Ask the Headhunter: Employers, interview responsibly!

Nick Corcodilos started headhunting in Silicon Valley in 1979 and has answered over 30,000 questions from the Ask The Headhunter community over the past decade.

In this special Making Sense edition of Ask The Headhunter, Nick shares insider advice and contrarian methods about winning and keeping the right job, on one condition: that you, dear Making Sense reader, send Nick your questions about your personal challenges with job hunting, interviewing, networking, resumes, job boards, or salary negotiations. No guarantees—just a promise to do his best to offer useful advice.

JenR writes: I have always gone to a job as prepared as I can with information about the company and how I would fit into the job that I'm applying for… I have been on both ends of the interview process and couldn't agree more that changes are needed. Some of the questions during interviews make me wonder who they really want. And candidates not being prepared when coming into an interview amaze me. [A comment from "How to put an end to stupid job interviews."]

Nick Corcodilos: You've hit on an important point. Employers interview too many of the wrong candidates to begin with. They let unprepared applicants show up for interviews. This can be avoided with a phone discussion from the hiring manager prior to any in-person interview.

I'm sure you know how most phone screening interviews go: They're without substance. "So, tell me about yourself." That's childish. I have a different kind of phone screen. This is what the hiring manager should say to a candidate who appears to be worth inviting for a full interview:

"Hi. I've reviewed your resume carefully, and I've spoken to some people about you. It seems it's worth our time to meet with you. I just want you to know that we don't conduct traditional interviews. We'd like you to come meet our team, ready to show us how you'd do the job and how your approach will pay off. (See "Kick the candidate out of your office.")

"I realize you might need some information to prepare for this meeting — and I know it's a lot of work to get ready. So please feel free to call John Smith, Linda Jones and Ed Black on my team, to ask any questions you might have. They won't tutor you, but they'll answer your questions and tell you anything you need to know about our business, our department and about the job.

"If you're willing to do this level of preparation, we'd like to meet you next Friday. Would you like to come show us what you can do for our business?"

That's an adult job interview with a clear agenda. What agenda do your interviews usually have? (See "Don't conduct junk interviews.")

Note that I said the hiring manager should make this call. It should not come from HR. (See "Get past the guard.") Would you be surprised if a manager called you with such a suggestion? Or, if a manager let you talk with others on the team in advance of your face-to-face meeting? Would you be willing to prepare for such a presentation?

I think it's insane when employers handle interviews any other way. The prevalent interview protocol yields low success rates because it's childish and irresponsible. Employers usher unknown candidates in to meet managers who have failed to set a bar. Even kids know to expect standards of performance. (See "Raise your standards.") Perhaps worse is how much candidate time employers waste on tire-kicking meetings that have no agendas. That's irresponsible.

I tell managers that this phone call will eliminate 90 percent of even the best applicants, because most will not be motivated enough about the job to do the hard work of preparation. (They just want to show up and tell you about their history.) And that's good. Who wants to waste time with any candidate that's not willing to do this kind of work?

On the other hand, a handful of truly motivated applicants will be grateful for the promise of a meeting with a meaningful agenda that they know how to prepare for. Those are the only applicants worth meeting.

In "How to put an end to stupid job interviews," we discussed the problem of unprepared applicants. But they're only half the problem.

This approach requires employers to stop recruiting stupidly. To conduct truly intelligent, effective interviews, hiring managers must put their skin in the game:

  • The manager must personally review all applications and make the first cut. (Aha, suddenly you don't want 5,000 resumes from job boards, do you? Learn to solicit applications selectively!)
  • The manager must personally call candidates to schedule interviews. Just see how candidates light up when you treat them with respect.
  • The manager must help candidates prepare for interviews, like they help employees do their jobs. Make interviews an open-book test. You want applicants to succeed, so you can make a hire and get back to work — right? Then don't let HR do it.
  • A manager must invest his or her team's time to cultivate applicants. Team members help one another, right? Help your next hire! If they're not worth coaching, why are you even interested in them? (Don't be a tire kicker!)
  • Show the applicant how to put their best foot forward. Don't make interviews a cat and mouse game. Know exactly what you want in applicants and tell them!
  • When the interview happens, the manager should know the applicant's resume and credentials by heart — interviews are not for reading resumes!
  • The manager should know the job inside and out — be ready to talk shop in interviews! Don't waste time on "So what's your greatest strength?"
  • If a candidate doesn't do well in an interview, it's on the manager to say so promptly and to end the process. Don't leave it to HR. Don't hide. (See "Open the door.")

Managers should be 100 percent involved in building their teams — that's their main job, whether they realize it or not. The only place for HR in this process is typing up job offers. (See "The Recruiting Paradox.") Hiring managers need to grow up and make sure hiring is done responsibly.

Employers that raise their standards (for themselves as well as candidates) during the recruiting, selection and interview process will hire the best candidates faster. Managers who don't — they need a crash course, or a demotion.

Dear Readers: If you're a manager, do you take ownership of hiring? Do you help your best candidates succeed? If you're a job seeker, would you work harder at being the right candidate if employers approached you this way?

Nick Corcodilos invites Making Sense readers to subscribe to his free weekly Ask The Headhunter© Newsletter. His in-depth "how to" PDF books are available on his website: "How to Work With Headhunters…and how to make headhunters work for you," "How Can I Change Careers?", "Keep Your Salary Under Wraps" and "Fearless Job Hunting."

Send your questions to Nick, and join him for discussion every week here on Making Sense. Thanks for participating!

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