Hiring well is one of the most high-leverage activities companies can make. Modest investments of time can make the difference between you hiring the best people for your company, and taking forever to hire people who may not be a great match.
The most common (and terrible) way to organize interviews is to:
- Decide on a group of people who can interview the candidate.
- Come up with a list of areas you want them to dig in on.
- Have someone schedule the time slots
- Have each person give a recommendation to hire or reject the candidate.
This is problematic in a million ways:
- When I’ve been on panels like this, I’ve had candidates tell me every person asked them the same questions. So the candidate experience is pretty terrible.
- You’re not really guaranteeing you are going to learn what you need to with the candidate.
- You have no idea of what each interviewer is doing, so you have no way of knowing if their feedback is solid or not. I’ve had times I’ve been in interviews like this and when the interviewer was giving feedback, I asked which questions they asked, only to find the questions were poorly conceived.
The main problem is that there is no coordination.
So let me share an interview format I use.
The basic process is
- Copy the format from this Google Doc.
- Decide on what you want to learn about the candidate in order to make a confident decision. You might put them into categories, like Managing Projects, Managing People, Managing process, and Technical decision-making. These are your interview sections.
- Choose two people to do each interview (they’ll observe the interview better, and learn from each other, which increases your organizations ability to select candidates over time). One is okay if you can’t find a second person.
- For each interview section, write down what you actually want to know in order to understand the candidates strengths and weaknesses. For Process interview, for example, you might want to know that their improvements are impactful. So write down: “They are an active force on their team and company, improving things.”
- Then, have the interviewers write down the questions they’re going to ask (or what they’ll do) to find out the answer to those areas. Looking at the previous question, I might add the question: “What improvements have you made in the past that have had the most impact on your team and the company? [Followup question: what impact did they have?]
- Finally, for each question, have them write down what a good answer would look like. For the question above, I might say something like, An poor answer would be switching to Kanban, or introducing standups (yes these can improve things, but the impact is very local). A better answer would be something like XYZ. A perfect answer would relate the impact to the results on the company, and the results would have made a substantial difference for the company.
- After people have submitted their questions, copy and paste the questions you’re asking to search for bias in the questions you’re asking. I often find I’m gender coding in a way that might put off women. The tool pointed out that my previous framing had two masculine-coded words: “active” and “force”. Usually removing the gender coding also makes it more clear. So I rewrite that area of inquiry to: “They make improvements on their team or company that have a large area of impact.”
- After people have contributed the questions, you act as editor. Read through the interview and think about the interview experience, and whether these questions duplicate each other. Does the interview make sense? Could it be improved? Go through and improve the questions and talk through them with the interviewees.
After every interview, encourage everyone to ask themself these questions:
- Was I looking for the right information from this candidate? If not, alter or tweak the “what I’m looking for” section. (You’ll probably need to alter the questions as well)
- Did I achieve my purposs of answering the objectives I was looking for? If not, you may need to tweak your interview question.
- Did I hear a particularly good or poor answer to the questions? If so, you may want to tweak the “what does a good response look like” section.
So why is this format effective?
- It separates out what you want to learn, from how you are going to achieve it. This makes it easier to iterate on the interview format after every interview.
- It is explicit about what you’re looking for in a good answer. This reduces bias, because you will have thought of it beforehand. This helps with interviewees that may not be the best interviewee, but are giving answers that indicate they might actually be the right person for the job.
I hope you find this useful. Let me know what you think!
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