Humanizing Interviews to drive Business Value

 I once met a Recruitment Manager who worked for a large organization and we were looking at ways of revamping their hiring process.

His main pain point: Discrepancy between perceived interview outcomes and real-world performance.

One can recommend several out-of-the-box solutions to this problem such as Psychometric Tests, Behavioral Assessments, and training the Line Managers. These are powerful tools to gauge candidates’ potential and skill set (if done right), but even a basic interview (if done right), shouldn’t produce a huge discrepancy between the promise and the reality!

There is an old saying in the IT world: an IT System can only be as good as the data used for its development. I think there is an analogy here to interviews; the outcome of a hiring process can only be as good as the questions asked during the interview.

And I think the solution to better interviews is to humanize them!

Humanizing interviews is not a new term or idea (try to google it), and it appears to mean different things to different people. For me personally, it means one thing: focusing on the things that matter!

In practical terms, it means transforming the interview from scripted questions and answers to more of a genuine conversation about what’s possible and what is not. I think this is what all hiring managers should be concerned about. The possible and not-possible in terms of the candidate’s technical skills, soft skills, learning ability, and social attributes.

For example:

  • Are they able to work within a team?
  • Are they able to lead?
  • Are they coachable?

If a hiring manager is able to judge what’s possible and what is not; I believe they can make an informed decision.

Now let’s look at my favorite suspects for making an interview “unhuman” and scripted:

  • Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
  • Why do you want to join our organization?
  • What are your strengths?
  • What are your weaknesses?

I know some hiring experts will disagree with me on this (and that’s a good thing) and they’ll point out these questions actually work for them; they’re able to gain more insight into a candidate’s aspirations and thinking style. And if that is the case and they work for you too then great!

However, in a world where everyone has read and watched hundreds of articles and videos on how to answer such questions (and often with conflicting messages) I am not sure one would be getting genuine answers to these types of questions in an interview, not because the candidate is not being honest, not at all, but it’s simply too hard to ignore all this advice, especially in settings where one is trying to put their best self forward.

So where does such an approach leave us?

Scripted questions and scripted answers, in other words, some sort of a show!

I have interviewed a large number of people during my career from school leavers to VP-level candidates, I don’t recall asking anyone any of these questions (hopefully I am not forgetting an odd interview where I did).

So, what does a non-scripted and genuine interview looks like then? Well, very similar to non-scripted and genuine conversations we have every day!

I believe there are a few ways to achieve this:

  • First of all, move away from any scripted questions, even the new ones being floated around (this doesn’t mean not having a plan, that’s different).
  • As a hiring manager, reading the candidate’s CV (Résumé) before the interview is key to the success of the interview if you’re planning on just glancing over it between meetings, not only you will miss out on key aspects of your candidate’s experience, but more importantly, you will be inviting confirmation bias. This one mistake can take the interview in a completely different (wrong) direction.
  • Focus on understating your candidate’s career journey thus far, what events helped in shaping them? including Successes, Failures, and Change. Try to gauge their awareness of why did these events occur, how did they respond, and what lessons have they learned from them?
  • Focus on the Job Description (JD) not the CV during the interview, after all, you read the CV before the interview, right? My ideal version of an interview is one where a candidate and a hiring manager are both holding two copies of the JD going through the future challenges the role holder will face, giving the candidate the opportunity to put forward their proposals to these challenges. A well-trained hiring manager should be able to tell a lot about a candidate from such an approach.

Remember: You are actually going to be working with them if you hire them! And both of you will get the real non-scripted version of each other.

Going into some weird / scripted Q&A session is not going to help you achieve your business goals, replace this with genuine conversations about what really matters to your organization. You will get a lot more from your candidates during the interview and minimize future surprises. The more “real” you get in an interview, the more compelling it is for your candidates to adopt similar behavior.

Finally, if we look at the hiring technology landscape, one can easily conclude the hiring process (including the interviews) is going to be fully automated soon, and AI will interview, evaluate and rank order candidates for us. Until that day comes, let’s keep those soon-to-be-gone human-to-human interactions, human!

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