Prepping Job Candidates for Interviews Increases Odds for Success

By Roy Maurer Nov 3, 2016

Employers and job seekers both are rewarded when recruiters spend time preparing job candidates for the interview process.

Interviews are stressful for the candidate, and not being prepared can lead to paralysis or panic. Some experts believe it's a dereliction of a recruiter's duty to allow candidates to blindly walk into a job interview after the considerable effort it took to move sourced prospects to the interview stage.

"Prepping is important," said Lou Adler, the CEO and founder of The Adler Group, a talent acquisition training, consulting and search firm based in Orange County, Calif. Well-prepared candidates provide more thorough answers and are able to ask better questions, improving the odds that they will be assessed on their merits. "As recruiters, you owe it to your candidates to make sure they do it right," he said.

Nicole Belyna, SHRM-SCP, a strategic recruitment business partner at Lanham, Md.-based Thompson Creek Window Company, said she prepares candidates to present their best selves during the interview primarily because "I don't want to waste the hiring manager's time."

"You want the candidate to shine," said Diane Nicholas, a consultant at WK Advisors, a division of executive search firm Witt/Kieffer, based in Oak Brook, Ill. "You want the hiring manager to see the same qualities that you saw when you moved them forward in the process."

How to Prepare Candidates for Interview Day

Recruiters need to have a good understanding of the role and clear expectations from the hiring manager, Belyna said. "Without good communication with the hiring manager, your suggestions could lead the candidate down the wrong path."

[SHRM members-only toolkit: Basics for Effective Interviews]

Nicholas schedules a call to walk candidates through the process and answers any last-minute questions they may have. "I go over the basics, like how to get to the interview, what to wear and urge them to arrive early."

Belyna provides feedback from the initial interview and identifies areas of the candidate's experience to highlight when meeting the hiring manager. She also shares current insights on the department, the manager and any major projects that may be relevant to the role.

"I always inform the candidate what the interview process looks like, the name and title of their next interviewers, and potential next steps," she said. "If there is a project or assignment as part of the interview process, I let the candidate know."

Nicholas offers insider intelligence to give her candidates a leg up. "I tell them what I know about the hiring manager and what I know is important to that manager, what types of questions will be brought up in the interview, and how they should present their accomplishments."

Nicholas schools each candidate to break their accomplishments down into five sentences. "A sentence about the challenge, three sentences on how you approached that challenge and a final sentence on the outcome. And be prepared for follow-up questions."

Adler recommends candidates prepare write-ups for their most significant accomplishments. "Most candidates get a little nervous in the opening stages of an interview, which can result in temporary forgetfulness," he said. "The write-ups will allow for better recall of this important information."

He also coaches candidates to learn the "universal answer" format, which includes making an opening statement, amplifying that statement, providing a few examples and wrapping up.

"Providing examples is the most important part of the exercise," he said. "Most candidates talk in generalities. Specific examples are much more convincing. For instance, a marketing manager could give a specific example to describe how she launched a new product rather than saying she's strong in advertising and new product promotions."

Be clear and concise, Nicholas recommended. "Some people have not interviewed in a long time and have not thought about their professional accomplishments from a job from 10 years ago. I tell them to collect and review that information and be ready to talk about it."

Belyna advises candidates to cite specific examples, quantify results as much as possible, and share outcomes—good or bad. "Think about the learning experiences, when a project or situation went wrong," she said. "Hiring managers almost always ask a question around this, and a candidate who can easily speak to their strengths may balk at this question. Candidates who can provide one or two examples and what they took away from the situation can stand out."   

Nicholas requests a post-interview debrief with each candidate to check in and see how it went, but also to help prepare future prospects.

"When a candidate has interviewed, I'll ask 'What kinds of questions did you receive?' or 'Was there anything unusual about the interview process?' Maybe a particular [hiring manager] interviews with a unique style or asks unusual questions. Then I can prepare the next candidate even better," she said.

Additional tips to help prepare candidates for interviewing include:

  • Preparing questions. "Managers generally like candidates who are more forceful and who ask good questions, so make sure your candidate has a list of insightful questions to ask, such as 'What does the person in this job need to do to be considered successful?' and 'What's the biggest problem that needs to be addressed right away?' " Adler said.
  • Researching the company. Experts suggest candidates research the company on sites like Glassdoor and LinkedIn and through social media.  
  • Asking for the job. "At the end of the interview, have your candidate tell the interviewer that she is interested in the job, and would like to know what the next steps are," Adler said.


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