When Interviewing, Show Consideration with ‘Small Things’

By Roy Maurer Sep 30, 2015
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The impression an employer makes on a candidate during a job interview is just as important as the impression the candidate makes on the interviewer. In fact, it’s the “small things” employers do that make the most of the interview experience, said Stu Coleman, a partner and senior managing director for accounting and finance contract staffing at recruitment firm WinterWyman.

“Your next great employee is sitting out in your lobby, and may go somewhere else based on how they’re treated,” Coleman said. “We don’t have to bake candidates a cake when they come in, but we do want them to feel welcome.”

Coleman said it’s important that when a candidate walks in, that the recruiter or HR professional acknowledges him or her. “Let the candidate know that you know they’re waiting. In all likelihood, they’re 15 minutes early for the interview. If you’re running late and they wait 20, 30 or 40 minutes to get started, that’s a long time. If that does happen, at least they know that you know that they’re there.”

Coleman also recommends addressing a candidate by name upon arrival. “It’s such a small thing but it’s powerful. When they say, ‘I’m here to see Stu,’ say ‘Great, are you Brad? OK, I’ll let him know you’re here.’ It gives the candidate the feeling that you’re expecting him and want him to be there. That’s a big deal.”

For those companies with extended interview processes comprised of multiple meetings over several hours, Coleman recommends that HR be mindful of candidates’ well-being. “At minimum, offer water or coffee. If they’re meeting with several managers, ensure they all ask if the candidate needs a drink or a bathroom break. It shows genuine caring about a person.”

If extended interviews take place over the lunch hour, “give them a lunch break, or better yet, a hiring manager can grab a sandwich with them,” Coleman said. “It’s an informal and great way to get to know somebody.”

Lastly, Coleman advises recruiters and HR to spend a little time selling the company to prospective candidates. “When someone comes in for an interview, I’m vetting them, but there comes a point where I want them to know how great my company is. I know my company is great, but they may not know that yet. Let’s help them get to that point where they also know it’s great. Especially if you like them.”

The goal is that even if they’re not a good fit, candidates will go away appreciative of the experience. “Like Starbucks who wanted to give customers more than coffee, but an experience even to the point of providing soothing interior colors for their stores, you want to give candidates a positive sensory experience that leaves an impression and in fact leaves them wanting more,” said talent management consultant JoAnn Corley. “With that in mind, where you interview makes a difference. Consider the atmosphere. The worst is a drab, boring, sterile room.”

Corley recommends turning the interview itself into an “intelligent, engaging conversation,” instead of a formal, boring interaction or an intense interrogation.

“Don’t ask typical interview questions like ‘Where do you see yourself in 5 years?’ Surprise the candidate by facilitating an engaging conversation which helps the interviewer gain a more dimensional view and feel stimulated, connected and respected for their experience,” she said.

I will spend more time with junior candidates who may not be as experienced with interviews, said Heather Mao, a recuiter and HR consultant based in San Francisco. "I'll spend more time with them letting them know what to expect." Mao also recaps the interview with candidates afterwards "to ask how their interviews went and find out if they have additional questions that may not have been addressed."

Coleman subscribes to the notion that everyone who comes in contact with the candidate during the interview process is a brand ambassador “even if it’s your job to be tough in the interview. Usually, it’s my job to break somebody down and find out who they are,” he said. “But I want them to go away with a good impression.”

HR can add value to the experience by letting the candidate in on the company culture. “If you’re interviewing a candidate and you’re proud of what the company is doing, or it’s the culture to strive to have as much fun in the work environment as possible, talk about that.”

At WinterWyman, for example, there are committees for fun and wellness and opportunities for employees to get involved in developmental activities. “People on the outside won’t know about that. If HR can mention a few things like that, the person may think ‘Wow, there’s a lot of neat stuff here,’ and it may just make the difference.”

Roy Maurer is an online editor/manager for SHRM.

Follow him @SHRMRoy

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