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The Best Interview Format To Highlight A Candidate’s Strengths & Avoid Problematic Hires

​ When an organization grows quickly, it’s not uncommon for staffing needs to fall by the wayside until the situation becomes dire. At that point, decision-makers want to fill seats as quickly as possible. They’re not going to spend months mapping out interview strategies when their current team members are on the brink of being overworked. Unfortunately, that chaotic approach persists even once growth stabilizes, which is why companies make hiring mistakes. At BVOH, we recognize the significant costs, in terms of time, money, and morale, associated with those mistakes, so we have created a standardized hiring process. Our approach accounts not only for technical requirements but cultural fit as well. We do this to avoid making bad hires at our own company and to prevent ourselves from recommending the wrong candidates to our clients. The way we see it is, business processes exist to ensure quality — so why would you treat hiring any differently?

You Need a Hiring Process, Even If You Think You Don’t

Businesses that lack a rigorous hiring process but haven’t made a big mistake have simply gotten lucky. Often, leaders at these organizations assume their luck will hold forever. Why invest resources in something that hasn’t bitten them yet? We argue that instituting a hiring process not only safeguards against future problems, it also helps you attract higher-quality candidates. Just because the team members you’ve hired haven’t been disastrous doesn’t mean there aren’t people out there who are better suited to your organization. Every company approaches hiring a little differently, but I’ll share our process here so you can envision what your own strategy might look like.

Start With a Phone Screening

First, we conduct a phone interview. Many companies skip this step, but phone interviews reveal a good deal about a candidate, and you may save yourself some time by instituting them. It’s worth noting here that I often advise my clients to skip phone interviews when I’ve already vetted the candidate. But if your potential hires haven’t been vetted by a recruiter or if the job requires a significant amount of phone communication, I highly suggest a phone interview. During our phone interviews, we assess a candidate’s emotional intelligence and professionalism. Their energy level, articulateness, and even their use of grammar tell us a lot about whether they have the right demeanor to be a successful recruiter. Likewise, if you’re hiring someone for your back office and they stumble over basic questions and give half-hearted answers, you’ll probably think twice before inviting them in for a sit-down. As I mentioned above, we use this strategy at BVOH when evaluating candidates for our clients as well. Since we maintain close relationships with our clients, we can usually tell in a phone interview whether someone would complement their teams. This saves our client the trouble of conducting the phone interviews themselves and ensures we’re only sending the highest-quality candidates their way.

Conduct a Values-Based Interview

Once someone clears the phone screening, we schedule an in-person interview. Depending on the role and the person’s schedule, the in-person portion might take place over one or two days, but it always includes four sections. Each of these centers around a core value of our company. Whether or not someone aligns with these values determines their success at BVOH, so we put them at the heart of our hiring process. If you don’t already integrate value discussions into your interviews, I strongly recommend you start. Knowing someone’s values and personal ethics tells you everything you need to know about whether they’re a fit for your organization. They might be exceptionally talented and accomplished, but if there’s a fundamental misalignment, they’re never going to work well with your team. In our case, we look for four core attributes. The first is what we call “High Road.” We always do the right thing for our clients, even if it’s a tough decision that benefits us less in the short term. High Road is our way of referring to integrity, and it’s an absolute must-have in any of our hires. We screen for this in our ethics and values section of the interview by asking candidates to tell us about a time when their integrity was challenged. We also give them hypothetical scenarios, such as finding out a coworker with whom they’re friends is being dishonest, and ask how they’d handle that situation.

“Knowing someone’s values and personal ethics tells you everything you need to know about whether they’re a fit for your organization.”

Next, we focus on our “Team One” value. No one at BVOH achieves success alone. We celebrate one another’s wins and we take responsibility for collective losses. Our internal motto is, “Say yes to fun, no to drama.” Someone who is hyper-competitive to the point of being cutthroat is the opposite of who we want on our team. The third section focuses on hustle. We want to know how motivated someone is, how driven they are to excel. Everyone at BVOH is laser-focused on our work. We do whatever we can to serve our clients, and we’re passionate about helping them succeed. When looking for new hires, we seek people who show the same level of ambition and enthusiasm. Questions we ask in this portion include, “Why do you show up to work every day?” and “Why do you want to be a recruiter?” We want to understand what inspires them in their careers. This is also where we ask about their lives outside of work — what are their hobbies and interests when they’re off the clock? Someone who goes for a five-mile run every evening or regularly meets up with friends for a book club demonstrates energy and initiative in other areas of their life. That’s not to say that you won’t get hired if you tell us your hobbies include zoning out in front of Netflix after work every night, but it does throw up a yellow flag. Finally, we delve into their views on client relationships. Because we value our clients so highly, it’s essential that our team members share our views in this area. We ask what they consider to be most important when working with clients and how they would respond to various scenarios. One of my favorite questions is, “Tell us about a time when you went above and beyond to help a customer or client.” The way someone interprets “above and beyond” reveals a great deal about their professional philosophy.

Develop a Coordinated Interview Plan

Be thoughtful about how you structure hiring interviews. You can task one person with leading the value discussion or break up the responsibility among several interviewers. Whichever way you go about it, make sure it’s strategic and that everyone coordinates on the plan. Nothing frustrates candidates more than being asked the same question over and over. I’ve heard from candidates who were excited about a company at the outset but left their interviews in low spirits because they felt the hiring managers didn’t ask insightful questions. If you expect candidates to arrive prepared, you should extend them the same courtesy. Don’t make them rehash their experiences four times or ask about their long-term goals six different ways. Asking the same question two different ways is a good way to gauge consistency, but anything more than that seems incompetent and inefficient. Before you begin interviewing for a position, decide who should be on the hiring panel. Who will this person be working with? Who will they report to and which colleagues will they collaborate with most often? Bringing in a range of interviewers ensures that the candidate gets the full picture of the position and the company culture. It also reduces redundant questions. A potential colleague will have different concerns than the CFO, but both are relevant to the hiring decision.

Reduced Risk for Everyone

There’s no such thing as a 100% guarantee in hiring. You could do everything right and still end up with disappointing results. But establishing a rigorous hiring process significantly reduces the chances of that happening. When you conduct a thorough, thoughtful interview, you learn who a candidate is and whether they’d fit into your company. If you rush them into a role just to get someone in the seat, they’ll wonder whether you’re truly confident in their abilities. Candidates expect you to hire them because you sincerely believe they are the best person for the job. Do them, and your team, a favor and make good on that expectation.  

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