Help Wanted — 5 things I’ve learned from interviewing dozens of job applicants
While trying to schedule a telephone interview, one job candidate told me, “Monday will not work at all for me. I start a new job that day.”
Are you kidding me?!
For several weeks, I’ve been tasked with finding someone to fill a brand new position for one of my clients. It has taken this long because we’ve vowed to be incredibly thoughtful about who we decide to hire. My experiences during this process – from developing best practices to meeting new people – can provide valuable lessons for finding that needle in a very large haystack.
Harvard Business School projects that bad hires cost employers three to five times the employees’ first-year salary.
1. Start with the phone
When you post an opening – especially these days – there will be no shortage of applicants. Imagine trying to meet in person with each and every potential candidate. You’d be investing a lot of time – time that you and your team may not have. And you’re flat-out wasting time when candidates fail to show up for interviews. There may not be a need for all that face time. One effective way to sift through the flood of applications and begin the vetting process is to schedule telephone interviews. If an applicant fares well and you have a good feeling, then schedule an in-person meeting. Within about 15 minutes (even via phone) you’ll probably know intuitively whether someone may be a good fit.
2. Don’t call me … on second thought, call me
I asked one candidate to call me at 4:30 pm on a given day. Not only did she call nine minutes past our agreed-upon time, she didn’t even acknowledge her lateness. If this is her approach to a (first-impression) phone call, how seriously is she going to take punctuality as an employee? I ended that interview before it even began and I hope she took the experience as a valuable lesson on professionalism and integrity.
Asking applicants to call you at a mutually agreed-upon time answers two fundamental questions:
- Is he serious about this job opportunity?
- Does she honor her word?
If you make the initial interview call, you may not discover answers to these crucial questions until you’ve already invested too much of your valuable time.
3. Create a specific series of questions
Most employers practice a willy-nilly approach to interviewing. They don’t follow a standardized process or ask predetermined questions – they just wing it. As with any other important organizational process, your interview method should be thoughtful and consistent. Your questions should encourage the applicant to open up and share relevant stories.
What are some of your favorite interview questions? For a carefully crafted 2-page document of interview questions that even includes an objective rating system, e-mail me and I’ll be glad to share it with you.
4. Look for the obvious clues
Can they follow instructions?
Although our listing clearly requested that applicants include a cover letter and resume in the body of their e-mail (“No attachments please”), we still had more than a few folks send their resume and/or cover letter as an attachment. If someone isn’t willing to take the time to read through a brief job listing and follow a simple request, what might they overlook as an employee of your company?
Can they hold down a job?
You may hear people boasting about their “10 years of experience,” when in fact they have two years of experience … 5 times. When you see a resume full of one- and two-year tenures, that should send up a big red flag. I recommend at least addressing this with the individual if you decide to proceed with an interview.
Did they proofread their own resume?
Finding spelling/grammatical errors and/or inconsistencies in proper tense throughout a cover letter and/or resume immediately turns me off. These documents represent the individual to prospective employers; they should be impeccable.
Use social media to check ‘em out:
A picture is worth a thousand words, and these days a video could be priceless when it comes to preventing a bad hire. Google your applicants to see what shows up. Facebook pages, Twitter streams and YouTube posts can tell you a lot about someone’s personality and level of professionalism. I was impressed with one applicant’s resume and especially her Internet radio talk show – until I listened in and heard her disgruntled views on what’s wrong with the world.
5. You’re interviewing potential clients and referral sources
What impression are you making on applicants? How quickly are you responding to them? Are you “courting,” or does it feel more like “interrogating?” Do you get back to the applicants who don’t make the cut? These questions are important, because each applicant could become a future client and/or source of referrals. Those with a favorable impression are more likely to recommend, or even do business with you and your company down the road.