Big Thinking, Career

Bad Interview? Maybe it’s your fault

When we interview a ‘bad’ candidate, we often list off the reasons they’re ‘wrong’, but long before they’re good or bad, we have to own our own impact.

Recently, we’ve been doing a lot of work around bias with a number of clients, plus finalising our new Recruitment content to be released next week, and it prompted some thoughts on the responsibilities we each have when we walk into an interview, as the interviewer.

So, here’s the few things we thought were worth mentioning:

  1. Your impact on the interviewee
  2. Your bias
  3. Your responsibility as the interviewer

Let’s start with your impact on the interviewee.

At mwah. we’re huge fans of a book called “The Power of Others” (Michael Bond, 2015). In short, it talks about the enormous impact and influence we each have on other. Sometimes for the best, sometimes for the worst, but always with some impact. Think about this from the perspective of giving a speech. We concentrate so hard on ‘speaking’ and how we stand, and present, and whether we’re nervous or not, but we forget the role of the audience. When you walk out the front of a group to speak, how important is the group? If people are smiling and looking at your ready to listen, you feel more confident and step up to do well. If people look bored, or as you walk out the front, three people get up to leave the room and another person starts looking at their phone, all of us struggle to hold on to any confidence at all.

Now, let’s think about that, in regard to interviews.

You turn up ready to be interviewed. You’re prepared, and early. You’re put in a small room to nervously await the arrival of the interviewer.

Imagine two scenarios –

Scenario 1 – The interviewer turns up on time, knows your name, and is warm and engaged. They’ve read your resume, they offer you a water, and their first question shows that they’re also really well prepared. As you answer, they listen intently, take a few notes, and nod at the great examples.

Scenario 2 –  The interviewer turns up ten (painfully long) minutes late, and says “Sorry, the other interview ran over. They were a great candidate”. They go to speak to you, and have to glance at the resume to remember your name. They ask questions about Company X, a company you’ve never worked for, as they were in fact your company’s biggest competitor. They read your resume as you’re speaking, and ask the same question twice.

It’s pretty easy to see which of those interviews would allow the interviewee the best chance of confidently putting themselves forward in a great way, not to mention which interviewer the person would rather work for.

Let’s look at your bias

We have all have bias, and we’ve probably all been trained a few times in unconscious bias, yet we still hit an interview, other forgetting that bias will play a huge role.

As a refresher, here’s the big ones –

  • Affinity Bias – We like people who are like us
  • Confirmation Bias – We seek out information that confirms our beliefs and judgements
  • Priming Bias – Someone important ‘plants’ an idea, and we can’t let it go.
  • Social or Group Think Bias – We tend to agree with the majority.
  • Halo Effect – When we like someone, so you start to think everything about them is great

Let’s look at how bias plays out at an interview.

Scenario 1 – The interviewer is well trained on bias and very consciously challenging their own. They approach every candidate with an open mind, and treating every person with fairness. They conscious of the impact of language and assumptions, and actively try to ensure the candidate feels safe and respected. They’re acutely conscious when they’re from a different demographic and work harder at keeping their bias at bay, with curiosity and interest in learning the other person’s story.

Scenario 2 – The interviewer is a totally different demographic (race, gender, age group, life stage) to a candidate. On top of that, the ‘different’ candidate has a young child and the interviewer has a bad experience with someone who returned from Maternity Leave. Within a few minutes, the interviewers start asking questions about childcare arrangements, and potential impact on work. They start asking whether the person is really serious about their career. The candidate is not ‘answering’, as much as they are ‘defending’.

Again, it’s pretty easy to see which of those two environments would engage the interviewee really want to tell their story.

Let’s consider your responsibilities as an interviewer

Often interviewers head to an interviewer feeling they have all the power. After all, they have the job, and the candidates want the job, so the interviewer is purely framing themselves as the ‘assessor of best’ – the person who gets to decide who’s the best candidate. This mindset ignores all the expectations and responsibilities that sit with the interviewer. We think there are two primary responsibilities for every interviewer.

The first is Preparation.

On time. Prepared. Respectful.

Knowing the person’s name and history is a good place to start. Its estimated that 50% of interviewers don’t even read the resume. They turn up and wing it, hoping to get away with a few glances at the page in front of them. This tells the Interviewee that they’re not important. Unless you’re interviewing for some high stress emergency role in the military, making the person as confident, relaxed and comfortable in telling their story, and answering honestly, is a pretty important baseline.

The second is a Mindset.

You turn up wanting to know their story, not catch them out.

The focus should be on learning their story, getting to know who they are and where they’re headed, rather than trying to catch them out.

Everyone has a story, and we have a mwah saying – It’s hard not to like someone, when you hear their story. This is the foundation of great interview. Open questions. Listening. Respectful. Engaged. If you can hear their story – historically and their future plans – you’ll have the best possible chance of seeing if they’re aligned to your business and your role.

So, long before you list off what’s wrong with a candidate, think deeply about the role you had in making them great or ensuring they had no chance.

  • Understand your impact, and purposely and positively own that impact from the moment you walk in the room.
  • Check your own bias. Allow them to be who they are.

Own your responsibilities as an interviewer. Create a space where every candidate has the opportunity to come to life and tell their story.

Rhonda Brighton-Hall

CEO/Founder of mwah. So proud to be part of this community. Determinedly optimistic Normal Person

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