March 30

Rethinking Interviews


Interviews are a key step in the talent acquisition process so, what can we do to improve and inform our approach? Lou Adler has said, “Good people don’t mind earning the right to be hired, as long as the right information is being measured the right way.” The end goal is to make a successful hire. In this post we’re going to look at interview tactics, discuss typical approaches, and look to the future of hiring.

What Doesn’t Work As Well As You Might Think

  • Asking “brainteaser” questions
  • Panel interviews (four or more interviewers)
  • Focusing on past performance

When Google set out to optimize their interview process, the global data leader evaluated every step with finite detail. They found that, beyond a certain point, bringing candidates back for multiple rounds of interviews made no noticeable difference in a successful hire. Research has also found fault with panel interviews. A lack of advanced collaboration is often the culprit, and interviewers are seldom on the exact same page with a master plan for the process.

What about surprise questions? These are usually meant to challenge expertise and assumptions, however, an unintentional side effect is that it can set-up an adversarial relationship between candidate and interviewer. In order to shift toward a candidate-focused hiring process, we must stop treating interviews like a sneak attack. Panel interviews can also perpetuate an “us vs. them” dynamic.

What about asking about the past? While inquiry into past performance is reasonable and standard protocol, emphasis on previous work can present an issue. Results produced in a previous environment do not necessarily translate into another. It’s also difficult to verify the accuracy of a person’s claims, as some employers are prohibited from commenting on anything beyond verifying title and date of employment. Instead, ensure that your questions allow candidates to respond to new scenarios and address different kinds of thinking.

What Does Work

  • Annual training on best interview practices – encourage a structured interview process
  • Setting “Service Level Agreements” between talent acquisition and hiring managers
  • Asking questions that assess for behavioral, problem-solving, and strategic thinking

Hiring managers, who are often tasked with the final say, should be provided with tools to better articulate what they need. Regardless of previous experience, all hiring managers can benefit from a refresher course. Despite a natural difference in hiring styles, there are ways to increase consistency and communication is a “service-level agreement” between hiring managers, talent acquisition, human resources, and recruiters. Some companies have laid out expectations in a comprehensive workflow outlining who is responsible for which components.

Structured interviews can also play a critical role in minimizing unconscious bias. By asking the same questions across the board, it minimizes the chances of being a reactive interviewer. Developing a list of questions combining behavioral, problem-solving, and strategic thinking are valuable. An example of a problem-solving question could be, “What steps do you follow to study a problem before making a decision? Why?” In the candidate’s response, examine how they approach a problem step-by-step: from identifying and analyzing the issue to comparing alternatives and choosing the most effective solution. This approach also makes it easier to identify which questions are most highly correlated with on-the-job success.

Ultimately, your process should appeal to your candidate pool. The IT recruiting is highly competitive, and any extra steps slow the application process and increase the chance of missed hiring oppurtunities. Our role is to eliminate engagement barriers and make it “stupid easy.” To that end, we focus our inbound recruiting to platforms where our candidates dwell, and once the conversation starts, we make a commitment to be pro-active, transparent and provide added value. Our candidates have a choice of recruiting agencies to work with, and they know what they’re worth. At the most basic level, the way you hire someone should reflect how you value them. 

The Future of Hiring

How far are companies going to change up the hiring process? Zappos did away with job postings in 2015 in favor of a talent pipeline community nurtured by current employees as well as recruiters. Their approach is that the best candidates to work at Zappos are already engaged with the brand and its people. Is the era of “free candidates” coming to an end?

Instead of asking candidates to take a coding test, which may not address the complex thinking of actual work done on the job, some companies are adding on a project up front and paying candidates (a small fee) for their time. In a break from convention, Flipkart is successfully hiring employees without conducting a single interview. Employers are taking unconventional, disruptive approaches to designing an interview experience that stands out, meets the needs of the organization, and places the candidate front and center.

Our own client, a wildly successful fintech company, also takes an innovative approach. They take their top candidates out for happy hour with the team. This is the final step and has become known as the ‘social’ interview. What message does this organization send? You get a sense that they believe in working and playing together, teamwork is highly valued, and that the (near) end of the interview process is a reason for celebration. The social interview has become this company’s cincher, part of their employer brand.  Outcomes for this client range from high employee retention rates, awards for best places to work and revenue that climbs as they scale. We respect the approach they have taken to identifying what works–when companies can take ownership of their interview strategy, they can also own the results. The possibilities for an updated and customized interview process are endless.


“7 Rules For Job Interview Questions That Result in Great Hires” Sullivan, John. Feb 10 2016 Harvard Business Review

“6 Ways To Screen for Strategic Thinking” Sullivan, John. Dec 13 2016 Harvard Business Review

“Guidelines on Interview and Employment Application Questions” Nov 23 2015 SHRM

“Unwittingly Asking Improper Interview Questions” Leonard, Bill. Apr 17 2015. SHRM



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