Top 10 Hiring Mistakes, #4: Interviewing on Autopilot

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When you’re hiring, think of yourself as an investigator, digging for the truth. You’re conducting a fact-finding mission aimed at discovering what the person is all about, what he can bring to your organization in the long term, and whether there are any hidden red flags. But like any good investigation, the process takes coordination, planning and time.

Unfortunately, managers often hire in a rush. They’re “too busy sawing to sharpen the saw,” as Stephen Covey used to say. Focused, in-depth interviewing begins to take a back seat to the quick and dirty kind. Thus, we tend to rush candidates around the office to meet people, leaving each interviewer armed solely with a resume he was handed that morning. The interviewing team often has no clear strategy for what each is trying to discover, and without a plan, they’re likely to cruise through the conversations on autopilot, asking predictable questions and getting canned answers: Where do you see yourself in five years? Which project have you enjoyed working on most? What do you see as your main strengths and weaknesses?

The results are vague, redundant and unenlightening – hardly what you’d need to make a well-informed choice about whether to welcome someone into your organization. If you’re too busy to make sure you’re bringing on great people, you’ll find you’re even busier later when you don’t have enough of them to help you make things happen.

So don’t hurry the process. Come up with a plan that helps each interviewer cover a different aspect of the candidate’s history and attitudes. Make sure interviewers get a chance to see the candidate in a number of different settings. And remember that it can be difficult to get beyond a superficial level in a half hour. If you have to go ninety minutes or even two hours to get a deeper sense of your candidate, you’ll be happy you did six months down the road.

During the interview, listen carefully to the questions the candidate asks. What is this person looking to get out of the job? What are her concerns? What does “winning” look like for her? You can’t make a great hire unless the candidate makes a great decision, too.

Ask the candidate what his prior supervisors will tell you when you call. The specter of reference checks (detailed in the next post) not only keeps interviewees honest, but it also gives you insight into how self-aware they are.

When you’re done, pull the interviewing team together right away to compare notes: insights are freshest on the same day.

Good detectives, lawyers and journalists all take their preparation seriously, and when the time comes for questioning, they know what to ask. If you want to get to the truth of whether your candidate is a great hire, you’ll need to do the same: switch off autopilot and take control of the interview process.