How do you handle an interview when the candidate is preoccupied with a personal issue? I had a candidate this week who insisted she didn’t want to reschedule, even though she was obviously speaking from the bathroom and flushed the toilet many times during the call. It was obvious she was suffering, and it was really awkward for me to continue. Should I have just cut it off for her relief?
Alrighty then. It’s been a few weeks since we’ve discussed bodily functions, so let’s just go there. Love the question.
In learning the art of the interview, recruiters perfect the dual roles of investigator and gate keeper. This is a bit of an extreme situation, but what I really hear you asking is “How can I better control the interview?” I laugh as I write this, because the first sign of old age is when you start sounding like your parents; my old boss used to say, “The cardinal rule of recruiting is (repeat after me, children)…control every step of the process, all of the time!” Can you control others? Of course not. Can you anticipate disaster (or a steamroller candidate) and direct the outcome? You bet.
Surprise, surprise: candidates have agendas for interviews. “I want this job.” “I have the required skills.” “I’ll say what I need to get a shot at the real decision-maker.” The thing is, in that moment you
are the real decision-maker. And let’s read between the lines a bit further; if we turn off the volume (no pun intended) and just watch the behavior of the candidate, what does it tell you that she insisted on continuing an interview when she was obviously incapacitated? It doesn’t smell like the bathroom to me, it smells like fear. The more interesting question for this candidate might have been, “why are you afraid of postponing this conversation?” I'd be watching like a hawk for more "tells
" of fear-based behavior or questionable judgment.
Once you know the secrets of controlling an interview, you can relax and have some fun with it. Start with a standard agenda; tell the candidate up front you’re going discuss X, Y and Z, and that you’ll leave time at the end of the call for questions. Follow a standard interview template (here’s a good one, if you need it: 5 and 5 Interview Training White Paper.pdf
), and always end the interview with some feedback. This might mean that you coach the candidate on an aspect of his presentation, or that you set expectations for where he ranks in the competition with others. Each of these tactics sends a subtle message that you drive the bus: you’re prepared for the conversation, you’re knowledgeable of the requirements, and you
make the final decision about who moves forward, and who doesn’t.
Sometimes, it just boils down to saying what you need, instead of asking what the candidate wants. Consider changing the phrase “Would you like to reschedule?” to “I’d like to reschedule.” And if your baloney meter goes off with the answer (if you have kids, you know what I’m talking about), don’t hesitate to ask why; the answer to that question could tell you the really
important stuff you need to know about your candidate.
In my day job, I’m the head of Products for Improved Experience, where we help employers use feedback to measure and manage engagement for competitive advantage in hiring and retention. Learn more about us here
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