Pro Interview Tips When Hiring to Critical Roles

by Jordan Haberfield

Recently, one of our clients in the non-profit sector was in the midst of a critical hire to lead their Diversity, Equity and Inclusivity (DEI) team. This was a new department and a hire to a new role. There had been some recent scrutiny around some internal issues regarding bias. So, like many firms recently, it was time to identify someone who could provide the leadership and ingenuity needed to create a more inclusive and well-rounded organization.

In order to get a broad spectrum of support for the new hire, the final 3 candidates met with multiple panels of staff and executives within the organization. As I often do, I offered my support to structure the interviews and provide guidance toward a cohesive decision. But the client wanted to go it themselves and felt confident running the interview process. It didn’t take long before feedback, from the candidates and the client, signaled the process was headed in the wrong direction.

I’d like to give you a look inside what happened so you can better prepare for your next critical hire. Proper planning for the interview stage can make all the difference in securing the best candidate for the role you’re looking to fill. Here are three quick tips to help:

Answer Candidate Questions Right Away

Some of the most immediate feedback we received from the candidates was that there was little-to-no time for their questions to be answered. The process seemed rushed and disjointed.

Our time with a candidate can be short and we have questions we need answered. But remember it is equally important to give the candidate time to ask questions and learn more about the company and the position. When we wait till the end of the interview session for the candidate’s questions, time is often tight and they do not have an opportunity to ask what they would like.

So, give the candidate the opportunity to ask questions at the start of the interview. Not only will this be appreciated (you are focusing on the candidate’s needs and that is often a welcome sign of respect), but there is so much you can learn about a candidate through their questions and that can help guide the discussion at the start.

Standardize Your Questions

I’ve seen it happen too many times to count and, unfortunately, it happened again. Interviewers walk into interviews unprepared and think they will just instinctively “know” if the candidate is a good fit for the position. Questions are made up on the spot and candidates are being asked different questions by the same interviewer. This is a recipe for disaster.

How can you make an accurate assessment of multiple candidates when the questions being asked aren’t standardized? You won’t be comparing apples to apples!

  • Take the time to write a set of questions that will help you better understand the candidates’ knowledge, experience and cultural fit for the position and the company.
  • Take good notes either during or immediately after the interview. When interviewing multiple people, you can easily jumble the candidate skills and abilities in your head. Taking detailed notes goes a long way to ensuring a strong hire.
  • Schedule time to meet with the other interviewers ahead of time. Don’t put off scheduling follow-up meetings to discuss the candidate pool and next steps in the process.

Have a Theme for Each Interview Session

Remember that we are currently in a very candidate-driven market. There is always a need for top performers; however, we seem to currently be in a unique time when demand far outweighs supply. That being said, it is important to have a well-structured interview process that not only gives you, the employer, a well-rounded view of the candidate, but also provides the candidate with a positive interview experience.

One way you can make that happen is to focus each of your panel interviews on a different subject area and ensure that questions are not repeated at each stage. Can you imagine how annoying it might feel for a candidate to sit with three different groups of people and be asked at each meeting, “Why don’t you tell me a little about yourself?” or “Why did you leave your last position?”.

Take the time to structure your questions. If you are interviewing for a Head of Sales, for instance, have one interview group focus their questions on the individual’s sales record. Have another group focus on leadership/management qualities. Then have a third group focus on cultural fit to the organization.

This is just an example, but you can see how planning ahead and having a theme for each interview session can create structure, allow for a more comprehensive discussion, and produce tangible content that allows for a more informed decision.

Happy hiring!

Jordan Haberfield is the North American Regional Director for Society US, a purpose-driven global executive search firm with offices in London, New York City and Auckland. Jordan has been working in the staffing and executive search field for twenty-five years and has led hundreds of executive and C-Level searches for firms in the private and non-profit sectors.