Most hiring managers view the interviewing process as an exercise in assessment. It’s the employer’s opportunity to probe a person’s skills, experience, and likely fit within the company. They also know that this face-to-face interaction is probably the best shot they’ll have at selling a high-caliber applicant on working for the company.
Hiring managers, for the most part, already know how to assess a candidate’s abilities. There’s less advice available on how to present their companies’ attributes to potential employees. So what’s the best way to do that?
It’s common for an interview to be a two-way evaluation: The employer questions the candidate, and the candidate—especially if the person is an “A”-level performer—questions the employer. Both are looking to answer a simple yet profound question: Will the job under discussion fully tap the individual’s talent and motivate the candidate to demonstrate excellence at work?
Making Mutual Appraisals
Employers tend to think they can find out whether a top performer will be motivated to still be a top performer at their company through a businesslike investigation. Often, it’s accompanied by skill testing and other assessments designed to tease out precisely what the candidate can do and has done at work and how well the candidate could do or has done it.
Candidates, on the other hand, seek to answer that question through observation of the investigation process, and of every prospective colleague they meet, to determine what it will be like to be an employee of that company.
The key to success in both cases is clarity and accuracy of perception.
Some employers and recruiters have been trying to improve what happens to candidates during the recruiting process—which could, in turn, improve the quality of talent a firm recruits. The best talent act like good consumers when they’re shopping for a new employer. They want to “test drive” the company before they commit to “buying” its offer of employment.
Exploring Prospective Employers
Obviously, candidates can’t actually take the employment experience out for a spin, so they create a surrogate instead. They focus on what happens to them from the moment they are contacted about an interview until the moment they walk out the door after the interview has been conducted. They believe that the way they are treated as a candidate is a good approximation of the way they will be treated as an employee.
Simple courtesy, and treating candidates respectfully, are important, of course, but they are not sufficient to tip the scale for top talent. High-level performers expect more from their candidate experience—they want to feel what it’s like to be employed in the company.
Some employers and recruiters have developed a strategy that uses an employer’s interview process to simulate the experience candidates can expect when they work for that employer.
Top talent are happy for prospective employers to give them information about their culture and values—but just as they wouldn’t commit to buying a car based on a dealer’s brochures, they’re unlikely to commit to accepting an employer’s offer without some additional experiential insight.
There are two tactics hiring managers can use to give that insight to job candidates.
Task Simulation. Embed one or more tasks in the interview process that realistically mimic the work experience. For example, Starbucks promotes collegiality as the core of its employment experience—its employment brand declares “We call each other partners.” To make that statement come to life during the interview process, Starbucks has candidates for select positions participate in a coffee bean taste-testing exercise with their prospective boss. The experience is meant to simulate the collegiality inherent in working together toward a common outcome—in this case, determining the best-tasting bean.
Day Simulation. Invite three to five current employees to be part of the interview process. They should be people who do the same, or similar, work as will be done by the candidate who fills the open position.
These employees can serve as a peer panel—not to assess candidates, but rather to describe their day-to-day work in detail and to answer questions about the practices, procedures, and interactions involved. This is a peer-to-peer interaction, so the session should be conducted without supervisors or managers in the room. Managers might not interfere with the dialogue, but if they’re not even there it eliminates the candidates’ perception that they could or would.
Improving the Interview Experience
Interviews with job simulation dramatically improve the quality of a candidate’s experience, and that helps employers sell the best talent on their employment opportunity as well as helps candidates make an informed decision about their prospects for success with employers.
This strategy is probably best used only for select positions, as it clearly requires more time and greater effort than that currently devoted to most traditional interview processes. That said, as much as possible, the basic strategy of giving candidates a clear picture of what it’s like to work for an employer should shape every interaction and communication with them.
Peter Weddle is the author of more than two dozen employment-related books, including Next Practices: Doing Better Than Best in Online Recruitment and The New Golden Rules of Job Board Success: Four Principles for Optimizing Operational and Bottom Line Performance. He is editor and publisher of Weddle’s LLC (weddles.com), a publisher of print guides to job boards.