I have been in talent recruiting for the last twelve years at companies large and small. In that time, I have been in thousands of interviewers with candidates of mixed gender, mixed race, all professional and educational levels and socio-economic backgrounds. I am always astounded, during the interview process, when candidates have a chance to talk with HR and don’t seek to gain any information beyond the basic questions, many of which can be gained on the company website or job description. As I have progressed in my own career and reached executive levels of human resource leadership, the fact that I continue to be astounded at candidates who miss the opportunity hasn’t changed much. It happens every time I ask, “So, you’re with the HR leader – what questions do you have for me” and the answer is, “Nothing, really. I’m good.” Really?
An interview process is designed to do two things - help the hiring manager decide if the candidate is the best one to make a difference and help the candidate determine if the role and the company is the best place to make a difference. Both parties have decisions to make – and isn’t it always better to make an informed decision? From the candidate perspective, much goes into the decision to join a firm. Not the least of which are the “softer” things that are necessary to know about a company that aren’t glaringly apparent from their website or job description. How does one find those things out? They ask. They ask things like:
“How do the results this role produces help drive the company’s strategic goals? How does it all fit together?” This is a particularly powerful question as it tells a lot about the way information flows through the organization and how aligned everyone is toward the same goals. If there is a common thread with how the hiring manager answers and how HR answers, there is a lot of connection happening in the company. It also indicates how much thought the company has given to each role as it relates to the vision of the company. If the HR leader can talk about how the role fits into the ecosystem of the company and its strategic goals, it signals that even at that cost-center level, the leadership is very business driven and aligned.
“You’ve seen a lot of candidates who become employees. Beyond what is expected in the job description, tell me what makes a good candidate a great employee?” As an HR practitioner, I love this question. The candidate is demonstrating a real interest in understanding the soft skills required to be successful as well as what is valued at the company. For candidates, there is a WEALTH of information in the answer to this question – from how the company thinks about performance and success to how the cultural attributes are built into performance expectations. I’ve often said it’s not just WHAT you do, but HOW you do it. Having information to round out these dimensions of performance can help one differentiate what they need to do, if in fact, they are offered and accept the role. It can also help the candidate position themselves throughout the process.
“Tell me how the company, and perhaps how you’ve seen the hiring manager, deal with successful projects and ones that don’t go so well. How does it/they respond?” It is important for a candidate to know that there is a supportive, progressive culture that values innovation and learning from attempts. If it is a blaming culture that finger-points and penalizes those who try and perhaps don’t succeed, it would be better to know before the decision is made to join. Candidates should seek to understand how open the company is to evolution and growth, new ideas and courageous attempts – and how easy they make it to be innovative. Do things get celebrated regularly? And if they aren’t successful, is learning captured and shared in a respectful, inclusive way? How is that information used by each employee to learn and grow?
“I’ve seen your reviews on Glassdoor and other sites. Would you be open to sharing information with me about employee satisfaction – how you measure it, how you respond to it, and giving me, with the appropriate releases, access to it? Would it be possible, too, should we get further down the path, for me to speak to individuals on the team that are doing the same role as I am?” I never get this question (or set of questions) and often wish I would. I tell clients I counsel, ad nauseum, to “triangulate their data,” so that they are getting various perspectives on a single subject to inform their decisions. This is no different than advice I give to candidates. If you see something that is causing you concern about a company’s culture or social media rating, ask for some validation. Social media, including Glassdoor, is only ONE set of listening systems. Most HR teams use other listening systems to understand how employees are feeling. Seeing that for oneself can be powerful to a candidate in deciding whether this company and this role are the right ones. It is also effective to know what they do with that information – does it inform the programs that the company drives? How so? Asking to talk to team mates that may have not been on the interview loop is a fantastic way to understand the team dynamics and see if there is consistency between what is heard from the interview team and the front-line employees. It can also confirm that the hiring manager has a good pulse on the employees in the team as well as if the role is being explained in a transparent fashion – good and bad.
“You’ve been with company x for a while, now. Why did you make this the next step in your career?” (Or, if the HR leader is new, it could be phrased, “You’re new here. Why did you choose this role, this company over others you had a choice to go to?”) This answer is invaluable, especially if asked of everyone on the interview loop. One should look for consistency and common threads in everyone’s answer. The answers will likely have some blend of personal reasons, but they should signal things that make this company, this role, or the timing special and can help with visibility “behind” the curtain into what motivations people had to select this firm. It may broaden the candidate perspective about this opportunity in ways they weren’t thinking. It can also shed light on the broader cultural aspects of a company.
Interviews are an opportunity for the candidate to differentiate themselves from others, absolutely. They are also meant to help one get the information needed to make a great decision about next professional steps. Information is power, so don’t miss the opportunity to get that information and use it to help lead to a great, informed decision. If you are finding that your interview experience isn't getting you the insights you need to make a good decision, give us a call. We're always happy to help!