First impressions count.
When interviewing talent for your senior positions, it is easy to forget that you and your company are also being interviewed.
Candidates can get a long way into the recruitment process before they come into contact with all stakeholders at the company they might be joining. But when they do, they form impressions fast.
Securing senior executives is a totally different ball park from selecting and recruiting junior staff – something which can be easy to forget. Often the people you are looking to attract to the senior roles are thin on the ground, are rarely actively looking to move and have a range of options available to them if they are.
These highly sought-after people need to be wooed. They need to buy into the role you are selling – and the interview process is the beginning of the relationship. It is the employer’s chance to promote itself just as much as the candidate’s.
The interview will be remembered long after you extend your offer to the preferred candidate. By going the extra mile throughout the entire process, even if you don’t end up hiring them for this role, you will be expanding your network for the future.
You need to get this right. There is no second chance at a first impression.
Here’s how to get the interview experience spot on:
1. Greeting –
What image do your office premises convey? If it’s an operational site – is it well marked out or does it scream health and safety incompetence? Does a receptionist welcome visitors with a smile and a drink or do they look like they would rather be anywhere than at work? If a prospective senior manager is to be tempted away from their current employer they want to feel they are moving somewhere that cares about its staff.
2. Preparation –
Employers expect candidates to have researched their company and so they should expect the same of themselves. I know candidates who have been called by the wrong name at interview. Understandably, this really doesn’t go down well. Be on time, have a CV to hand and make sure you spend some time reading it beforehand. There is a certain amount that Google and LinkedIn will tell you about someone but a good executive search firm will give you a detailed candidate assessment report that includes strengths, possible weaknesses and areas of interest, allowing you to probe for the information you need and to sell the job effectively.
3. Process and format –
Decide in advance what you really want to test, and tailor the process accordingly. Don’t throw everything at a candidate over a long, drawn-out process as you’ll just put good people off as well as wasting your own resources.
Three separate interview stages is the maximum I would recommend, and if you are requiring presentations and case studies, give people reasonable time to prepare them – or say you’ll reveal the topic on the day so they don’t have to prepare.
Try to personalise interviews, showing your specific interest in the candidate, rather than only asking six standard competency based questions to all.
More than anything, remember that a key part of a senior role is going to be the ability to build rapport with staff, clients, partners, suppliers and others in a work setting. So allow yourself to test this critical competency by having an open, personalised discussion at one stage of the process. Avoid large panel interviews with many people firing standard questions across a table.
4. Questions to avoid –
There are certain areas that employers are wise to steer clear of. The first thing is not to leave yourself open to possible discrimination claims by wading unchecked into questions touching on marriage, age, sexual orientation or other characteristics protected by the Equalities Act.
Beyond this, I would advise employers trying to secure senior talent to avoid asking oddball questions such as what kind of tree they would be, or how many piano tuners are there in the world*. Find more suitable ways of getting to the information you are trying to ascertain.
5. Closing the loop –
Two questions that you actually should ask every candidate are whether they have anything they would like to get across in their favour, and whether they have any questions themselves. These allow people to tell you useful details that you’ve missed or to find out whether your role offers them the magic ingredients you have not thought to mention; and to walk away satisfied with their experience.
This last point is especially important and needs to be nurtured through timely post-interview contact and good feedback for unsuccessful candidates. Often employers are afraid to give feedback for fear of challenge but it is critical to building a positive employer brand. The key is to tell people what they did well and to point out where the chosen candidate demonstrated more experience or skill. Remember even those that haven’t made the final cut could be useful contacts down the line – or will almost certainly know others who could be.
*This was an actual Google “brain teaser” interview question that was only recently banned internally within their company on the grounds it was silly and unhelpful.
**This blog post is the fifth of seven based on Newsom Consulting’s ebook The Ultimate Guide to Hiring Senior Managers in Transport and Infrastructure***
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