Last week a client asked me to be an observer in a series of job interviews. These interviews were for new positions on a new service line. The margin of error for hiring mistakes was zero to none. In other words, one wrong hire and the whole project could go up in smoke. The “drop-dead” deadline for opening had already passed and any additional delays would only add costs, reduce sales, and turn the company from front-runner to has-been.
The first interview was scheduled for 9 AM. Additional interviews were scheduled on the hour throughout the day. Prior to the interview, I spoke with Michael, the manager and interviewer, and asked him how much, if any, he wanted me to participate in asking questions. Michael had been the CFO of a two-billion dollar business before being recruited to run and turn-around this new venture. “I’ve been interviewing for over thirty years and have hired nearly 1,000 employees,” he responded. “Just watch and tell me if you see anything I miss.”
I wanted to ask him about the 1,000 he hired. How many successful hires had he made, how many failed? I wanted to ask him but I decided in the interest of time to go with his game plan. It didn’t take me long to figure out the answer.
At 9:25 AM, 25 minutes into the interview, Michael was still talking. With the exception of a brief “good morning and I really appreciate the opportunity to interview with you,” the candidate hadn’t spoken another word. It’s not that she didn’t want to; she wasn’t given the chance. From the very start, Michael took over the interview. I was amazed how long he could talk without taking a breath.
Both the candidate and I heard about the whole history of the company, Michael’s role in the company, Michael’s role in the project, how he’d hired and managed over 1,000 employees in his career, and what Michael was looking for in the candidate he was about to hire.
Throughout Michael’s monologue, I couldn’t help but see the dazed look in the candidate’s eyes. Finally she made eye contact with me and her glare shouted out: “Don’t just sit there, rescue me.”
Ten minutes later, I couldn’t take it anymore. I interrupted Michael and asked the candidate, why she was pursuing this position? Before she had a chance to utter a word, Michael jumped in and answered my question! He told her how thrilled he was to be working for this company and what a fantastic opportunity this was for the right person. Unfortunately I had no clue at this point if the candidate was qualified or interested…..and neither did Michael.
Finally, the clock approached 9:50 AM. Only ten minutes to go and Michael finally got around to asking his first question: Does this job seem like something you’d be interested in? Hopefully he didn’t see my dumbfounded look. How could he ask the question: what could he possibly know about the candidate? He didn’t ask her a single job skill-relevant question. Hope still loomed as he asked his second question: are there any questions you have about the job? The candidate smiled and said no. “You did a great job explaining the job,” she said, “and I’m really interested.”
We all stood up, shook hands, and I escorted her to the front door. End of interview for candidate #1.
When I returned to the room, Michael had a big smile and asked what I thought. Before I had a chance to answer, Michael told me “she’s the one.” I asked him what he liked about her. “I learn a lot by just observing how they listen to me,” he shared. “When you’ve been around as long as I have, you get a sixth sense about people.”
Unfortunately this interview process was repeated another seven times during the day.
Interviewing remains the most popular assessment for employee screening, and the reliability remains low, often in the 50 percent range. Michael is not the only manager who lacks interview style and skills, especially when managers are left to their own devices.
In an upcoming post, I’ll address five tips for improving the job interview and recommend a process that is proven to be 70 percent more effective than the interview.
In the meantime……….
Post your interview “war stories” below: comments made by managers that forced your jaw to drop, questions asked that made you cringe.