The times when interviews were one-sided interrogations and simply an attempt to question a person’s experiences or find out “what’s wrong with a person” have long been forgotten. Now not only the company but also the candidate is choosing, especially in the field of IT. As research shows, we have a massive lack of IT specialists and it is estimated that by 2030 the shortage of IT specialists will reach 4.3 million workers. In this rapidly changing world, the greatest value is the ability to adapt. Employees with such expertise and flexibility are the ideal way to deal with increasing complexity and a non-stop redefinition of the world due to new disruptive technologies and work models. People who are not one-trick ponies, but who can actually quickly adapt to changing work requirements and innovate with new technologies are the biggest value creators. The way to find these people and show them that your company is the place to work, is to level – up your interviews.
If done right, the interview is the heart of recruitment where all aspects of one’s character come out: the passions, the indifferences, ideas, feelings, anxieties, and hope and dreams all come together. So if you, as a recruiter, will lead the interview in a non – standard way, the possibility to hire bright and adaptable people increases. In addition, the job interview is usually the key decision point of the recruitment process. After the conversation with a candidate we usually make a decision – we want to hire this person, or not.
Yet independent of its importance, an interview can (and occasionally does!) go wrong. So let’s take a step back and try to understand why and how a seemingly simple face-to-face dialogue between two or more people turns into something complex.
Why is it so complex?
First problem – clash between candidates’ past events, experience and ideal self-image
The tension between our factual history and of who we think we are or wish to be. The tension – the first problem of the interview, is so central and so pivotal to the dialogue taking place; it must be understood more clearly. Ignoring this state of mind, which is the elephant in the room, puts up a huge wall between the candidate and the recruiter. Whenever we are able to acknowledge this, we are one step closer to making a real connection and establishing a true dialogue, rather than a diplomatic one.
The person is put face – to – face with the very difficult task of “talking about oneself”. How does one do that exactly? How do you take the most complex living thing you know from the inside out and put it through a simple, easy to understand narrative?
How do you craft a story that is honest and true to yourself while keeping it clean, leaving out all the confusion and disappointments? And finally, how do you embed your skills and expertise, success stories and work accomplishments into this story while still being authentic?
The only way for a recruiter to truly understand and decrypt the other person is to appreciate and show empathy to this struggle, and try to see the complexity of the person rather than focusing on keywords to simplify. Also, try to look at the candidate from a holistic perspective as shown in 1 picture. To the candidate, the beginning of the interview is a decision point on whether to put on a fake plastic face or to actually make the effort to try to be authentic. Candidates have to have the respect for the recruiter and a certain level of trust about being judged honestly, or the chance of an open dialogue will be lost.
The second problem – tension between authenticity and showcasing accomplishments
On the one hand the candidate needs to be open, humble, honest, self-confident, likeable and true to herself, while at the same time doing her best to influence, to show professional and personal accomplishments, the medals and belts of honour. Most people react to this tension by choosing cold hard diplomacy, preferring political correctness and faking it, instead of authenticity. While others who decide to be themselves, feel that they risk coming across as average or worse, underachiever profiles.
How can we solve this problem?
Acknowledging the candidates‘ psychology
Sharing is a personal thing. Sharing your own story and future desire is very personal. Sharing it with someone whom you never met before feels unnatural. The tips I will give you below helps to minimise distance between the candidate and the recruiter.
Naturally Flowing Conversation
The conversation that is creative and interesting to both the recruiter and the candidate: is rich and fulfilling in its content; has some intellectual or technical depth; has some reference to the candidate‘s passions and experience or know-how; is directly or indirectly related to the role at hand.
First of all, without this form of dialogue, all questions are destined to feel unnatural and when a person feels like just another candidate he/she won‘t be completely honest about the past, competencies, goals, desires.
Second, the interviewer is viewed as the person who asks questions and judges. This psychology must not be ignored. There should be two-way conversation where the candidate has some power. An atmosphere of equals must be reached. Need to create space for candidate‘s questions because it is not an interrogation. If the candidate feels more and more threatened, he will get more defensive.
Third, asking hardcore questions without achieving a naturally flowing conversation state first will trigger a defence mechanism and you will get most generic and standard answers that sound politically correct.
How to reach this naturally Flowing conversation and what to do afterwards?
1. Enable Mental Comfort.
We cannot cut down the time to get to know someone if we are talking about a genuine interaction. The recruiter has to be in a positive or neutral mode and lead the way for the open and relaxed dialogue. As the recruiter, you need to be there, in the room, with the candidate 100%. When the interview starts there is only the world of the candidate and the world of the interviewer.
Need to use intuition and improvise if necessary to get a feel for what the candidate is worried about. The introduction should acknowledge that the job interview is not our most natural state; should openly show respect but be warm rather than diplomatic. The real goal of the interview is not to judge but to get to know a real person. A single statement showing you are going to stay away from being judgmental opens all the doors.
Show sincerity and warmth
Try to be less diplomatic and more on the side of the candidate.
Sincerity is harder to master, especially when there are high levels of time pressure and never – ending back-to-back interviews. In my experience, feeling appreciation for the chance to get to know another person, and enjoying the experience of broadening your world through someone else’s eyes, is the best source of motivation for sincerity. When there is curiosity, there is sincerity.
Match the candidate’s level of intimacy.
Some people are more introverted, so you should take a step back in tone and content and have a conversation in a more contemplative way, leaving a wider area for hard-hot topics. Some candidates are more extroverted and start acting open and intimate more quickly. Again, try to match this with tone and content, dig in and respond with more questions. Matching the candidate’s level in other areas such as speech tempo can be thought as part of a coupled dance. When you are in harmony; a real dialogue where the candidate creates her story is possible, at other times you will be hearing a mental script that may or may not be truthful.
2. Earn respect.
Fight for the respect of the candidate, do not take it for granted.
The candidate has to respect you as a human being, as a person independent of your job title. She should say to herself as the interview intensifies: “this is someone who knows what he is talking about. This is someone who has the capacity to understand me.”
The candidate will ask himself consciously or unconsciously „Is this person sitting in front of me capable of understanding me?“ and the answer should be “Yes”.
Earn respect with knowledge first, attitude later.
Show you have a very strong grasp of the candidate’s field of expertise.
For example, you are recruiting for a Frontend developer. You have to be able to understand what is Frontend development and what are the most important things about this field.
How has the field of Frontend development emerged in the last decade? What are the latest technologies in this field? How are Frontend Teams challenged by the other teams in the organisation? Who are the opinion leaders in this area?
Go deep. Prove yourself as someone who can discuss specifics, someone who has technical and/or intellectual depth.
What is your opinion about React, Svelte and Vue?
Nobody said it was easy!
Look towards the future.
How will the field of Frontend development be in five to ten years? Usually, the best and brightest people in a given line of business will have a lot to say and contribute when discussing the future. They will also enjoy this conversation more, in contrast to the average people who tend to stick more with common and safe answers. It will also likely be accompanied by a feeling of self – congratulation and pride due to the importance given to the candidate’s field of expertise. Talk about what’s hot, share a vision, inspire and impress the candidate.
3. Surprise (or Pattern Break).
The candidate has some expectations about how the interview will go, what will be the questions and is usually prepared for some usual standard questions. The more senior the candidate, the more interviewing experience they will have. Junior candidates lack experience, but this also means they are more open (in terms of not knowing what to expect).
You should give a message “This is not an ordinary interview.” Your words and actions should speak loudly and communicate the message that trite, conventional, copied, worn out, stereotypical answers will not do. During the interview the candidate should be facing a situation that is at least slightly different than the expectation. As the interview itself becomes unique, the candidate will show a more unique side of her.
Surprise with the structure of the interview.
Do not start with “Please tell me about yourself.” or “Why did you leave your last job?”
Ask about previous interviewing experience or about the topic that the candidate is passionate about other than work. Or even talk more about yourself as a person, as a representative of a company that you are hiring for.
Take on different hats.
Do not always be the recruiter. Be a geek who is interested in board games, be the tourist who is looking for advice on a place the candidate has recently visited, be the psychologist, the career advisor, the dreamer.
4. Show Genuine interest.
Recruiting is one of the best careers for inherently curious people and those who want to see the world from the eyes of others. When you show genuine interest, you and the candidate remain engaged on topic and alive. And you and the candidate are saved from mutual boredom.
To be fair, this is not always possible. If for example you are not interested in the topic that the candidate is talking about, boredom is a risk. But curiosity is not always about the content – what the candidate is saying; it can also be about who the candidate is – the total personality waiting to be discovered.
State of play.
Focus on the beauty of sharing a way of looking at the world around you with another person. The pinnacle point for the successful interview where you honestly get to know another person and come to enjoy working as a recruiter. Believe this, that the feeling of enjoyment is contagious and it will be picked by the candidate.
Do not think about the next question that you will ask but rather actually listen!This is more about being than doing. Humans can only be understood through emphatic human connection.
5. Side with the Candidate.
Prioritise getting to know the person over filling the job vacancy. Looking at the recruitment process in a candidate – centric way, rather than a job vacancy- centric way means the competencies and capabilities of the candidate are evaluated holistically. Also it means “Which job in the organisation would be a best fit for John”? Communicating the message that you as the recruiter or the hiring manager are there to help, be a consultant, be a guide in a world of highly complicated career choices. See the candidate as an ally.
Many recruiters have their own KPI’s, business demands, a lot of sense of urgency – and this could cause a bigger and tougher problem: alienation.
When a recruiter has to manage 7 interviews in a single day, she becomes more a machine than human. And that is something that commonly occurs, but not avoidable. Alienation is not a recruitment specific or even an industry specific problem. It is a general problem that is shared through sectors.
What can we do about this?
- Find self-motivation to be able to concentrate fully on the interview itself, being in the room with the candidate 100%.
- Be passionate about learning, be curious about business and people and use this as a driving and motivating force in overcoming alienation.
- Understand what lies at the core of the job very well: it is not shortlist, long list, business briefs, candidates reports, and definitely not the number of candidates reviewed. It is, before anything else, the dialogue with the candidate.
You cannot truly get to know the strengths and weaknesses of the candidates if you do not side with them and see them as allies, and avoid sitting across them and seeing them as opponents or subjects.
6. Know yourself.
Your judgment of yourself, as with everyone else’s, is flawed. Your evaluation is far from objective.
Being a better judge of character and more objectively is only possible through:
- Knowing your own values. We have to recognise our perspective is a relative one. Not the one and only correct ways of looking at the world. It is only one of many.
- Discovering your own biases. Are you biased towards people on the way they dress, the way they choose to display their religion, sexual orientation, or the way they use their accent?
- Making an active and sustained attempt at breaking your taboos. Consider you are living in a society which is highly intolerant of homosexuals. To be able to fairly evaluate and truly connect with a candidate you have to come into the interview having broken your own taboos.
- Checking for your own prejudices regularly and systematically.
“Am I affected by the fact that this candidate looks older than expected?”
“Am I making generalisations because the candidate speaks with a thick accent?”
7. Let them know.
- Current position of the organisation, strategy. What is the organisation trying to do?
- Guiding candidates to see their future role and understand the potential impact in the organisation.
- The role, the team, the responsibilities, expectations. Sell the position, because it is a two-way decision – making process. But do not oversell the position.
- Inform the candidate when they may expect the answer, how the evaluation will take place, the next steps, time frames. And it is not about being methodical but rather about mutual respect.
1. Dagdeviren, O. (2015). Creative Hiring: The Pinnacle Model for Spontaneous, Imaginative, Collaborative Interviews. Ozan Dagdeviren.