How Managers Can Prep for Interviews and Attract the Best Candidates

How Managers Can Prep for Interviews and Attract the Best Candidates

Face it – for the average middle manager, the recruiting process is a total inconvenience – it takes you away from your work, it is often politically charged, and it can lead to an impasse, thus preventing you and your department from running on all cylinders. But take heart – the more organized and thoughtful you are in preparing for the job interview, the faster you will be able to identify and hire a great person.

In my work as the head of a recruiting and staffing firm, I continually receive reports from job candidates that point to a failure on the part of hiring managers to properly prepare for the job interview. The result is that often the best candidates for a particular position can be so turned off by how they were treated, they simply walk away from the opportunity.

An endless supply?

In the business world of today, employers are more selective than ever before. In order to be considered, job candidates must prove that they possess very specific skills, very particular personal qualities and an ability to adapt to a unique corporate environment.

Not only that, employers seem hell bent on waiting it out for exactly the right person rather than risk taking a chance on someone who is not exactly right. In fact, it is quite common these days for the recruiting process to last three months or more even if it involves a freelance or contract temp position!

While employers have become so much more selective, it is also true that a strong job market has put a pinch on the supply of viable candidates. Indeed, contrary to what some managers assume, there simply is not an endless reservoir of skilled individuals from which to choose. That is why every qualified job candidate must be treated with the utmost care during the recruiting process. And adequate preparation is the key.

Make a shopping list

Typically, when you begin to shop for a new car, digital camera or other gizmo with a lot of technical features, you first have to do some thinking, some planning and some research. For example, you would need to decide on the product features that are important to you, what your budget is, your preferences vis-à-vis form versus function, and all the rest. Likewise, the same holds true when you are looking to recruit the right job candidate.

Before you can even begin to think about interviewing anyone, you must prepare a coherent job description (checklist) that defines the type of person you are seeking. As a management recruiter, I have found that, very often, hiring managers do not necessarily prepare such a description – this is especially true in the case of contract or freelance openings – something we see all the time in our staffing business.

At the very least, I would highly recommend that you put pen to paper – or fingers to keyboard, whichever you prefer – and prepare an outline of job responsibilities and a list of the skills and personal qualities the person will need in order to do the job well. This can then be used as a measuring stick during job interviews.

As a recruiter, I have often found that job descriptions are either inaccurate or they change radically as the recruiting process plods on. In fact, one of our larger corporate clients (which shall remain nameless) has been known to alter job descriptions as often as every two or three days! This can be particularly frustrating to those in my profession, as well to the Human Resources department which must invest hours of time identifying candidates that conform to a specific job profile only to find that the profile is no longer valid.

To prevent wasting the time of everyone, including yourself, try to ensure that you get your facts straight from the beginning – that you thoroughly review job descriptions with others in your department – including the department head. Once you have reached agreement, then and only then should you release a job description for distribution.

Know your company

An important part of interview preparation is making sure you will be able to answer common questions posed by job candidates.

Our job candidates tell us that managers typically know a lot about their own department or division, but often know next to nothing about the organization as a whole.

Make sure that you know key statistics like total annual sales for the entire company – important product lines – current stock price – key individuals – mission statement, etc. In effect, it is strongly advised that you study these facts to avoid the embarrassment of knowing less about your own organization than the candidate does!

Chasing away candidates with bad manners

As you begin your search for qualified candidates, you will no doubt discover how limited the supply of appropriate people really is. So it is crucial that you do not unwittingly scare away the rare birds you have managed to attract. Since you cannot really tell who will turn out to be The One, every job candidate should be treated to a pleasant and professional interview experience.

How many times in your own career have you interviewed for a position, only to find that your interviewer did not schedule enough time to really get to know you, was constantly being distracted by phone calls during the interview, or was otherwise not connecting with you? How did that make you feel?

Whenever you schedule an interview, it is in your best interest to make sure you reserve a reasonable amount of time in a quiet place where you and your job candidate will not be disturbed. If you create barriers that detract from the interview experience – like phone interruptions and people at the door and an artificial shortage of time – candidates may be inclined to turn you down for the job, rather than the other way round.

Remember that the standards you set will be contagious. If you are working through an assistant or coordinator to schedule interviews for you, make sure that he or she knows that the time and comfort level of the candidate is as important as your own. If you are working through your Human Resources department, make sure you communicate clearly and in a timely manner.

Do not make them wait

There is no bigger turnoff, and no better way to chase away a good job candidate, than being late for the interview. Candidates should not be forced to wait inordinate amounts of time for you to show up. This puts you and your organization in the worst possible light.

As a vendor of staffing services, I have often been obliged to go on a sales call or two. On plenty of occasions, I have waited far too long for someone to pick me up at reception. But job candidates are not vendors – they are potential work mates, and proper respect for their time should be shown.

There are precautions you can take to ensure that such delays are eliminated, and I advise you to exercise all of them.

First, schedule interviews on days and times when you are fairly certain things will not be too busy. For example, if this is a first interview, and you are the only person who will see the candidate, it might be best to choose a date when your boss is out of town.

Second, if possible, ask one of your colleagues to be available to take your place in the event you are suddenly called away and cannot conduct the interview. Not many people plan to this level of detail, but finding an available replacement ahead of time can save an awful lot of embarrassment.

Third, if you schedule a candidate to come in, and you subsequently come to find out there is a good chance you will be delayed, I would opt to postpone the interview for another day, rather than run the risk that the candidate will have to sit there and wait for you.

Finally, I have seen situations where a candidate has been scheduled to see five or six people back to back without a break. (Is this an interview or an endurance test?) I have also seen some senior level candidates invited into town for a full day of interviews and left to wander the streets alone during a protracted lunch break. Tell me now – would you accept a position with a company that takes up an entire day of your time, and does not arrange for someone to have lunch with you? As Mick Jagger once said, have some courtesy and some taste.

Remember, there is simply not an endless supply of great talent out there to fit your job description – so treat every candidate with respect, and you will shorten the dreaded recruiting process by days and weeks.

Know your candidate

Time is a scarce commodity for most people, but really, there is no excuse for failing to review the resume of a candidate before the job interview. Candidates generally perceive this as being, well, downright rude. And who can blame them? How did you feel when you went on job interviews and the interviewer was awkwardly sneaking peeks at your resume while trying to conduct a coherent conversation with you?

Make sure you study the resume carefully before the candidate walks through the door. Circle strong points and inconsistencies, make comments in the margins and prepare specific questions based on the resume. In effect, pay as much attention to the resume prior to the interview as you would pay to the actual person during the interview.

Prepare now, waste less time later

In summary, preparation is the key to a better and shorter candidate search.

  • Prepare an accurate job description that can be used to assess candidates
  • Know key facts about your organization from the top on down including its structure, financial performance, personalities and policies so that you can help candidates better understand your company
  • Prepare to offer a positive interview experience for candidates – do not conduct interviews in a place where interruptions are guaranteed
  • Be on time for interviews
  • Arrange for someone to substitute for you in the event you suddenly cannot make the interview
  • Become as familiar as you can with the resume prior to the interview

Do these things and everyone will be happier. Including you!