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The Job Interview: A Two-Way Street

The Job Interview: A Two-Way Street

Adapted from the book Finding Keepers: The Monster Guide to Hiring and Holding the World’s Best Employees by Steve Pogorzelski, Jesse Harriott, Ph.D., and Doug Hardy. Published January 2008 by McGraw-Hill.

The job interview is a two-way street, and that matters for several reasons. 

First, although managers typically regard the interview process as their opportunity to select from among several candidates, they forget that the best candidates are also selecting from among several options. If the candidates are employed, they can remain in their current positions. High-demand candidates get approached periodically, and so are comparing several opportunities to yours, including offers they have already declined. Even in transition between jobs, candidates have the option to keep looking.

Second, the onboarding process of a new employee begins long before she actually joins the payroll. Job interviews are a time to set expectations, inform a candidate of resources, and plan early days of the job. This information can make the difference between your offer and your competitors’.
Third, you are marketing your organization at all times, including every job interview. Johnson & Johnson treats everyone it interviews with respect because that projects the employer brand of caring and creates advocates among candidates and, not incidentally, promotes a brand among customers who buy its products.

Lisa Calicchio, director of recruiting for the Pharmaceuticals Team at Johnson & Johnson, points out that respect includes open sharing of a candidate’s chances -- and forms a longer relationship.

Candidates say at the end of the interview, “I just want to know -- if I’m moving forward, great. If I’m not, well, I’m sad about that, but just let me know so I can move on.” We are as clear as possible about a candidate’s status, to the point where we actually tell folks when they’re in the second tier. We let them know that we’re always leaving room for a future opportunity. Johnson & Johnson gets a lot of candidates who may not be a fit for one job but right for another down the line. So we deliver a balanced message -- we can say “not this time” and still keep them engaged.

Finally, an interview process that reflects your values highlights potential conflicts between your personality and that of the candidate. You might be great at projecting a tough, competitive, and individual style, thinking you draw more out of a candidate, but if collaboration is critical to your work, what message are you sending?

The job of the full-time recruiter, from the first phone contact, is to do a very thorough analysis of the can-do part -- to verify experience and skills -- first and quickly. That leaves values, culture, and temperament -- the qualities that determine the will-do part -- for the bulk of the interview process.

Whether a candidate can do the job is easier to determine than whether she will do the job. The interview process has to determine both.

One of the best executive recruiters we know, Liz Kelleher, asks herself, “Can I be an advocate for this candidate? Only then will I put her forward to management.” It’s her job to fill that seat; she’s got a lot of seats to fill, but she takes the time to develop a relationship with the candidate that goes beyond just checking off skills. She looks for motivations and gets to know what that candidate is like on a personal level. She lays out the process -- who the candidate will meet, when, and why -- early in the interview process. When a candidate Liz advocates finally appears before the manager, that person tends to be very comfortable and well prepared, which leads to a better interview. This isn’t because Liz has coached her -- it’s because Liz has made the match and decided to advocate because the candidate will work out well.

Over time we’ve learned that if Liz goes to bat for a candidate, that person is probably going to work out. She’s not going to send anybody to an executive interview that she wouldn’t hire herself.

This is not just for executives; it’s particularly good for lower-level employees because they’re usually nervous. They’re not smooth at interviewing. But they are the future of your organization. A good interviewer puts them at ease so that the hiring manager can get an accurate interview, not one distorted by nervousness.