My last blog post on recruiting for culture fit made the possibly rather controversial point that in my opinion, interviewers should be encouraged and trained to take their instinctive reactions into account when making decisions.
All too often interviewers are taught to ignore how they feel about a candidate and focusing purely on their skills and experience. I just don’t think that’s possible, reasonable or beneficial to the interviewer, the candidate or the company.
Part of being human means we react to people when we first meet them. We instinctively warm to someone or we’re not sure. Sometimes we take an instant dislike to them without really knowing why. An interview is just such a first meeting occasion which is why there are so many hints & tips articles written for jobseekers on how make a good first impression at interview.
Let me be clear – interviewers should not base their entire decision on their first instinctive reaction to a person. Some of us have learnt to trust our gut instincts but others can be a bit wide of the mark to say the least. It would be unfair to suggest that a first reaction is the best benchmark, just as it’s unfair to suggest that the instinctive reaction should be ignored completely.
There is a happy medium to be found. Interviewers will always have an instinctive reaction to the candidate. They’ll base that on the way they look, the way they dress, the strength (or otherwise) of their handshake, etc. The interviewer must then make a mental note of their first impression and put that to one side in order to get on with interviewing the candidate and giving them the best possible opportunity to show whether or not they’re the right person for the role.
Asking the right questions at interview is also essential. Candidates should be asked about their skills and experience to date but they should also be asked questions to elicit their attitudes and values. Let’s just say that you need to employ someone who will learn quickly from their colleagues and is able and prepared to develop some new skills in order to do the job effectively. At interview, I would suggest that you ask candidates to talk about their attitude to learning a new skill. When was the last time they learnt how to do something? How did they approach that learning? Were they self-taught, did they make lots of notes to refer back to, why did they choose that particular skill to learn? All of this information will help you to build up a picture of that person’s attitude to learning.
In the last post I talked about matching the company’s culture to the candidate’s views and opinions. If you want someone with a great attitude to customer service, don’t just ask them to tell you about their attitude to customer service. Unless they’ve really missed the point, they will seize that opportunity to tell you what you want to hear. After all, it would be foolish of them to tell you that they’re not all that interested in what the customer wants and in their last role they attracted a large number of customer complaints!
If you want to tell a person’s attitude towards dealing with customers, ask them how they deal with complaints. Ask them what’s the most important thing to do when dealing with a customer’s complaint. Give them a scenario to consider and ask them how they’d handle it. Word the same question in different ways so you can see if they are consistent in their responses. Ask difficult, leading questions to put them on the spot and see how they handle it. It’s not about grilling the person but it is crucial that you take every chance to find out whether or not they would fit in your company.
I used to work in an office where there were some quite big personalities to put it mildly. There were jokes and good-humoured comments flying around but they were a team who had bonded well together and knew their stuff. This was not a place for shy and retiring wallflowers, loners or people who thought they knew everything. When interviewing for that team, I looked for personality traits that would fit in – not overly shy but not overly confident. Working well with the team was a key criterion so that featured heavily in the interview questions too.
Once the interview is over, the interviewer must then return to their first impression of the candidate and evaluate that against the evidence gathered during the interview. Sometimes that first impression will be borne out by the evidence and sometimes they will have a completely different viewpoint by the end of the interview. A person who appeared shy may have warmed up during the questions. A person who appeared overly confident may have changed completely. A good interview will never just be based on the person’s skills and experience – the interviewer’s first impression and the candidate’s attitude must also form part of the picture.
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