The Perfect Interview

By Kristen Weirick Apr 1, 2008
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HR Magazine, April 2008 To attract top talent, raise the interview process to the level of a fine art.

An interview experience should leave a lasting, positive impression of the company, whether the candidate receives and accepts an offer or not. And in today’s competitive talent marketplace, HR professionals should deliver that sort of experience.

For years, it has been an employer’s market when it comes to finding and interviewing the best candidates for a job. Most organizations have had a ready pool of potential workers. HR departments have designed interview processes that focus on their own needs—how to best assess the candidates for the job at hand—with little attention paid to the candidates’ needs.

Today, all players in the perfect interview— hiring managers, human resource officials and candidates—must become involved in more than just the interview. Hiring managers and HR professionals play critical roles as ambassadors of employer brands. And interviewees? They are, in essence, carrier pigeons of these brands. Candidates receive an inside view of the company, and they will share their interview experiences and their perceptions with others. What they share will be more trusted than anything posted on the company’s careers web page.

Compelling Experiences

How your company is perceived as an employer in the talent marketplace will be based on people’s experiences with your organization. An employer branding strategy needs to deliver great, compelling experiences to employees and prospective employees alike to attract and retain the best talent. Hence, a company’s interview process and candidate management process become important components of a broader employer branding strategy that creates lasting, positive impressions across the employment experience.

The impressions created of your employer brand through the recruiting process will be key factors in how candidates view your company and whether they will consider offers. (See “What Makes a Perfect Interview?”)

Astute managers have made the connection between their candidates’ experiences and building their employer brands. The link to customer loyalty represents another critical relationship to the candidates’ experiences.

Starbucks Coffee Co. based its candidate management process on the Green Apron Methodology, originally a small book that fit into the pocket of a barista’s apron to serve as a handy guide to the quality experience that Starbucks expects to deliver to its customers, says Charity Peck, the company’s talent strategy director.

Starbucks applies the same principles to candidate management and calls it the Green Apron Experience. For Starbucks executives, it’s an extension of the corporate culture. Peck adds, “Whether [someone is] interviewing or buying coffee, we want them to have the same warm, welcoming experience at Starbucks.” Among the components of the Green Apron Experience: Be welcoming, be considerate, be genuine, be knowledgeable, and be involved.

Customers for Life

At Whirlpool Corp., we market and manufacture 17 major home-appliance brands across the globe, including Whirlpool, Maytag, Amana, KitchenAid and Jenn-Air. Every candidate is either a new customer we want to introduce to our products or a current customer we want to keep for life. The Whirlpool candidate management process, called the Exceptional Candidate Experience (ECE), was developed to extend our employer brand and build customer loyalty with every candidate.

The ECE focuses on three components: initial candidate touch points, candidate engagement and candidate closings. The structured ECE encompasses how initial points of contact with a candidate should be managed, all the way through to the initiation of onboarding an employee. We designed the ECE to ensure that every candidate has an exceptional experience and impression of Whirlpool Corp., regardless of whether a position is offered.

Initial candidate touch points. Regardless of how candidates come in contact with Whirlpool Corp., initial candidate touch points ensure that they receive consistent, positively branded messages about the organization. Whether a candidate visits our careers web page, meets representatives at a career fair booth at a university, or speaks directly with a recruiter or hiring manager, he or she should receive the same impression of our organization.

This impression should be based on how our representatives talk about our company as well as a uniform look and feel across mediums, including recruitment brochures, campus presentations, career fair booth designs and www.whirlpoolcareers.com.

Achieving global consistency can be challenging. Designing truly global recruitment advertising campaigns—ones that resonate with diverse populations while offering enough flexibility to speak to individual cultural needs and nuances of different geographic regions—can be difficult. Whirlpool HR professionals are in the midst of designing such a campaign, and, while it’s challenging to align multiple regions and consumer brands, the value of the result makes the effort worthwhile.

Candidate engagement. If candidate touch points are considered the “sizzle,” then candidate engagement is definitely the “steak.” Candidate engagement ensures that every interviewee receives a tailored and engaging experience.

We don’t consider the interview as only the time the candidate sits in the interviewer’s office. The interview begins, in effect, when the candidate leaves the house and isn’t over until he or she arrives back home. Since most of our candidates travel to our locations for interviews, we ensure that their travel arrangements meet their specific needs by allowing them to schedule their travel directly with our agency. We provide drivers to escort them to and from airports as well as ferry them from location to location for interviews.

As one of the world’s largest manufacturers and marketers of appliances, we must look for and compete for talent across the country and the globe. Candidates—particularly those from metropolitan areas—interviewed at corporate headquarters in mid-size Benton Harbor, Mich., frequently question the lifestyle opportunities of southwest Michigan. To answer those concerns, they receive a tour of the community, provided by First Choice, a program developed through a local nonprofit organization that represents the area’s economic development agency and chamber of commerce.

Once an interview date is set, a First Choice guide contacts the candidate directly to learn about his or her circumstances. For example, if the candidate has a child with special needs or elderly parents to care for, or simply has a hobby like windsurfing or ice hockey, the tour guide will structure a tour to demonstrate how the community could meet those needs. The guide provides candidates with a transparent view of the community and a confidential “ear” independent of the interview team to discuss personal situations.

Gifts represent one way Whirlpool connects candidates to our products. Because we value the time and effort the candidates put forth to consider our organization, we provide a gift at the end of each interview day. Following a first interview, interviewees receive a selection of KitchenAid gadgets and textiles. After second- or higher-level interviews, a thank-you note and a KitchenAid countertop appliance are sent to the candidate’s home. The gifts retail from $35 to $85. However, the positive impact on the candidate is immeasurable.

In another approach, Starbucks offers coffee-tasting during the interview process as a learning experience. It’s an example of how Starbucks connects candidates to its product. Peck says, “It’s about incorporating people, product and the customer into the experience. Those are essential components to our organization.”

Candidate closings. The final step ensures that all candidates remain customers for life, regardless of the outcome of the interviews. If managers extend regrets, we provide them with guidelines for doing so in a timely and appropriate manner. Many professionals put off extending regrets because they suspect it will be uncomfortable and possibly unpleasant. However, when managed correctly, this “uncomfortable” task can turn a current rejected prospect into an ambassador of the company, a potential source for referrals and a possible candidate for future consideration, provided he or she obtains the right addition of skills and experience. (See “How To Say ‘No’.”)

On the flip side, if an offer will be extended, what steps do you need to take as a hiring manager or HR professional to ensure that you truly close the candidate and acquire the best talent?

Carmen Hudson, senior manager of talent acquisition at Yahoo! Inc., says, “We’re known for our irreverence at Yahoo!, and we build those nuances into the offer process.” If you receive a job offer from Yahoo!, your comprehensive offer packet will arrive in a distinctive, differentiating purple box with “Yahoo!” emblazoned on it. The box comes alive with the “Yahoo-ooo-ooo!” yodel when opened. “By infusing our corporate personality into the hiring process, we bring our overall brand alive,” Hudson says. (See “How To Say ‘Yes’.”)

Such companies treat candidate management as a business process and a competitive advantage. They survey candidates to measure how well they deliver their experiences and evaluate how and where to focus improvement efforts. Hudson says, “Hiring managers look to us for solutions in how to win against our talent competitors, and the candidate management process is one way to make a significant difference.”

Top candidates have many choices. “The company with the best talent wins,” Hudson says. Savvy companies and hiring managers realize that to beat their talent competitors, they must change the traditional employers’ market paradigm.

A clearly defined candidate management process strengthens your employer brand, builds customer loyalty for your products and services, and attracts and retains the best talent. Each facet must be part of a winning strategy in the war for talent.

Kristen Weirick, is director of talent acquisition, global human resources, for Whirlpool Corp. in Benton Harbor, Mich.

Web Extras

SHRM article:
The Interview Experience and Strategic Applicant Management
(SHRM Online Staffing Management Library) 

Web sites:
ere.net
(Massachusetts Institute of Technology)

onrec.com


What Makes a Perfect Interview? 

The perfect interview for a hiring manager might be one in which he or she concludes that the HR professionals delivered a great, prequalified candidate and in which he or she accurately assesses the candidate’s capability to fill the open role without having to take too much time to do it.

The perfect interview for an HR professional might include everyone—candidate and interviewers—showing up, a hiring manager pleased with the candidate, and no one asking the candidate a question like “How many children do you have?”

The candidate’s perception of a perfect interview? An experience where he or she:

  • Feels valued and respected.
  • Has the opportunity to truly assess the company’s ability to meet individual and family needs.
  • Understands what to expect at each step of the interview process.

How to Say 'No' 

Some managers consider the task of rejecting a candidate to be unpleasant. But the following suggestions can help make it easier—and can help ensure that the interviewee still looks upon the experience positively:

  • Be responsive and communicate results quickly to the candidate.
  • Send a thank-you note to the candidate from the interview team.
  • Provide relevant feedback that will help the candidate in future job searches.
  • Keep the door open—ask to be able to contact the candidate in the future, and offer yourself as a resource.


How to Say 'Yes'​

When extending an offer, put some corporate personality into it. Some suggestions:

  • Whenever possible, personally extend an offer— even if it means flying to meet the candidate.
  • Make the offer memorable by including a gift of your products or services.
  • Deliver an offer letter with the prestige it deserves by differentiating it from other correspondence.
  • Follow up the offer extension with a call to the candidate from a senior leader.
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