Words blend into each other as the candidate opposite you on the table starts pounding acronyms and brand names into their description of what they did in their last job role. You stumble, confused, and try to cover with, “Right. And what did you do on a day-to-day basis?” It didn’t work. The candidate looks exasperated.
It’s happened to most of us at one point (including me, of course :)), especially if we’re hiring across multiple departments, some of which are very technical or in-depth in a particular field. You’ve been running around, chasing your tail and now, somehow, you’ve ended up conducting an interview without having a clue.
It’s not as uncommon as you think. Hiring Managers often hire for jobs they would never be qualified to actually do. This is particularly common when an outside recruiter is used to screen candidates before sending them on to the organization.
With the fast pace of recruiting and HR management, many interviewers don’t have time to get an intimate understanding of the role they are recruiting for, preferring to resort to second-hand information or a routine of questions that are designed to give information comparable to other candidates without an in-depth understanding of what those candidates actually do.
While it’s understandable, it’s also totally uncool. I can’t underemphasize the importance of doing your homework before meeting with a potential employee. You may think you can fudge it by simply asking routine questions, but the candidate knows and it will become apparent further down the track. It undermines your reputation and diminishes the importance of the job role for the candidate. If it’s clear you don’t know what you’re talking about, you will lose out on rich information from the candidate. Worse: you will not get an understanding of who they are or how they really perform, resulting in high turnover.
So how do you lessen the chances of looking like a clueless hiring manager?
Why is it that the most obvious things are the easiest to miss? The simplest and most time efficient method of avoiding looking like you don’t know what you’re talking about is just to do your homework. Don’t assume you can fudge it in front of a candidate (I’ve tried – it doesn’t work!). Ask to shadow the role you’re recruiting for 20 minutes or get a current incumbent of the role to show you what they do in the environment they do it in. You’ll save time in the long run by avoiding unnecessary additional interviews and clarification questions.
If you’re aware that you may get caught out with a specific job because of its level of technicality, have a list of all the ‘essential’ skills required for the job and ensure you’re on top of what any jargon words or acronyms mean in layman’s terms. Use these words and acronyms in your questions.
If a resume is freaking you out, it’s tempting to just turn it over and focus on other (softer) aspects of the applicant. This is a sure sign that you don’t know what you’re doing. Keep it face up and use it to guide you and help you.
Reading through their resume over and over isn’t going to help you. Begin writing down the keywords of what the candidate is saying. If you don’t know what the candidate is talking about hopefully someone else will.
Talk about the role itself then ask the candidate to fill in where they fit. The best way to get around the fact that you don’t know much about the role is simply to ask the candidate to fill in the blanks. (Yes, I’m telling you to cheat. Shhhh!)
Rather than talking through their resume, approach the discussion from the side of the job itself. Ask the candidate to point out to you exactly where their skills fit with the job description. ‘What would you say are your specific strengths when it comes to this job and give me examples from your previous work experience.’
If you’re finding yourself at the end of your knowledge about skills, switch to attempting to ascertain whether the person is the right personality and culture fit for the role. This is at least as important as the skills and gives you space to get grounded.
If, for whatever reason, you’re in a tight spot where you’re really struggling, bring in a colleague. There’s plenty of excuses for doing this. “I just want to see if Peter is available to meet with you. He often recruits similar roles and may have some questions for you.” “I think you’ll also want to meet with Paula, she recently recruited for…” No candidate is going to say no to meeting more people. Besides, you’re on a team, right? Use them!
This doesn’t have to be face-to-face. You can simply give them a call later once you’ve clarified the things you need to ask and confirm with them over the phone. It’s better to definitely check they are suitable for the role and look a little bit clueless, than to send someone through who you ‘hope’ is the right fit.
Don’t forget – the best prevention is preparation! It is crucial you have a clear idea of what it takes to be successful for the roles you are hiring for. Focus on obtaining as much information as possible and understanding the role when you are given it.
Over to you – have you ever had a situation where you found yourself having to pretend that you knew more about the role than you did? How did you handle it?
Image courtesy of Marco Bellucci.
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