Reinventing the interview – a masterclass from the creator of ABC’s “You Can’t Ask That”

In my recent blog on the 2022 RCSA SHAPE Conference I outlined how I saw the need for the mindset of recruiters to evolve due to ‘conformist’ candidates now being outnumbered by ‘individualists’.

To use a powerful metaphor offered by Nuriah Jadai on the first morning of last week’s RCSA SHAPE Conference – we need to come to the middle of the bridge.

In the pre-pandemic world, most recruiters have been on one side of the bridge alongside the employer. Both parties expected the candidate to cross the whole bridge as, for a large majority of vacancies, there was no need to meet the candidate in the middle of the bridge.

In our journey to the middle of the bridge, we are best served by bringing our clients with us. We do this with education through case studies, evidence, and stories rather than demanding that the client follow us to the middle of the bridge.

In the middle of the bridge, we encounter candidates (who were used to coming all the way to the other side). We now have the opportunity to surprise and delight them with our genuine and deep interest in their current situation as well as our respectful and probing questions to understand their desires and requirements in a new job.

The ‘how’ in this equation was wonderfully created for the SHAPE conference participants on the second morning of the RCSA conference by Kirk Docker (Co-creator/director of “You Can’t Ask That” on ABC TV, pictured above).

Docker held a room full of professional interviewers in the palm of his hand with his two-hour deep dive into deconstructing a great interview.

There was so much gold Kirk shared in creating a great interview, the foundation of which has the potential to change the relationship dynamic between the interviewer (recruiter) and the interviewee (candidate).

What Kirk shared with us was, at one level, quite simple and, dare I say, obvious to many in the room. However, it was the way Kirk led us to deeply examine our current mindset to interviewing that revealed the gap in what many of us think we do in an interview as compared to what the actual candidate experience is.

Here’s a selection of what Kirk offered us (with my additional comments)

Preparing for the interview:

– Consider what the interviewee wants to gain from the interview: Have you ever asked candidates what they want from their interview with you? I don’t recall ever asking that question. I suspect many recruiters would be surprised how they could greatly enhance the candidate’s interview experience simply by hearing, for example, “I would like a realistic opinion of my worth in the market”, “I would like some feedback on my interview performance”, “I want some career advice”, and then fulfilling the candidate’s request.

– Identify what you really want to discover from the interviewee: The three most important things a good recruiter discovers from the candidate during an interview are: their strengths, how they want to apply these strengths in a work context, and what motivates them to do their best work. In my experience, far too many interviewers spent too much time on peripheral issues rather than undertaking a deep-dive into these three areas.

– Order the questions to build trust and encourage authentic answers: Starting an interview with easy-to-answer questions that encourage expansive answers e.g. “Why have you decided to start looking for a new job”, helps you build rapport as you move toward more challenging, but important questions, e.g “Describe a significant disappointment or failure at work and what you learned from it”.

Conducting the interview:

– Find common ground early: Making small talk about the weather, their day, or whether they “found us okay?” (this is my pet hate – the ultimate lazy icebreaker) is a missed opportunity to find something of mutual interest in a candidate’s resume or LinkedIn profile to break the ice effectively and highlight your thorough preparation.

– Genuinely listen and give a sh*t: Ask yourself, honestly, are you REALLY listening to every word a candidate says. I mean at a level where the candidate would say, to anybody who asks them about the interview, “You know what, the recruiter was REALLY listening to me in that interview. It was a very welcome change”. You do this by not jumping in to talk the moment there is silence. Let the candidate think. Don’t force the pace of the interview. Ask the candidate to expand on their answers that are incomplete.

– Be curious rather than conduct an interrogation: The subtle difference is not so much the information you are seeking to discover, it’s the thoughtful context you provide for the question, e.g. “Why did you leave your last job?”, compared to, “Your last job was a very senior one with a very high profile company. You left after five months. That’s an unusually short period of time for a person of your seniority. I am curious about the circumstances that prompted your decision to leave. What happened?”

– Acknowledge the effort: A candidate has invested time and other resources (almost certainly more time and resources than you have invested) to be available for an interview. Regardless of their suitability for the role, it takes nothing other than respect for others to acknowledge and thank the candidate for that investment.

– Be transparent about the next steps: Making requests, e.g “Please let me know as soon as you have spoken to your referees, so I can contact them”, clarifying expectations, e.g. “I expect to be in a position to let you know about a first interview with the client by next Monday”, and making commitments, e.g. “I am definitely going to represent you to the client for this job today”, are all important parts of an interview where many recruiters fail to meet the reasonable expectations of candidates.

No matter what I write I cannot do justice to the insights shared and skills demonstrated by Kirk on that Thursday morning in Hobart three weeks ago. You really did miss something wonderful if you were not in the SHAPE conference room at Princes Wharf No.3 to witness Kirk on stage.

Immediately after Kirk’s session one of Australia’s most high-profile recruitment agency owners said to me, “I think we need to go right back to basics with our interviewing. We are not doing a good enough job”.

I suspect a large majority of candidates would agree.

This article originally appeared in a blog by RossClennet and has been republished here with permission.

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