Asking Questions During the Interview Process

Interviewing is never easy no matter how skilled or comfortable you are when it comes to selling yourself.  Preparation prior to the interview can be involved and the amount of interviews within an interview loop can be demanding. The agonizing waiting period between the final interview and offer can be stressful. But, throughout the whole process, many job seekers are more focused on impressing the interviewer and landing that offer, causing them to forget that the interview is mutually beneficial for them, as well. This process is a prime time for a job seeker to investigate the company by asking deep questions to as many interviewers as possible. This can ensure that the company is worth the effort.

When I was in talent acquisition, I’d often ask my candidates if they had any questions at the end of the interview. A good portion of the time, candidates didn’t have any. Or if they did, they were often very basic. The questions typically covered things like pay, expectations, management style and so on. Many of those questions could have been answered by simply reviewing the job description or doing research on the company. In the end, the responses didn’t clearly show a candidate why this is a good employer for them for the long-term. Knowing salary details and day-to-day duties are important, but it doesn’t get to the core regarding what else the candidate would face if they accepted an offer. More importantly, the answers could easily be a canned, elevator-speech that gives no deeper insight. When all is said and done, a candidate may accept a job only to realize that there are a ton of deal breakers that they missed.

Whenever I’m interviewing somewhere, I like to take the time to ask each interviewer unique questions. It’s a fantastic way to learn about their experiences and the variations between them, allowing you to get a fuller picture of the company. It doesn’t necessarily have to be job-specific; the questions can have a range between job details, company culture, values, general experiences/examples and so on. The important thing is not to just listen to the responses, but also to take notice of their reactions when answering. Does their face light up? Do they seem cautious and guarded? Is it a genuine answer or does it seem practiced and calculated? These things can help you see which responses are more honest and which ones seem suspiciously reserved.

Some questions might include:

  • What was a defining moment at the company that made you say, “This is why I’m here”?
  • Do you have an example of a situation internally or with a client that resonated with you?
  • What makes you proud to work here?
  • What is the dynamic of the team you work with? How do they function during good times? More importantly, how do they work together during the bad?
  • What makes your experience with this employer different from previous ones? What makes you stay?
  • What is one project that you could work on at the company, whether you believe it would be implemented or not?

Hearing their stories is a great way for a candidate to envision themselves at the company. Even if all of the responses are positive, some of the answers might shed light on things that a candidate does or does not want to face at their workplace. These things should be considered heavily along with the traditional aspects such as compensation, benefits, perks, culture, employee value proposition, job, department, managers and the like.  When an individual spends a significant time at work, it’s best to identify whether it is a right fit or not.

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Recruiters: Pick Up the Phone

alt text image of a phone with a purple background

A few weeks ago, I wrote a blog post covering some of my findings during an independent research project regarding recruitment shortcomings. Mainly, my discoveries covered a multitude of faux pas regarding initial resume screening and outreach. Some situations were commonly found within the industry, while others were inexcusable. Mostly, though, it seemed to boil down to the fact that these issues could be attributed to poor training and/or unrealistic and irrelevant goals and metrics. Unfortunately, these issues continue on to other areas of the recruitment process, creating new opportunities for poor candidate experience. Let me tell you about the latest blunder I’ve come across…

They tell you that you should always be passively looking for new career opportunities, no matter how loyal and happy you are at your job. You never know what could happen, such as: layoffs; a new manager who is a bad fit; lack of job growth and/or salary growth; relocation; unethical situations from leadership; and so on. There are plenty of reasons why a person should always be building relationships with potential employers. With the recruitment process being somewhat longer than in years past, it’s best to get a head start in case you suddenly find yourself in a less-than-desirable situation with your current employer.

With that being said, I decided to investigate my new stomping ground of Boston and passively see what was out there. Moving from South Carolina up to this city, I was sure that there’d be plenty of opportunities for HR and talent acquisition at desirable companies. Plus, I already had my resume out there for the resume research project and had received plenty of calls and emails from recruiters. Why not actually speak to a few… or should I say TRY to speak to?

Here’s a recent situation that had me shaking my head and really question companies’ approach to talent acquisition. Recently, I was sought out for an HR coordinator role at a Fortune 100 global company. I was intrigued to see what it was all about, being that the company had a well-known consumer brand and is huge. After getting an email from the recruiter requesting some more information about my background, I decided to take a peek at their Glassdoor page. It had no branding and had some fairly low ratings. Normally, that would be a red flag for me but I decided to feel it out instead to really see if it was that bad or if it was just because a specific business unit or location drove down the ratings.

I emailed the recruiter back with the details they were asking for. It was pretty standard and I assumed that I would either never hear from them again, would get a phone call to set up a phone screen or would receive a generic rejection email. I was surprised to get an email back from the recruiter in less than 12 hours requesting more information again, however, this time it was 10 specific questions. As I reviewed the questions, I realized they would have been typical questions you would ask a candidate in a phone screen. I thought it was odd but I complied anyway just to see where it was going. After submitting my answers, I then received a new email asking to meet with him and the HR Director for a 3 hour interview on-site by the end of the week.

It is a candidate’s dream to have such quick turnaround and responsiveness from a recruiter. But, for that quick turn around and for a request for such a formal interview without even being screened seemed sketchy. I did research on the recruiter to double-check that it wasn’t a scam or that it wasn’t a third-party agency. I found that the recruiter was in fact an in-house senior talent acquisition manager for the company. I also verified that the name of the director was correct. My mind was reeling at the fact that the talent acquisition department of a well-known company would be that archaic. Not once did I receive a single phone call from anyone at this company, even if it was to simply schedule the on-site interview. There was no personal interaction whatsoever and I was unappreciative that they didn’t take the time to at least phone screen me. The reason being is that the phone screen isn’t just for a company to feel out a candidate, but it’s also an opportunity for a candidate to feel out the company. Maybe the position wasn’t a right fit, maybe the salary was too low or maybe the culture was not aligned with what I was looking for.

The next thing that bugged me was the fact that I didn’t have an opportunity to ask them anything about the role or company, but they knew plenty about me, especially the fact that I’m working full-time. Why would I waste 3 hours (not including travel time) to meet with a company that I knew nothing about? For all I know, I could have gone to an interview to find out this position was not at all what I was looking for. Do companies actually think passive candidates (especially employed ones) have time to waste by blindly walking into a time-consuming interview? Needless to say, I passed on the opportunity. For someone who is involved in HR and talent acquisition, I could easily tell that these processes seemed to be stuck in the past and there would be no way I could work at a company that wasn’t progressive, especially with things like candidate experience and recruitment in general. I understand that technology is changing the way people communicate, but I just found the lack of personal communication to be unacceptable.

Maybe the position was a great one and would have offered a competitive salary for the new increased cost of living I’m experiencing. Maybe the company actually was progressive and the HR and TA departments would have offered me the best career development experience I’ve ever had. I’ll never know, though, because the recruiter never took the time to pick up the phone to establish that relationship with me and I’m sure that I’m not the only one who’s experienced this before. Unfortunately, companies who don’t train their recruiters to provide a better candidate experience will be missing out on amazing talent, both active and passive. It’s sad to know that during my research I have only experienced a couple positive and impressive interactions. It really makes me wonder what happened to the recruiting profession.

Poor training doesn’t stop at initial outreach. Companies need to focus on a well-rounded training program that teaches their teams to provide a seamless and positive candidate experience from initial resume screening all the way to onboarding. That’s the ticket to building a strong pipeline of engaged talent that will eventually convert into engaged new hires.

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Recruiter Training: Are We Focusing on the Wrong Things?

A few months back, I wrote a blog covering the recruiter faux-pas my friends had been experiencing during their active and passive job searches. Coming from a talent acquisition background, I was frustrated with the consistency of bad communications, outreach, general recruitment and interview processes. It brought to light the reasons why candidates are so turned off by the process of finding a job. Being out of the job hunt for a couple of years now, I decided to try a little experiment to see what candidates are facing.

Now living in a city much bigger than Charleston, I believed there would be many more job opportunities and it would be a prime time to do this research. About two months ago, I decided to put my resume out there as an active job seeker. I posted on the mainstream job boards, such as CareerBuilder, Indeed and Monster. I updated my social media profiles, About.me and LinkedIn. I uploaded my resume on more job-specific boards, joined talent communities and applied to a few jobs for good measure. The results were horrendous.

I thought this would have been a no brainer for recruiters. I have a bachelor’s with a focus in human resources and I’ve spent the last 4+ years working in human resources and talent acquisition roles. I even included links to my social media profiles and this very blog just to give a clearer picture of my skills beyond my traditional resume, if the recruiters decided they wanted dig a litter deeper. I was spoon-feeding them. I was making it easy. So why were the results so abysmal?

Out of all the recruiter responses I’ve received, only 20% have contacted me with something remotely relevant to my background. Even worse, not a single person has presented an opportunity that met my distinct criteria (which wasn’t even that picky – I just simply stated a full-time role within 25 miles of my current location). To summarize what I’ve experienced:

  • I’ve received calls about jobs in sales, web development, data entry, filing and entry-level call center
  • I’ve been offered jobs around minimum wage, which living in Boston wouldn’t get me very far
  • I’ve received calls about week-long jobs or 3 month contracts across the country
  • I’ve had non-stop calls from the same recruiters on a daily basis for weeks on end, but not a single email from them
  • I’ve even heard the gimmicky FOMO tactic, “I don’t want you to miss out on this fantastic opportunity!”
  • I’ve had discussions with people who sounded like they were reading off a script, completely dehumanizing the conversation
  • I’ve seen emails with gross misspellings and general spam
  • I’ve talked with sourcers (both internal and agency) that seemed to be clueless on what the job duties were for what they were recruiting
  • I’ve talked to people who had no job descriptions and no compensation details

I could hear the sales-pitch and franticness in some of their tones. It’s just getting bad.

Is it all the recruiter’s fault for being terrible at matching skills and general communications? Of course not. But having worked in agency, RPO and corporate recruitment roles the past, I can tell you that recruiters are trained differently in different environments…. if they’re trained at all. I have noticed over the years that business is rapidly growing and there’s an urgency to find talent, throwing training to the wayside to ensure a fast ramp-up. And the metrics I’ve seen recruiters held to are a little ridiculous. Most of them make absolutely no sense when it comes to ensuring quality talent is being found. Do I understand urgency in filling positions might cause hiccups in process flows? Sure do. But at what cost?

Lack of adequate new hire training and on-going training is causing our industry to become just as bad as the creepy “used car salesman”. Poorly designed performance measurement tools and metrics are causing people to feel like they have to cut corners in order to meet unrealistic expectations to ensure job security. Bad habits are being passed along during peer-to-peer job shadowing and training. In the end, it’s the candidates that are suffering. Also, the companies are suffering when they’re not getting the talent they need. And unfortunately, some hiring managers don’t have the luxury to hold off for the right talent and sometimes they do have to settle for someone presented sooner than later. But, shouldn’t it be the recruiter’s duty to at least try to find the best talent they can in that timeframe who won’t be likely to quit within the first 90 days?

It is a sad state of affairs, my friends. But one that can be fixed. If you’re in a position to implement changes, you need to at least make the effort. Don’t turn a blind eye just because you’re hitting your SLAs and getting butts in seats. Quality matters. Ensuring your recruiters are meeting REAL performance indicators matters. Creating a better candidate experience so candidates actually WANT to call your recruiters back matters. Ensuring the positions you are filling don’t become vacant again in less than 6 months matters.

And if you’re a recruiter reading this, you still can make a difference in your own work. I understand that sometimes you might not have the support from managers or leadership, nor know where you need to go to find it. I’ve been there before – I get it. But there is a plethora of resources out there in our industry that you can utilize to help you fill the voids in your training. Sure, it might be a little extra work to dedicate to independent learning and development, but it’s well worth it if you feel like you can keep your integrity intact.

I was by no means an ideal recruiter and I’m sure I’ve made some of the aforementioned mistakes above. However, the difference is to be self-aware of these things and to take the necessary measures to ensure our industry doesn’t come crumbling down on us, even if that means taking your training into your own hands.

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Revamping Your Job Descriptions

Keep It Simple

Recently I’ve had the opportunity to consult and/or redevelop job descriptions for several organizations and I’ve discovered a lot of trending issues. Whether you are a Fortune 500 company with a fantastic reputation or a small company just trying to attract new talent, your job description can be the deciding factor of whether or not someone will complete an application. In a recent study by iCIMS, it was noted that 93% of candidates fall out during the application process at the job description step. Could your job description be causing you to lose applicants?

Revamping job descriptions can be a lengthy overhaul depending on how many resources you have or how many job descriptions you have available. However, if you’re looking for something simple, consider changing up the following:

  • Content: Sometimes I come across job descriptions that are so wordy, redundant or overdone that it completely turns me off from even reading it. I’m assuming that’s not a far cry from what candidates are experiencing. People’s attention spans are waning and unnecessarily long job descriptions filled with fluff words and irrelevant information is not going be well accepted. First thing you should do is simplify, cut redundancies or combine points to make it concise. Also, make sure the information makes sense for the audience and demographic. Don’t get too technical for non-technical jobs. Don’t incorporate VP-worthy language for entry-level positions.
  • What you can offer a candidate: Another thing I see in job descriptions is a focus about what the employer wants. They go over the responsibilities/duties. They discuss the requirements and qualifications. Some of the content even comes off as stern when mentioning the absolute must-haves of a candidate. But when all’s said and done, the candidate doesn’t get anything in return. A job description has to answer the candidates’ questions of, “What can this company offer me that another employer can’t?” With more employees having shorter tenure at an employer, an organization would do well if it didn’t assume the candidate needs it or its job. It has to be a balance of give and take and an employer should remember to include attractive information as to why they are an employer of choice.
  • Supplemental information: Job descriptions don’t give a full picture and this is where employer branding comes in. Adding relevant links in the posts, images or videos can allow candidates to investigate the job, department, project and/or company further. This can also create an opportunity to really hook the candidate and get them excited about going through the application process.
  • SEO and keywords: With many job boards and web crawlers out here, your job postings could get lost in the sea of other postings. To ensure you’re getting the most reach and coming up faster in searches, optimize keywords (both in the body and title) and SEO tactics. Coming up faster in the results means more opportunity for applications before the candidates get burnt out from reading job posting after job posting.
  • Company information: Along the lines of supplemental information, be sure to include company information so the candidate can get a better sense of who you are and what industry you’re in. A boiler plate can be sufficient. Taking it a step further, you could even incorporate your EVP.

It’s can be a challenge to gain the attention of candidates to the point that they even consider looking at your job site. But engaging and retaining their attention to the point of completing an application is another thing. Don’t miss your chance to yield applications from qualified candidates—keep it simple!

 

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Virtual Employment for Attraction and Retention

You belong somewhere you feel free

During the HCI event last month, several employers expressed the changes they’re seeing in employment trends. More employees and candidates are aggressive when attempting to progress in their career path and many are willing to make risky moves to get there. Additionally, it was noted that more people are becoming mobile in order to reach their career objectives. Because of this, employers are seeing an influx in voluntary turnover and shorter employment tenure. So, why aren’t employers considering telecommuting or virtual work to help retain their employees?

Over the last two years, I’ve been a full-time virtual employee. I typically receive the same responses whenever mentioning this to new acquaintances, ranging from curiosity, skepticism, envy or disapproving. Many people ask me if I feel isolated or if the lack of face-to-face time has prevented me from moving up within the company. Surprisingly, I’ve progressed faster in my career, learned more and had stronger development opportunities in a virtual setting than I ever had in the office.

Virtual work requires a person to hone in on specific skills or build new ones. It’s all about adaptability and identifying resources to use to your advantage. You learn to be independent due to the lack of “crutches” (aka constant coworker/superior feedback) or validation. This forces you to rely on your own decisions. Also, accountability is a must. The lack of micromanagement allows you to focus on producing results and perfecting processes. Of course, this only can happen if an employer has the infrastructure, processes and leadership to allow employees to succeed. Additionally, communication and collaboration tools are necessary to understand employees’ skillsets and help develop them for career succession.

Over the last week, I spent some time researching if more employers have embraced virtual employment options. Much to my dismay, the majority of the positions I’ve come across dealt with customer service (contact center, reservations, etc.), sales, consultants for software development and recruiting. Many of the positions were contract or freelance opportunities. I was surprised that more employers aren’t opening up to additional full-time positions that can be virtual, nor creating opportunities for internal mobility to higher-level positions. I’ve been someone who’s experienced both… and I continue to be successful this way. Sky’s the limit for my career potential as long as my employer has opportunities to support it.

Virtual employment can help retain employees for a couple of reasons:

  • It allows them to have better personal opportunities: We all hear about work-life balance or work-life blending. The point is, people have other needs outside of the workplace. For example, my fiancé recently got a fantastic job promotion that would require us to relocate 1,000 miles away. There were no second thoughts about accepting it. All I did was take a couple of PTO days to move and I was set. I didn’t have to worry about quitting my job or dealing with a lapse in compensation when I was struggling to find work. The process was very seamless.
  • It allows employers to find and develop talent: there are plenty of people within the country that may possess some amazing skills but might not be located near a major branch or headquarters. Organizations can utilize this talent by offering them employment without requiring them to relocate. This can be the same deal if an employee is ready to be promoted but can’t relocate. Rather than giving them the less-than-ideal options of staying underemployed, relocating or forcing them to consider another employer in order to move up in their career, a virtual option can help retain an employee while giving them internal mobility.
  • It focuses on what matters: Results. Much like the purpose of ROWE (results only work environment), virtual work can be supportive of a results-focused situation. Micromanagement is disengaging and sometimes people don’t perform their best work during normal business hours. Being strapped to a desk can lower productivity. And maybe some people thrive when they’re blasting music, while others might prefer a quiet workspace with no distractions. Virtual work makes it easier for people to find their happy place without having to deal with formal requests or pushback from their peers.

Virtual employment can be a fantastic opportunity for both employer and employee, as long as it’s done right. Consulting an Organizational Development Specialist and researching technology to ensure a virtual environment can function the same as a traditional environment will be necessary.

If you’re curious to know more how virtual employment and virtual internal mobility works, ask me! I’ll be happy to tell you about my ongoing career story. Connect with me on LinkedIn or Twitter.

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The Importance of Accurate Interview Notes

Interviews have evolved. No longer do people go through one or two face-to-face interviews before landing a job. The interview process has become more complex, with variations of interview options and multiple people involved in the process. With that in mind, it’s not impossible for candidate information and responses to get lost in translation. Could interviewers create issues by filling in the blanks while writing up their interview notes?

Recently, I’ve been thrown back into the trenches of recruiting. Although my current job deals with strategy, it’s amazing to see how much recruiting has progressed since the time I’ve been directly involved in it and it’s great to remember all the little things that go into the recruiting and interviewing process, from sourcing, to outreach, interviewing and submittals. In the current project I’m involved in, we’re even utilizing the live video interviewing technology. And as always, HR compliance is definitely stressed through this process.

As I’ve been going through the interviews and getting back into the swing of things, I recall the importance of keeping interviews conversational. Rather than interrogative, it’s important to cover the questions on the interview screener and even more important to ask follow up questions throughout the process.

But why are follow up questions important?

As the candidate is moved throughout the process, many people will come in contact with them. From recruiters, hiring managers, department heads, and so on, many people will be interviewing them on different things. And, as such, many people will rely on the previous interviewer’s notes to get a background story prior to interviewing them. Certain questions need to be documented and a detailed synopsis should be written up and passed on to the next interviewer. But what happens if responses get misconstrued?

Communication is fascinating and many different people can perceive the same information in different ways. Additionally, people’s minds can connected points A to B with little information. But, how things are understood (or misunderstood) and people’s ability to fill in the blanks can affect the end result of what the candidate really meant. This can skew information and potentially disqualify a candidate from progressing when they were actually a great fit.

So recruiters, don’t be afraid to ask follow up questions. Don’t even be afraid to touch base with a candidate after an interview for further clarification. It’s better to cover your bases than miss out on a great hire.

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Why Sourcers are Crucial for Talent Acquisition

An American judge must decide who is right between Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's estate and a Sherlock Holmes expert

When I first heard of sourcers, I’ll be honest, I had no idea what their purpose was. The job duties seemed similar to a recruiter and I couldn’t discern the need to divide the role into two. It wasn’t until I had the opportunity to work as a sourcer that I learned how essential they are to the talent acquisition process. After being in the industry for years, I was actually surprised more companies hadn’t used these individuals sooner. Sourcers really make an impressive impact.

Below are some top duties I performed as a sourcer. I truly believe these things are what made the recruitment process more successful than any recruitment role I had been involved in the past:

  • Support for recruiters and deep mining of candidates: Recruiters can be bombarded with a lot of tasks that take away from their ability to seek out top candidates. These tasks range from coordinating/communicating with hiring managers, managing ATS, administrative duties and so on. Although these things are essential to keep the process flowing, it prevents them from taking the necessary time to find passive candidates, post jobs in unique places, build relationships with distinct professional organizations and so on. Sourcers aren’t bogged down with all the irrelevant duties and can focus on mining for talent, which increases talent pipelines and creates better opportunities for quality candidates.
  • Market research: Just as stated before, time can be limited for recruiters. Sourcers have the ability to not only mine for talent but also to perform deep research on the talent markets. They can determine the supply vs. demand, competitor intelligence, best places to find talent and more. Having this market research can help companies reposition their strategies to be more attractive and proactive.
  • Employment branding: Of course posting to job boards is important for getting candidate applications, but sometimes recruiters are only able to have enough time to do just that. Sourcers can get creative with the job postings. For example, when I was sourcing for software developers in San Francisco, I took the time to craft postings for jobs, social media, and tech specific groups (i.e. GitHub). I would highlight interesting things about the company, teams, products and what not. It made the opportunity more “three dimensional” and helped it stand out from the typical noise.
  • Initial screening: Time is precious and we can only screen so many candidates. Unfortunately, automatically screening out candidates before speaking to them can cause companies to miss out on hidden gems. Sourcers can provide a better candidate experience by performing initial screening processes, allowing candidates to have a chance to speak to a human and not feel like their resume went into a black hole.

Although the listed tasks above might seem very basic, it really is surprising how much it can help the talent acquisition strategy. As a sourcer in the past, I believed I made a difference in the process by finding quality candidates, unique candidate referral sources, creative ways to promote the brand and jobs. I also felt like the added support to recruiters helped cut down time-to-fill, which is always a huge bonus.

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