Allocating Interview Time

Adam Goucher has a post about how he organizes interviews, So, you’ve got yourself an interview with me. I asked Adam why he spends so much time on Company/Position overview (15 minutes) and the candidate’s Elevator Pitch (5 minutes). He said (I’m paraphrasing) that he’s hit the war for talent, and feels that he needs to sell candidates on the company.

Well, Adam, I certainly feel your pain. And I would change the interview setup. Candidates feel drawn to hiring managers who interview well, not sell the company well. And, candidates may not be able to articulate an elevator pitch, but they may well sell themselves through behavior-description questions.

Adam does have a point about selling the company. I do that in a phone screen. First, in the phone screen, I ask the elimination questions. If a candidate gets through the elimination screen, I might explain the position and the company–and I timebox that to no more than 5 minutes. Remember, candidates want to sell themselves, and if I’m doing the talking, they’re no.

I really sell the company in the interview, but by asking great questions and using auditions. Candidates who feel as if the interviewer took the time to learn who they are and what their skills are, are much more likely to want to work for that interviewer. You don’t need to sell the company–your behavior in the interview will sell the company for you.

I’ll ask a bunch of behavior description questions about how the candidate as worked–in different projects, in different companies, and I might ask what the candidate has learned from different roles, projects, and companies. That interviewing technique provides me much more information about the candidate than an elevator pitch will–and allows the candidate to tell me more of his or her stories, rather than asking for a pitch.I have a problem with the “Why should I hire you?” question, because the candidate can’t know enough about your problems and your context to really know.

At best, the candidate can provide a rehearsed–and likely–fake answer, which doesn’t say anything of substance. (Yeah, I am pretty cynical about elevator speeches 🙂 If you’re the hiring manager, you’re the one who can know at the end of the interview whether you should hire this person.

Here’s my general interview setup:

  1. Greeting. If I’m walking the person to my office, as long as it takes to walk. Otherwise a minute or so.
  2. Questions and auditions: 40 minutes
  3. “Do you have any questions”: the last 4-5 minutes, depending on where I am. If the candidate has no more questions, I’ll ask one more.

I’ve been in the position where I was cross-interviewing for other managers and the candidate has asked to work for me, because he or she thought I would be a better manager based on my interviewing. (There’s a lot more to management than interviewing.) So, I do have first-hand knowledge that interviewing skills can actually win the war for talent 🙂

So brush up on those behavior-description question interview skills and ask someone who’ll be interviewing to run an audition. You’ll use the interview better and learn more in those precious 45 minutes.

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