September 1, 2022

6 Interview Planning Steps to Shift Your Process Toward Success

by Mike O'Neill

Are you an HR professional? If so, you're likely heavily involved in the hiring process, and if that's the case, you've probably found yourself frustrated with its "clunkiness" (at least a time or two). 

Obtaining the data needed to make aligned choices about candidates should and can be simple. However, the interview process doesn't always hold space for this to happen. This is especially true now that many interviews occur over video chat. When you can only see a person from the face-up, you lose out on many non-verbal cues that may provide a fuller picture of an individual and their personality. 

I've been there, and I know the frustration. 

Just when you think you've found the right fit, you're back to the drawing board after a week or two due to an incompatibility that your team should have noticed. Or, on the flip side, you end up losing your top choice to another company due to avoidable pitfalls in the interview process, painting an inaccurate, undesirable picture of your company overall. 

I've interviewed hundreds of people over the years. I've also managed and guided other HR professionals through the process, overseeing the start-to-finish operations involved in securing ideal candidates. 

In my experience of guiding others, the leading cause of the problems touched on above all boils down to poor pre-interview planning. Here are six steps that you can take to fine-tune your process.

1. Prioritize! Know What You're Screening for and Why

Companies often think they know what they're looking for in a new hire. A lot of the time, it's such a seemingly obvious thing that it doesn't seem to require much additional thought. Here's the problem: the above mindset often results in a checklist of "must haves" that consist of broad generalizations. When this occurs, most of the candidates tick those very vague boxes, making it hard to differentiate between a great match and a mediocre one. 

To break this block, you must not only dismantle the bigger picture of what a "good fit" looks like but also prioritize between various categories. 

Here's what I mean:

  • A candidate could have a ton of tangible experience but be a terrible fit in terms of company culture. If you're working closely, this could be a deal breaker. If the role allows for a lot of independence, you may have more flexibility in allowing them time to adapt.
  • They may say they are familiar with a particular role, but your company's systems and tools may not align with how they work best. Are you okay with having to retrain from the point of baseline industry knowledge, or do you need somebody already adept with your specific frameworks?

Making a list of qualities, specific skills, and experiences you're screening for, along with knowing your priorities, will allow you to analyze your potential prospects with a keener eye. 

2. Pre-Plan Your Questions and Ask Them With Purpose

Interviews aren't always easy to fit in. They're often plopped into a calendar and squeezed between the hustle and bustle of the day's other tasks.

In this scenario, it's all too common for hiring managers to briefly scan a candidate's resume before scheduling the interview and to not pick it up again until they're heading in to meet them.  

Operating like this creates a need to formulate questions on the spot, which is problematic for many reasons. First and foremost, you need to align your questions in a way that will produce the answers you need. The insights necessary to determine if a potential hire meets the position's essential critical success factors. It's not easy to do this without proper planning.

Here's why:

  • Hiring managers are people too. While being in a position of authority helps to take the edge off, meeting new people in a professional setting can be stressful for both parties. Without going over talking points ahead of time, you may get flustered from the overall stress of looking for the right fit and struggle to cover everything you intended to.
  • Coming up with the right questions on the spot can be just as challenging as answering those questions on the fly. If you haven't planned appropriately, it'll probably show, and you may find yourself trying to cover that up with generic, invaluable talking points, wasting both your time and theirs.

Scheduling time for yourself before an interview will let you develop the potent, insight-driven questions needed to discern if an individual truly hits the benchmarks needed to be successful in a role.

3. Know the TYPE of Interview You're Conducting in Advance

These days, the workforce is all over the place. Interviews have become equally scattered as a result. Amid the surge in video meetings, there's the normal "hoopla" to consider as well... or, should I say, the things that should typically be considered before interviewing—for example, knowing what type of interview you're having. While this seems like a given, staying organized is not always easy. When you have other people on your team who also have responsibilities to handle, it's difficult to know who will be around and when. 

Scheduling tools help, but they aren't foolproof. In the manufacturing industry, things can get "interesting" at a moment's notice. So, it’s easy to get this part of the process jumbled up. When this happens, it often hampers the flow of an interview. 

Here are a couple of examples: 

  • A team member previously thought to be unavailable could have some last-minute free time open up. They may wish to sit in on the interview. In doing so, your interview shifts from being one-on-one to a "panel style”. Without having time to prepare, your colleague may ask questions with "obvious" answers. If this occurs, the candidate may feel like your company didn't take the time to fully review their qualifications, leaving a bad taste in their mouth. 
  • On the flip side, a potential candidate may expect a casual, one-on-one meeting and be surprised to find themselves answering the questions of multiple people. While adaptability is an essential trait for any job, being taken by surprise during the interview process could lead to feeling scattered and, in turn, create an inaccurate impression of a potential employee's persona.

Knowing your interview type ahead of time goes a long way in preventing unnecessary hang-ups and misunderstandings like these. 

4. Get Everyone on the Same Page Ahead of Time 

This step goes hand-in-hand with the one above. As we discussed, it's not always easy to keep things flowing cohesively. Sometimes emails get missed, or the information attached to a calendar invite may get overlooked. For this reason, knowing what kind of interview you're conducting ahead of time isn't always enough. 

You also need to have systems in place to ensure each team member thoroughly understands the specifics of their role and responsibilities for each individual interview.

Here are a couple of potential scenarios:

  • There are multiple positions open, some of which have similar responsibilities and sound alike. There is a one-on-one interview scheduled. The individual conducting the interview hears from their co-worker that the upcoming candidate is coming in for position A. It's a hectic day. The interviewer quickly downloads the candidate's resume, briefly scanning the attached note sent by the hiring manager about the position the candidate is qualified for. Towards the bottom, the note explains the person is actually interviewing for position B, a very similar position but requiring less experience. The interviewer misses this part. Position A pays significantly more, and the candidate leaves with inaccurate salary information.
  • There's an interview with multiple people involved. It's taking place over video chat. The individual responsibilities of each interviewer were not discussed ahead of time. As a result, nobody ends up taking notes during the interview. The software typically used to record the video meetings as a backup didn't work. It's time to hire, and the company is torn between two people. If notes were taken, the hiring team would remember a crucial detail about one of the prospects. It's now forgotten. As a result, the other person is picked despite not being as good of a match.

You can avoid misinterpretations and technical issues like this by having a very basic chat ahead of time. This ensures everybody is on the same page, not only pertaining to what they're supposed to be doing but with the context of the interview overall.

5. Tend to the Little Details Now 

When you think back to your days as a prospective employee, there are probably a few interviews that stand out—some for the better and some for the worse. From a candidate's point of view, it's usually a series of the seemingly "little" details that makes or breaks the experience for them - making the difference between a good impression and a less than fantastic one.

Long story short, when hiring teams leave the little details to the last minute, it shows. Impressions aside, it can also create a myriad of other issues, especially with the software used these days to meet digitally, as touched on in the section above. 

Here are a couple of additional examples: 

  • Suppose a potential hire interviews with another company prior to meeting with you. That company has a dedicated interviewing space. It's both comfortable and efficient. There are nice chairs, minimal noise, and natural lighting. Your company holds the interview in a small, seldomly used office. It's lit with fluorescent bulbs. You're sitting in metal folding chairs. It's right next to an area with a lot of equipment running, and there’s muffled background noise. You both offer the candidate a position with similar pay. Which would you choose? 
  • A position needs to be filled, and there is a sense of urgency—the hiring manager schedules back-to-back interviews. The next person is supposed to arrive in 12 minutes. There are additional details they want to ask about, but they can't be late for their next meeting. They hire someone, but they end up leaving a few weeks later. The incompatibility that would have been discovered if the interview wasn’t rushed, results in the hiring process being back to square one. 

When you take the time to make sure an interview experience accurately reflects company culture, you set yourself up to retain candidates that are truly in resonance. Considering the other little things like how much time you'll actually need vs. how much you think you'll need, etc., goes a long way in enabling you to make the most out of each encounter with a potential hire.

6. Keep Your Candidates Informed 

As an HR professional, you have your hands in many baskets. You have to balance the needs of the company you're working for with the needs of your fellow employees, and that includes future employees. With that said, during the interview process, it's easy to inadvertently start "dehumanizing" people.

When there are dozens, and in many cases, hundreds of applicants to sort through, giving individualized, play-by-play updates isn't feasible most of the time. However, when candidates don't have any insight into your company's hiring process, it can lead to frustration on their end, a lot of follow-up emails for staff to respond to, and an unnecessary influx of chaos overall. 

Here are a couple of potential situations: 

  • You've uploaded a new position to various job searching platforms. You didn't include a time frame as to when successful applicants should expect to hear back. The applications start pouring in. You begin taking the applications that seem promising, and you set them aside. A few weeks go by, and you're ready to schedule interviews. Not knowing what to expect, your top pick presumed they had been “ghosted” and accepted a position elsewhere. 
  • You've lined up interviews with a lot of really promising professionals. However, somewhere along the line, the person in charge of recruiting or uploading job descriptions failed to mention that securing the role entails a 3-step interview process. Going from the initial interview to onboarding could take a while. Your top choice can't afford to go months without pay. After waiting a few weeks to hear back about the next step, they opt for another company instead. However, there are a lot of short-term contract opportunities in this person's field. If you had followed up with this person, letting them know they were still in the running, they might have supplemented their income with a temporary opportunity and continued with your hiring process. 

With these examples in mind, it’s clear to see that establishing routine follow-up protocols is an essential part of the plan. It’s a fantastic way to ensure that future employees enter the company feeling valued and respected right off the bat. 

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