It seems that in the rush to hire great talent, to build fancy career landing pages on websites, create amazing employer brands, ramp up ‘sourcing’, create ‘talent pipelines’ and automate the entire hiring process with more and more technology, we - the interviewees and our time seem to have been long forgotten in the whole process. Interviews are all about people, right? So why are interviewees being treated like a product on a manufacturing pipeline?
I was often left sitting in a reception for 20 minutes before an interview and for some reason I would always think of the difference between a 5* interview experience and a 3* interview experience (I know, the mind wanders at times). If you were to compare it to a 5* hotel, how do these incredible hotels continuously execute small but critical details every single time so that the customer has an amazing experience? And what needs to happen in the candidate experience to elevate it to a 5* experience each and every time?
But at least with a poor hotel experience, you are paying for your stay and will speak up if your expectations are not met. Interviewees however know that the balance of power is constantly tipped away from us. We lose our voice and are never in a position to give feedback.
As the war for talent heats up, perhaps now is the time to start treating your candidates better. To help you consider your own interviewing process, these are the things that I learned from being an interviewee:
1. The job spec
I was once unsuccessful for two Digital Marketing Manager roles as both organisations decided post-interview that they had gotten the job spec all wrong. They both thanked me for my time, and each of them were going to change the job description from a Digital Marketing Manager with ‘huge scope’ to either an intern or a Junior Digital Marketing Executive / Administrator to ‘keep social media ticking over’.
While I had given a lot of time to both interviews, including presenting a complete strategy overhaul in each interview (which took a few days to complete), I was then left wondering if both companies had just wanted free consultation and ideas and if the whole ‘job description change’ had been a ruse all along? How many other potential Digital Marketing Managers had presented their strategies too and were then told about the job description change? And what do companies do with presentations from unsuccessful candidates (but that is a story for another day).
However, anecdotes from friends and colleagues assure me that ‘job description change’ is quite common and sometimes this genuinely cannot be helped, especially if the organisation is hiring a brand new type of role and skill set. Sometimes it takes a few interviews with different people for management to figure out salary expectations and experience.
However, for the interviewee, we don’t know that we are ‘trials’ and ‘testers’. We invest our time, and prepare accordingly and roll that dice in the hope that it is a real and genuine job.
2. Our time
Arranging a screening call usually goes something like this:
Employer: I’d like to set up a screening call tomorrow at 11am
You: Brilliant, but unfortunately, I have a conference call with my team from 11am - 12.30pm so I wouldn’t be free then.
Employer: Right, is there any way you could do 11.30am then?
The call to arrange the interview usually goes like this:
Employer: We’d like to invite you for interview.
Me: Great, I can do any time first thing in the mornings or evenings, it’s just easier for me to get out of the office then as I have a big deadline coming up.
Employer: Hmmm, how about Tuesday at 11am?
Me: I can’t do mid-morning I’m afraid, lots of conference calls this week. Would 8am suit any morning?
Employer: No. How about Tuesday at 11.30am?
Unfortunately, most of the time it feels as if we are not equal partners in the interview process. With calls like these it asserts that our schedules don’t matter, therefore we don’t matter.
Interviewees already have a full-time job with demands, conference calls, meetings and deadlines of our own. And we must invent an appointment or use up annual leave to attend an interview.
Then we (probably) won’t get any updates after the interview and we’re slowly ghosted (see more below). And good luck finding out if we didn’t get the job and don’t even think about getting feedback.
Is it any wonder why most people hate going for interviews and instead prefer to stay in unfulfilling jobs for the rest of their lives? How many excellent people are you driving away from even applying with a poor candidate experience?
3. Prepare for a 20 minute wait in reception
At the start I used to arrive ten minutes before an interview, as you are supposed to do. But sitting there for 30 minutes used to turn me into a ball of nerves. Then I cut it back to arriving 6 minutes before interview (neither too early or late I felt) but I was still left sitting there. So, then I perfected a 3-minute-pre-interview arrival, but the truth was it didn’t matter what time I arrived at. I was always kept waiting for at least 20 minutes.
We’ve been preparing for the interview for a long time and probably got up at the crack of dawn that morning. Please be organised and prepared, just like us, the interviewees.
But to be fair, on one occasion I could see that somebody wouldn’t leave the meeting room that the HR person had booked, and the HR person was politely trying to kick them out while trying not to mention that they booked the room last week and that the other person shouldn’t be in there anyway. I could see and hear all of this from reception, it was quite entertaining.
On another occasion, the HR manager couldn’t find the hiring manager at the time of the interview as they had disappeared. They found him eventually.
And then there was the time I had an interview for a huge multinational in a very high-tech building but the talent acquisition executive couldn’t open the meeting room door with their ID badge and had to go and get someone else to open it. I was then left inside the room for 10 minutes with a bit of paper wedging the door open so that the interviewers could get in. One interviewer arrived and after ten minutes realised that they were in the wrong room (there were interviews taking place in another room) and left me on my own for another five minutes until two other interviewers came in. All in all, it took about 40 minutes to get the interview underway from when I arrived at reception.
4. Someone frantically reads your CV throughout your interview
We’re all busy, so busy. But the Hiring Manager is the busiest one of all. They are looking to hire a really amazing person onto their amazing team to do amazing things, but there’s just one thing. They never got around to reading the CV in detail before the interview and now the interviewee is sitting across from them.
But it’s grand, the HR manager will lead the first part of the questioning, giving the Hiring Manager a chance to frantically read through our CV, flicking pages back and forth noisily, making notes with their pen and distracting us while we try our best to focus on the HR Manager and answer their questions while all the time thinking, “Do I really want to be part of a team run by a manager like that?”
Yes, we are interviewing you too.
5. Don’t outshine the Hiring Manager
There is a balance to be had with trying to show yourself as being enthusiastic, passionate, motivated, knowledgeable, competent, skilled and eager on the one hand, while not showing off and making the hiring manager feel threatened or inadequate with skills that you have.
Either they think, “She’s great! So many new ideas and knowledge, what an asset to have”. Or it can become a “No way is she coming onto my team with all of her new ideas and knowledge and trying to change things”.
So, as interviewees we must reign it in and strike that delicate balance - yes, we are great to work with and competent and skilled. But you are still the boss. And no, we are not ambitious. Please hire me.
6. Don’t have great questions prepared. They don’t like it.
“Can you describe what you think a typical working day would be like in this role?”
I thought it was a good question as I felt that it would give the interviewers a chance to tell me about the practical realities of the role. And the reason I liked this question so much was because I had been asked to describe a typical day in my role. Immediately the interviewer got me away from my rehearsed answers about the carefully written bullet points on my CV and it got me talking about my actual day to day work. Basically, it got straight to the heart of my current role at the time. What a genius question I thought, and so I decided to try it out and I asked that once at the end of my interview.
Never ask this question.
The interviewers were stunned and took a few seconds to gather their thoughts. In hindsight perhaps I was a bit naive asking a question like that. Maybe it was because the balance of power had shifted away from them and onto me and now they were being put on the spot.
And unfortunately, their answers were wishy-washy and they didn’t have any idea of what the day to day realities of the role would be and couldn’t really tell me much about it. I was offered the role, but I turned it down as the job description had been a work of fiction.
7. Get ready to be ‘Interview Ghosted’
“Ghosting is an expression used in dating terms and it's when someone suddenly cuts all ties and communication with the person they've been seeing.
The theory behind ghosting is that the person who is being ignored will just 'get the hint' and realise their partner is not interested in dating anymore so the subject should be left.
Anyone can be a ghoster, it's not specific to either gender, but people sometimes find the behaviour is related to a person's maturity and communication skills.
Many believe that ghosting is actually better for the person they're ignoring because they aren't hurting their feelings by telling them they don't want to date anymore.
But often ghosting just leaves the ghostee feeling confused and upset about the subject.”
When you go for interview and you never hear back from the organisation ever again, you have been ‘interview ghosted’. Unfortunately, it’s quite a common occurrence and it is a disgraceful way to treat a candidate.
Not to hammer home the point, but interviewees could have spent a 3-4 days preparing and studying for the interview: researching online, reading every inch of the website, practising competency questions, then taking time off their current job to attend (and all the stress that comes with trying to get out of work to attend an interview) and then the time spent in the actual interview itself where interviewees answer everything that is asked of them. After all of that, we then go back to our regular job and make up for the time when we were out of the office while we quietly stress over when we’ll hear back and if we got the job.
To leave a candidate in silence and to never let them know that they were unsuccessful is beyond unprofessional, and results in dented confidence for the candidate but also it damages the reputation of the organisation and everyone who was involved in the interview - from the HR team to the hiring manager.
Critical reviews via word of mouth can damage an organisation but increasingly Glassdoor is playing a part in revealing poor candidate experiences. On Glassdoor candidates can leave feedback on the interview process at any stage. If a company is on a hiring drive and word gets out on Glassdoor about the terrible interview process, be prepared for a tough slog to get quality candidates, or indeed any candidates to apply.
8. Stalk for feedback
If we are fortunate enough to have been given some correspondence to let us know that we were not successful (normally by email), naturally we would like to know why we were unsuitable for the role.
On a few occasions, I have sent one, two, three emails and perhaps then made the odd phone call looking for feedback on my interview(s). And while I understand that there are legal considerations around giving feedbackand that everyone is terrified about being sued, surely, a compromise can be found where the interviewee can get constructive feedback to let them know of any legitimate reasons why they were unsuccessful without having to stalk anyone.
Or is this the way the game is played – interview feedback will be given, but the candidate must press (very) hard for it.
It’s simply beyond me why an employer wouldn’t give feedback on an interview. It costs nothing but can mean the world to an unsuccessful interview. By giving feedback already it shows a 5* service, respect for the candidate and the time they invested in the whole process and it also allows everyone to (hopefully) part on good terms i.e. maturity and no ghosting. It’s a small thing – perhaps a five minute phone call, but the impact is enormous.
Of course, these 9 examples are only my experiences and no doubt there are many companies out there (big and small) who have wonderful candidate experiences where there is no ghosting and feedback and respect are always given. And if you are one of them, you deserve a big pat on the back, shout it from the rooftops and use this to drive more applications.
As the war for talent ramps up, if companies want to get great talent, it does all boil down to the little things: good manners and respect. And isn’t that what 5* service is all about.