.

An interview is a “two-way street. On the one side, it is an opportunity for the employer to question the candidate (of course), to gauge their character, their appearance, their body language as well as their communication skills, self-confidence and their understanding of the role. But, in addition to examining their suitability in terms of experience, an employer must also take the opportunity to understand the candidate’s motivations, aims and aspirations. A candidate’s background and life are just as important as their qualifications and career history: Their outlook is just as valuable as their experience.

On the other side, a candidate must be given the time and opportunity to “speak”. Whilst a question-and-answer session is a standard part of any interview, there is so much more that a candidate has to say and they should be given the chance to do so. Sure, ask them questions, confirm their attributes and judge their competencies. But remember – an interview is a “two-way street.

The employer has a position available and asks their appointed Executive Search consultant (me) to #headhunt (search for and approach) suitable candidates that are potentially interested in that position and possess the necessary skills. Once identified and an interest is confirmed, the candidate goes through a process with me first – e.g. A stage of initial communications, completing a Preliminary Candidate Questionnaire (and any other documents/tests etc that the client might have requested), an internal shortlisting exercise, then an invitation to an interview.

This interview with me is NOT the same as the interview they will have with the employer (if they are referred). My interview is more of a meeting. In fact, that is exactly what I tell my candidates at the outset and suggest they consider all future interviews as – a meeting. A meeting between two parties which, like any other business meeting, is an exchange of information designed to provide both parties with sufficient information to reach a decision together on whether or not to proceed further. As such, both parties to a meeting are of equal importance and each has their own objective. By definition, it is a shared objective. It has to be if the outcome of the meeting is to be successful and meaningful. It’s a “two-way street” and not just a one-sided conversation. Because, especially in this much more competitive era where job seekers are increasingly more able to be selective in who they work for and more demanding in their requirements, a candidate also needs to make a decision: Do they actually want to work for your company.

Employer credibility is therefore more of an issue today than ever before. There is now as much emphasis on employer professional conduct and image as there is on the applicant who is considering joining them.

In my meeting with a candidate, in addition to confirming aspects of their employment, qualifying their details and discussing their experience, I talk to them. We have a chat. And during that chat, I allow the candidate to express themselves, to expand on their interests, to talk. And I listen. I get a good feel for their reasons, their commitment, their personality and how those essential factors might (or might not) have an impact on my client’s requirements and their respective cultures, circumstances and mutual environment.

The right candidate is not one that just has the qualifications and an impressive CV which details an appropriate work history. The right candidate is not just somebody that meets the criteria, is available and agreeable to the salary on offer. The right candidate is somebody who, yes will satisfy all of the above, but also possesses that “extra something”, that stand-out quality, that one special virtue that marks them out as different, better and simply “right“.

An employer, HR executive, Hiring Manager or whoever is conducting the interview cannot simply rely on a CV and the answers to questions. Nor can they achieve the results they want by a brief session that allows no time for the candidate to express themselves.

Far too often, the feedback I receive from my candidates after an interview (and they ALL do report back to me afterwards) is disappointingly similar – “the interview was ok…(and that comment in itself is a poor reflection of how it went – an interview should always be positive, informative, enjoyable and productive; not just ok)… but it only lasted 15 minutes!“. Or “Well, I answered all their questions, but I wasn’t given the chance to ask any of my own!“. Or “I was on time but had to wait 20 minutes and made to feel unimportant!“.

These few example (and there are others, unfortunately) are cardinal sins in the world of interviews. The candidate has been through a thorough process, they have developed their interest, they have been referred as serious applicants, and they have prepared, rehearsed and often taken time away from their current occupation to attend an interview with a potential future employer. They are treating the process seriously. They are investing their efforts into a formal application. They are positioning themselves and considering the prospect of leaving their current employer and bringing their skills, experience and talent to a new one. It’s a life changing decision. It’s a major move. It’s a BIG thing!

For an employer to then be late or inconsiderate of the candidate’s own agenda and timely attendance is just not acceptable. To rush through an interview either because of poor time-management ability or a lack of knowledge on how to conduct an interview are sure ways to create a bad impression of the employer and inevitably will only discourage and demotivate the candidate (and the Executive Search consultant who has worked hard to present a carefully created shortlist).During my meeting with candidates, I tend to recommend that, when given the opportunity during their formal interview with the client, they seize the chance to “take the stage” and, for as long as appropriate, make a prepared presentation; to take advantage of the time to not only highlight those aspects of their career which are especially relevant to the role, but also to let them see what kind of person they are – I suggest they make good eye contact, that they be conscious of their movements, that their appearance be professional, that they speak with confidence and provide some detail pertinent to their motivations, aims and reasons for wanting the job they’re applying for. I prepare them as best I can for a “meeting” which should last approximately an hour, will be formal but pleasurable and mutually productive, will allow both sides to get to know each other and which will afford them the opportunity to ALSO question the employer. Why? Because an interview is a “two-way street“. Or at least it should be.

Sadly, I have discovered that in Ghana and West Africa, the interview process is all too often conducted in entirely the wrong way. Invariably late starting, usually concluded in a matter of minutes and, more often than not, unstimulating for the candidate. Subsequently, the outcome is devalued; the candidate is left despondent, and the enthusiasm that I had instilled in them is instantly eroded or completely lost. And of course, the employer has missed a potentially right candidate without even realising it.

It’s really very simple to find the right candidate. I do all the heavy work in finding (headhunting/searching) for the most suitable candidates. That’s the time consuming part – but a part that the employer doesn’t have to worry about: They can carry on with their other core duties and leave me, the external consultant to whom they have outsourced the task, to get on with it behind the scenes.

The next part is taking receipt of the shortlist (usually 3-5 candidates) together with the documents that I provide in support of each candidate. And then interview them. But even here, it never fails to amaze (and disappoint) me how a client can take 3 weeks (or more!) to actually organise those interviews! That failure alone causes problems: The candidates are primed for interview, they’re excited, positive and prepared, they have been told the vacancy is urgent and that the employer is serious. Yet it takes three weeks to arrange an interview? There is rarely any excuse for such unprofessionalism and all it achieves is a corrosion of the employing company’s reputation and integrity.

Assuming the candidate is still interested if they’ve had to wait an inordinate amount of time for the interview and are willing to attend, it is incumbent upon the employer to have sufficient time set aside for that interview and ensure it is structured properly.

That structure can come in many forms and might or might not include the need to fill an internal application form prior to the meeting, a test of some kind, a one-to-one or a panel interview, a certain amount of specific or technical questions to which precise answers are required. All that is fine, but if the employer wants to know if a candidate is right, they must also schedule sufficient time for the candidate to actually speak. Encourage them to talk! Let them tell you about themselves. Listen and learn about them, what type of person they are, and what added value they might be able to bring that you would otherwise not have known about from simply asking specific work-related questions.

An employer always requests that a candidate possess perfect punctuality. It’s a two-way street – the employer too must be on time! An employer always stipulates that a candidate possess good communication skills. It’s a two-way street – an interview is a meeting of minds during which it is imperative that both sides communicate and be allowed to say what each needs to say. How else can they expect to understand each other, their respective needs: What the candidate can contribute to the company in addition to their qualifications, and what the company can offer the candidate in addition to just a job.

Perhaps the biggest, worst and most damaging aspect of a poor and inept interview process concerns what happens after the candidate interviews.

In the same way as the time between receiving a shortlist of candidates and interviewing them is important (it should never exceed one week), so too is the time it takes to provide the Executive Search consultant with feedback (which should never exceed 48 hours). Sometimes that feedback will be a rejection of some of the candidates and sometimes a decision requires further rounds of interviews. Perfectly reasonable and normal feedback. What is NOT reasonable or normal is taking a month to provide that feedback! What is NOT reasonable, normal or at all acceptable is keeping the candidate (as well as the consultant) waiting and waiting for news. It’s unprofessional, it’s disrespectful and it’s rude. It is also extremely damaging to the reputation of the employing company – especially in the eyes of those candidates that wanted perhaps to work for it.

The employer demands attention, results and speed. It’s a two-way street! The best guaranteed way to lose a candidate and to generate a negative image as an employer who is inefficient, not serious and poorly managed, is to:

  1. Be slow in arranging interviews,
  2. Being late for an interview,
  3. Not conducting the interview correctly, professionally or allowing the candidate to speak,
  4. Not scheduling sufficient time for the interview (including secondary ones),
  5. And then not keeping the Executive Search consultant informed so they can communicate with the candidates to maintain their interest AND to protect the client’s image and credibility.

The right candidate, regardless of the role, the company or the conditions of employment will bring with them more than just qualifications and a work record – they will bring their unique qualities…and it’s those qualities (which don’t appear on a CV) that make the difference. It’s unique qualities that make the right candidate. But you will never get to discover those unique qualities unless you engage in a proper conversation with the candidate.

A CV paints a picture, a sketch; I provide additional definition based on 33+ years of experience of headhunting, screening, shortlisting and “meeting” candidates, and intuitively knowing when a candidate represents a good match; a questionnaire, test and an application form helps to colour that picture even more: But it’s conversation with the candidate that ultimately reveals whether the picture is just a photocopy or a hidden masterpiece.

“The key for us, number one, has always been hiring very smart people” Who said that?It was Bill Gates, the founder of Microsoft Corporation!

Contact DWR to arrange a meeting to discuss your company’s talent acquisition requirements and how to tackle them properly, cost effectively and professionally.

Email: [email protected]

Ghana Tel: +233 (0) 202 800 466WhatsApp: +44 (0) 7835 396 349

For details on me, DWR, my services, the way I approach my work, and an explanation on the fee structure (heavily discounted for new clients during 2024!), please refer to the various articles in the DWR Newsletter, the DWR Executive Group page or my LinkedIn profile.

DWR Executive and Expatriate Search – Ghana, Nigeria & West Africa offers a bespoke, confidential and personalised service aimed at companies who take their recruitment needs seriously and understand the value of an outsourced provider of professional services.

DWR Executive Search – Ghana, Nigeria & West Africa.

DWR Newsletter – Previous Articles

Dominic Ryan

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