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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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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How Video is Transforming Interviews

 

web cam interview

Over the years, I’ve seen the interview process transform into something proactive, innovative and sometimes creative. Within the last year, I had the pleasure of utilizing video for candidate interviews. Being a virtual recruiter who recruited people outside of the immediate area, I was eager to see how this could change the initial stages of the screening process. Needless to say, I really found the value in these options.

Check out my most recent post on WilsonHCG’s blog and learn more about the benefits of video interviewing. Click here.

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Recruiters: How Deep Does Your Research Go?

Richard Branson Reputation Quote

Lately, I’ve somehow found myself in the position of an informal career coach. I’ve been assisting job seekers who have been off the job market for several years and who were overwhelmed and intimidated by the way this whole process has changed. I was able to guide them through the process, from resume writing, personal branding, researching companies, and developing questions to ask during the interviews. As I went through this journey with them, I was surprised to learn that some of these questions have left recruiters scratching their heads. When I recalled my own experience in recruiting, I remember being in the same boat as these individuals. It wasn’t until later in my recruiting career that I realized how important it was to do deep research about a company to be able to confidently provide the information that these candidates wanted to hear.

To really create a positive and informative candidate experience during the interview process, a recruiter has to think like a candidate thinks. I know when I was a job seeker, the first thing I would do was essentially stalk anything and everything about a company before my interview. If I came across something negative, I wanted it cleared up early in the process so I knew whether or not to move forward. When applying this knowledge to my recruiting career, I noticed a huge difference. Transparency helped me build a trust with my candidates and they felt more confident when it came down to making a decision.

How can recruiters go the extra mile?

  • Talk to people within the company: Even if you work at the company you’re currently recruiting for, it’s important to speak to several people in different roles or departments. Getting an overall idea of employees’ opinions of the company can help you paint a solid picture for your candidate. So rather than saying, “It’s a great place to work,” you’re able to provide several perspectives, making your examples well-rounded.
  • Check out reviews on Glassdoor: Alright, I get it. I’m kind of a snob when it comes to this point but it’s definitely something that needs to be discussed. I’ve had plenty of job seekers tell me that they completely stumped a recruiter when they referenced specifics from these reviews. Needless to say, the job seekers would drop out of the interview process because they felt like there was a disconnect or that the company was potentially hiding something.
  • Know your employer brand: Employment branding is a topic that is near and dear to my heart. Being on the marketing side of things, I see the amount of effort companies put into their brand to make sure they have various examples of why working for the company is great. The content put out can be a fantastic resource to provide to the candidates and can help keep them engaged throughout the process.
  • Do a deep Google search: What’s your reputation? Employment branding and content pushed out by a company attempts to paint the company in the best light, but what about the stuff that WASN’T put out by the company? What are brand ambassadors, customers, clients and/or competitors saying? Do credible news sources or amateur bloggers have something worthy of sharing? Are your employees bashing or praising the company on social media? Knowing these things beforehand can help you discredit things that aren’t true, give a deeper explanation for things that are, or promote things that are aligned to what the candidate values.

When I started doing this in my own recruiting practices, I was able to really make the most out of my conversations with candidates. If they mentioned something they were interested in, I had the specific details they needed. If they were concerned about something, I was able to ease their mind or give them the hard facts so they could make the call. If I was a job seeker, I would hope that the interviewer would do the same for me. After all, job seeking is hard these days and accepting a job offer can be nerve-wracking.  Essentially, a candidate is making a big decision based on referrals and other people’s opinions. It would make a huge difference if recruiters were able to incorporate these details during the interview loop.

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Marketing and the Recruitment Professional

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I remember when I first started learning about talent acquisition and recruitment. It seemed like the role focused more on keyword searches to find a bunch of resumes on job boards. Once a large stack of resumes was acquired, I then spent time interviewing individuals for jobs. If a job wasn’t open, I performed discovery calls to proactively build talent pools in the event that a new position opened up. Search, review, interview, document, and repeat. After a few months of going through this cycle, I felt turned off by the systematic approach. I thought this function was supposed to be about communication and genuine human interaction, not a robotic process. I bowed out from the recruitment role and eventually came back a couple years later to discover that it had morphed into something bigger and better.

When I originally decided to pursue a degree and career in human resources, I never dreamed that marketing skills would be imperative to have. When I returned back to the recruitment field, I soon learned that the role had taken on a new form and the successful recruiters were the one who blended talent acquisition skills with marketing. No longer did recruiters source the job boards for hours on end. Instead, they had structured their day to have equal time for sourcing/recruiting, interviewing, and now, marketing. After I got a sense of what people were doing, I dove right in and created a marketing strategy of my own.

  • I said farewell to posting and praying: Instead of posting job openings and waiting for people to apply, I became more proactive. How was I going to share this with people? More importantly, how was I going to make this engaging? My job promotions had started off as a link to the job with the title and location. Soon, I developed it into mini-marketing campaigns. These campaigns offered details that job seekers really cared about: company culture; things happening in the company; details about the office environment; details about the people they’d work with; and more insight to the projects or things they’d impact if they took the job.
  • I went to the places that allowed resumes to come to life: If you guessed social media, you’d be partially correct. Although social media sites like LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter have been great, there is so much more out there. I started researching candidates and found blogs, portfolios, interest groups, other specialized social sites, and more. This helped me see more of what they had to offer than what their resume initially stated. It took their resume and made them into a 3D version of a candidate. I loved it.
  • I nixed the template messages: When I receive a message that seems even remotely “spammy”, I typically delete it before I even read it. How do you think candidates feel when it’s obvious that they’re just another person on a list for recruiter spam? I took this into serious consideration and decided to spend more time on message customization. After I researched the candidate thoroughly through social sites, read more about what they like, or learned about what opportunities they were looking for, I got cracking on some message creations. I let them know why I was contacting them and what individual characteristics stood out to me. Additionally, I’d include specifics about the opportunity based on what the candidate seemed to be interested in. Does it take extra time and effort to do this? Sure, but the response rate increased because of it.

Of course, there are plenty of other things that a recruiter can do to blend marketing skills into their recruitment strategy but these were some of the first ones I eased into once I got back in the game. It was nice to start seeing a candidate as an individual, talented person rather than a keyword search result. It was also amazing to see how people responded to my creativity. In a sense, it felt honest because I was spending more time connecting opportunity with the right people and vice versa. If you’re in talent acquisition/recruitment and you haven’t tested these skills out yet, I highly recommend it.

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Revamping Your Interview Strategy

Oh, interviews. The bane of many job seeker’s existence. The thing that causes stress, anxiety, and frustration. The part of the job hunt that we try to prepare the hardest for and yet it sometimes doesn’t seem to be enough. The one thing that has us beating our brains, trying to figure out where we went wrong if we end up not landing the job. After being a job seeker and then a recruiter, I can safely say there is no magic formula to help you be an expert interviewer. However, regardless of how strong of an interviewee you are, there are still plenty of ways for you to properly prepare yourself to make you feel confident in your abilities. After being rejected several times when I was a job seeker and then working on the other side of the interview table, I soon found ways that have helped me and the candidates I’ve coached be more successful during this portion of their job search.

Here are some best practices to help you prepare for your interviews:

  • Review the job description and company details in depth: look over the job description and get a feel for the types of skills they seem to be looking for. Really absorb the verbiage they use when describing their expectations. Once you feel you have a clear understanding of this, make sure to check out their career site and company details. Take the time to understand their company culture, their mission statement, and even try to find employee testimonials to gain some insight of what it would be like to work there. Having these details will set you up nicely for the next step.
  • Take stock of you own skills: more often than not, candidates end up talking themselves out of a job. Either they say too much or they say too little. It’s important to find that middle ground that allows you to provide the information you intended to without causing the interviewer’s eyes to glaze over. Compare your experience against the job description. Can you sum up your experience and skills in a couple solid sentences that seems to hit the key things they’re looking for? Make it easier for the interviewer to see your transferable skills by finding ways to express your experience clearly, concisely, and in a way that will closely match their job description.
  • Write it down: many times, the first interview is an introductory phone screen. It will be very beneficial for you to write down the skills you assessed in the step above to ensure you have all the details readily available. Additionally, write down examples of how you used these skills on the job. Aside from general questions about your experience, recruiters will also ask you situational or behavioral questions that help them assess your level of experience in the skills they’re requiring. Having these examples written down already will allow you to get straight to the point without getting stumped or providing unnecessary details. It can also allow you to reduce your nerves when you’re racking your brain for an example without causing too much of an awkward pause.
  • Use your network: there are many people out there that you can connect with that have either worked in a similar job, a similar company, or actually worked/works at the company you’re interviewing at. Take the time to talk to them about their interview experience. There may be a chance that certain interview questions stuck out in their mind. Knowing these questions beforehand can help you be one step ahead. If you don’t feel comfortable connecting with people you don’t know, do a general search for interview questions relevant for the job you’re going for. They may not be the exact questions, but they could give you a good feel of what you may be asked throughout the interview process.
  • Use your resources: the internet is a wonderful tool. Candidates have the ability to research the company in depth. PR pieces, forums, and blogs can help job seekers get a sense of what’s happening in the company or get an idea of what others are saying about the company. Websites like Glassdoor provide detailed reviews in regard to employees’ overall feelings about working for the company. Some interviewees also give details about their interview experience, things to look out for, questions they were asked, and provide general advice. Not only will reviewing these details help you with your interview, but it can also help you formulate impressive questions for the recruiter.
  • Show that you did your homework: recruiters are often impressed by candidates that have done their homework. They’re even more impressed by the candidates that seemed to go above and beyond and looked deeper than just what is on the company website. In that same regard, they also enjoy well-thought out questions that are a step above the general ones that they’re typically asked. Did you see something on a blog that interested you? Ask them more about it. Was there an employee review that sparked up something that concerned you? Try to get clarification on the situation. These are the types of things that help the interviewer feel like you genuinely care about the company you’re recruiting for.
  • Follow up: doing well in your interview isn’t the last step of having a good interview. It’s also about what you do AFTER the interview. If you have a LinkedIn account, be sure to connect with the individuals you spoke with. If you have the email or phone number of those individuals, be sure to send a follow up message to thank them and reiterate your continued interest in this position. This can help them feel that you are serious about this job.

Interviewing is definitely a tough thing to master and although I wish I had a way to assure you that this will help you land a job 100% of the time, I can’t. The important thing is to use this as a guide to help you build the confidence and skills you need to do better during your interviews. But above all else, the best thing you can do is learn to be adaptable. If something you tried during an interview didn’t work out as you had hoped, take the time to evaluate what went wrong and find a way to tweak your tactic so you have better luck next time. Eventually, all your hard work will pay off.

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