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The kabuki dance of interviewing

The kabuki dance of interviewing – how to cut through the static

Every year, we debrief hundreds of candidates after interviews. From these conversations, we’ve learned what candidates really want to know from potential employers. Interviews and employment can be like Kabuki, very choreographed and scripted situations in which everyone plays a role. Because of this, a substantive issue often gets overlooked in the process. Everyone is too polite or preoccupied to address one important question. In this White Paper we will explore that often unanswered candidate question. After that, we will show how that answer can affect the type of person that you end up hiring.


The first step, as we’ve discussed in past White Papers, is to remember that the candidate gets a vote too. In other words, employment is a mutual decision. Any company that forgets that is doomed to a series of turndowns and frustration. If you don’t buy into the premise that the candidate gets a vote, stop reading this now. It will be of no value to you, whether you are in HR or management. If you want to hire someone and they don’t want to work for you, that is a market signal. A series of turndowns always tells you something about your interview process or about the job.


Here is the question that the candidate wants answered – “Why should I quit my job to work for you?” It does not get more basic than that. If they walk out of the interview with that question unanswered or ambiguous, your chances of landing them are poor.  That is the point of the job offer. You are asking someone to quit their job and work for you instead. To sound crude, you should also have demonstrated the proverbial “what’s in it for them” in the interview. If you wait until the job offer is extended to answer that question, then it becomes all about money. That is a bad starting point in a relationship.  Your interviews need to consistently and subtly reinforce your message of value to the candidate. It could be career challenge, great benefits/vacation, salary, advancement, fun or any of a number of other reasons. But, at the end of the day, there has to be a reason to quit and work for you.


For many employers, the candidate part of the equation does not become important till the employer has interest in the candidate. That is a huge mistake. By then, the candidate may disengage and the employer is playing catch up. A few years ago, I advised candidates to demonstrate interest and energy throughout an interview and not to sit on their hands until they decide that they want the job. By then, the employer has disengaged. This is the other side of the same coin. You need to walk and chew gum at the same time.


Every person on your interview team should be reminded that the candidate expects that a reason for quitting their job will emerge from the interview process. The days when a Manager can sit across the desk from a candidate and bark, “Tell me why you are good enough to work for me!” are over. There are other, better ways to separate exceptional from average.  If you have a Manager whose interview tool kit is limited to 1980, I think some training would be in order, don’t you?


Does this mean that you should hire any candidate you interview? Of course not.  It means that your goal should be to have every person who you interview to have a clear understanding of why they should quit their job to work for you. After all, isn’t it better for you if everyone is interested in working for you as opposed to the opposite- no one is interested? As an employer, the more people interested in your job the more options you have from which to choose.


To add complexity to this equation, the answer you give the candidate will define the candidate you get. Here is an anecdote that demonstrates that.


A few months ago I was speaking with the owner of a locally based mid-sized manufacturing firm. She wanted to fill an accounting position and wanted to know if we could help her. As she talked about the job, she mentioned that the incumbent was retiring after 25 years and she really wanted to upgrade the position and find someone with a high-energy level and credentials. That was good until she told me the salary range. It was $10,000 to $15,000 too low. Frankly, it was an embarrassingly low salary. I told her that, in less blunt terms.


Her response was interesting. She pivoted to all of the good things that her people like about working at her firm. If their children get sick, they can leave early for a doctor’s visit. Everyone in the office gets along. They are family-oriented and have birthday parties. It sounded like a nice group of people, except for one thing.


Her reasons for someone to quit their job and work at her firm were valid to a certain type of person and invalid to others.  Unfortunately, the person they were invalid for was the type of person who she wanted to hire. Think about it. Would you take a $15,000 or more pay cut to have the flexibility to take your child to the doctor? Maybe, but my guess is that you would think about it but not do it unless you were a second income or had secondary issues in your life. The type of person she wanted to hire would probably have different priorities and may indeed already have that personal flexibility now with a higher salary. To the person targeted, the answer to the question “why should I quit and come to work for you?” was, you shouldn’t.


Basically, her reasons to quit would only appeal to someone with a secondary concern for their job and a primary concern about time off and flexibility. There is nothing personally wrong with that but to expect a degreed professional who had career ambitions to quit a job for $15K less in salary but more informal time off was unrealistic, I pointed out. Our conversation ended there. Oh well.


Of course, the same mismatch could occur in the other direction. A candidate interested in a comfortable work environment with lots of time off is not right for a company who believes that they should pay very well to get hard charging ambitious people. This is not about which value system is right or wrong. It is about understanding that the message you are sending, i.e. the reason to quit a job and work for you, needs to be the message that the candidate wants to hear.


One of the things I think we do well at Right Recruiting is to inform our clients about the motivations of the candidates we present to them. That allows clients to decide whether their opportunity matches the question of “why should I quit my job”.  We actually take that one step further, as well. When clients describe the job and type of person they want, we describe the background that they are likely to see, given the message and opportunity they are providing.  We try to make sure everything is in synch prior to the project and inform the client before the interview as to the message that needs to be projected for each candidate.


We think that is a step in the right direction. It reminds the client of the key question in the candidate’s mind and eliminates useless interviews. From the candidate standpoint, it means that they should have a higher degree of confidence that the interview will be of value, even if they don’t get the job. They know that the opportunity was worth the investment in time.


That last sentence is very important. Companies often forget that interviews are an investment of a candidate’s time. People take off work and use vacation time. Vacation is a finite resource. They make that investment because you, as an employer, have invited them to meet with you. Asking them to meet with you and letting them leave without an understanding of the basic question- “why should I leave my job to work for you?”   is akin to inviting someone for dinner and then not giving them anything to eat.


Your guests for dinner don’t necessarily have to like the meal, just as the candidate does not have to like your answer to the question, but the act of preparing the meal, just like the act of providing an answer to the question,  is a common courtesy.


Your employment process should begin with the question- what type of person do we want? Not just the job specs, but the type of person. Where are they in their life and where do they want to be in 3 years? What type of personality do we want?  All of those intangible questions paint a picture. Then, you need to imagine that person walking in the door for an interview. Can you give them a sensible answer as to why they would work for you? If you cannot, your interviews will be a disaster, especially if you are trying to hire talent.


That last word is really the key. Employment is not filling a slot. Employment is identifying and attracting talent. Every person in your company competes directly with a counterpart at your competitor. Earlier today I was on the phone with my mobile service provider trying to buy a new iPhone. The person I was speaking with was a call center person who was not very professional. That hourly person competes with someone at another mobile provider at another call center. I will be calling that other provider to switch plans and get a new phone. Maybe they hire talent instead of just filling slots.


Don’t be complacent about interviewing and expect your candidates to recognize your superiority through telepathy. Have a message and reinforce it. Give them a reason to quit and join your team.


As ever, thanks for getting this far and please remember Right Recruiting for your recruitment needs.

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