Don't Lose your Best Candidates Because of your Interview Process

By the time you've created a compelling job description, posted said job description, proactively sourced candidates, screened candidates, assessed each candidate's skills and qualifications and/or checked references, you've invested too much time and energy creating a shortlist to lose them now. But it happens all the time - you lose your best candidates to another company, the candidate realizes that your opportunity isn't the best fit for them, or the candidate simply gives up because your process it too tedious. Now you've wasted your time, and theirs.

Here are some quick tips to prevent this from happening:

1. Understand what your candidate is looking for

During your initial meeting (usually a phone screen), or before, make sure you understand what your candidate is looking for in their next opportunity. Much of the time, the first conversation revolves around what the job entails, what the employer is looking for, and whether the candidate is a good fit - which is important, but the recruitment process can't be treated like a one-way street. The candidate must also feel that your company and opportunity are the right fit for them. Ask what their pain points are in their current, or last, position so you can really get a feel for what they're looking for. Use open-ended questions, such as, "If you could change a few things about your current position, what would they be?" and, "What are your career goals?" Make sure you come up with interview questions that dig into your candidate's passion and drive to ensure a mutual connection.

2. Explain your interview process upfront

Also during your initial meeting, or before, let the candidate know what your entire interview process usually looks like. It can be frustrating for the candidate to go through a 30 minute phone screen with the recruiter, another 30 minute phone screen with the hiring manager, and an hour and a half long in-person interview with the hiring manager - only to find out later that they also need to do an hour long presentation, and then spend another 2 hours meeting with the head of the department and other key players. The candidate knows that they will not necessarily make it through every stage in your interview process, and all they really want is to be informed of what to expect, and when, so that they can allow time for it in their schedule. This leaves fewer surprises for people that move on, so they don't drop out later in the process because of scheduling conflicts or burnout.

3. Be flexible with scheduling

Once you let the candidate know about your interview process, make sure your candidate is comfortable with the scheduling of the interviews. Ask them what is the best way for them to interview with you. Candidates may have other job interviews scheduled, possibly on top of their current job - which they don't want to put in jeopardy. You should be flexible to allow for both larger blocks of time where they can complete the entire interview process at one time (or over fewer days than usual), or smaller blocks of time spread out over a week or two. You should also provide afterhours times that you are available – perhaps staying late once per week or offering a weekend time to meet. This prevents you from scaring off your employed candidates, as well as those with other obligations. You may also want to consider a more casual environment to meet your team, such as a lunch or happy hour – where everyone can make sure the candidate is a good cultural fit.

4. Ask where they are in their job search

At each point in the interview process, ask I where each candidate is in their job search. Some may only be considering your company (score!), but others could be close to closing an offer, so you’ll want to move more quickly for those. Also ask that they keep you informed on any changes, and stay flexible on moving interviews around to accommodate your more active job seekers (as well as your passive candidates that may have schedule changes due to their current job!).

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Comment by Tim Spagnola on February 25, 2014 at 10:46am
This is so true Jen. My current agency had a tendency to have drawn out interviews, multiple repeat visits, and lots of overlap. On my first day I went to work to correct this and we saw immediate results. This was one area where preaching out the 'candidate experience' got me the support from leadership to make changes. Great post.
Comment by Keith D. Halperin on February 25, 2014 at 1:21pm

Thanks, Jen. Actually, if a company isn't looking for the "Fab 5%" that everybody drools over, or some other in-demand skillsets, they can take forever and treat candidates like dirt- most job seekers today have no real choices (~3 jobseekers for each open position, IMSM), so most of us will crawl over broken glass for a FT job w. benefits...

Comment by Jen Dewar on February 25, 2014 at 7:53pm

Thanks Tim - and good for you! It can be difficult to make changes like this, when hiring managers don't necessarily understand the candidate's perspective and how challenging it can be to interview when you already have a job, or if you live out of the area.

Keith - I see your point, but beg to differ. If you're the hiring manager, do you want the candidate that just wants a job, or that is actually in demand because they're highly qualified - employers are likely to get both types of candidates in this market (although perhaps more of the "just want a job" type), but will lose the best ones if they think they can treat candidates like dirt. When they have only desperate candidates from which to hire, their competitors will get the upper hand because they did what it takes to build the better team - and your company is only as good as your employees.

Comment by Keith D. Halperin on February 26, 2014 at 12:28pm

Thanks, Jen. "If you're the hiring manager, do you want the candidate that just wants a job, or that is actually in demand because they're highly qualified". Of course I do, but in this market, many of the best  people are BOTH.

My points:

1) Most companies can't get the "Fab 5%" etc. because they have nothing to offer them, and giving a pleasant and professional hiring process won't allow them to get those people.

2) I believe that for the great majority of positions, you can get very good candidates merely by offering a job, thus there is no incentive to change.

3) Employers of Choice (EOCs) are well-known for their dysfunctional hiring processes (Want to know a big one? Go use a "very famous search engine" and it'll be right there in front of you.) They can treat everyone who isn't connected to someone powerful in the company like dirt, and they aren't suffering loss of "Fab 5%" candidates.

Should there come a "sellers job market" again, as we had during the time, companies will find out they DO need to treat people decently if they want to get hires, but they DON'T now...

However, if all else is equal, I can imagine that the nicest company wins (but all else is RARELY equal).



Comment by Jen Dewar on February 26, 2014 at 2:08pm

Great points, Keith! You're totally right, companies need more than a good hiring process to get the best candidates, and many good candidates will deal with a poor experience to get into monster companies (like the one that starts with a G and ends with oogle. My advice here will only work to give a company the competitive edge if they have more to offer than the other companies their candidates are considering (better job, better employer brand, better manager, better benefits, etc). Thanks for weighing in!

Comment by Keith D. Halperin on February 26, 2014 at 3:26pm

You're very welcome, Jen..


Comment by Linda Ferrante on February 27, 2014 at 11:13am

#5. Ask where they are in their job search.

This is part of our conversation, each time, every time.  I work with the candidates to help them discover which is the best option for them.  If it's not mine, or if mine doesn't rank near the top, let's take it out of the running.

A couple of weeks ago I had a situation like this:  Candidate interviewed twice with client.  We were getting ready to make the offer and I asked, one more time, what else he had going on, interview wise.  His response what that he had two other offers on the table (never mentioned ANYTHING before even though I asked, every time).  He said the lowest offer was $5k more than my position, PLUS financial consideration for medical benefits.  He said I would need to match that offer for him to accept the position.

I politely explained that it's too late in the game to come back with a counter offer regarding compensation, and that the position just wouldn't warrant an increase like that, especially at this stage in the game.  I politely wished him luck in his job search and ended the call.

In talking with my client, they were thankful we made that call and didn't pursue the candidate.  Bottom line to my story, is that when you are clear as to the process and the expectations, and when you have clear communications, we can proceed smoothly.  When you hold back (either side), things get muddied.  I prefer to work from an open communication standpoint.  If at any time during this process we don't see eye to eye, let's part and meet back up later if warranted.

I love my job, and I respect the client and candidate situation.  I love how things work out the way they should, and when they don't, it's for the best. It has to be.  Right?  :)

Comment by Keith D. Halperin on February 27, 2014 at 12:28pm

@ Linda: Well-said. Ask early, ask often. If they lie, then they're better off NOT hired.


Comment by Jen Dewar on February 27, 2014 at 2:06pm

Interesting story, Linda! I always think honesty is the best policy.


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