Covid-19 has made employers rethink their hiring criteria. While in the past, candidates’ hard skills tended to be the most important determinant of whether he/she landed the job, these days, employers are placing a greater emphasis on qualities such as problem-solving abilities, critical thinking, resilience and adaptability.
But how can you accurately assess whether a candidate possesses these and other relevant qualities?
Psychometric tests can help, but you can also make the most of job interviews to get an accurate gauge.
Even in the best of times, employers complain about candidates who appear over-prepared, giving canned answers during job interviews. Today, considering the state of the job market, candidates are more likely to over-prepare to increase their chances of landing a job in a challenging economy.
A TWO-WAY STREET
One way to avoid canned responses is to call out candidates who insist on giving them.
When faced with such a candidate recently, one of our clients simply said, “That sounds like a rehearsed answer. Why don’t you tell me what you really think?”
After he explained that truthful answers are the only way for each party to assess if they would be a good fit for each other, the candidate easily pivoted to answering questions in a more authentic manner.
Emphasising that the process is centred on mutual fit puts most job applicants at ease.
Explain that job interviews are not just an opportunity for interviewers to assess candidates. They are a crucial process designed to also allow candidates to assess the interviewers and the organisation.
Realising that they have control over the process usually makes candidates more willing to speak the truth.
SET THE TONE
Interviewers can set the tone by being authentic too. For example, during this time, interviewers can start off by honestly relating challenges they might be facing with new work arrangements as a result of Covid-19, how they’re overcoming them and then ask about the candidate’s experience during the current crisis. This helps establish rapport and sets the stage for a more authentic conversation.
As the interview progresses, be honest about the organisation’s needs and challenges. This should invite the candidate to offer solutions to these challenges, revealing their problem-solving skills and other aspects of their personality.
ASK MORE DIRECT AND PROBING QUESTIONS
Many interviewers ask general questions to uncover specific answers. This often takes up too much time and doesn’t provide the crucial information needed. So try something different.
For instance, instead of trying to make guesses about a candidate’s willingness to work long hours by asking them ambition-related questions such as where they see themselves in 5 years, ask more direct questions. Simply describe your expectations, ask if they would be willing to put in the hours, and remind them that being dishonest would only hurt both parties in the long term.
If the candidate chooses to be evasive in the face of such questions, continue probing. Feel free to ask them to clarify their statement and explain their perspective and rationale. Such an approach will give you insights into their thought processes.
Some interviewers think it’s not worth going further as evasiveness denotes untrustworthiness. However, experts believe that in an interview situation, nervous candidates intent on impressing the interviewer may simply take some time to think about how they really feel about your question before thoughtfully answering it. To lose a competent candidate over interview jitters would be a waste. Spending a short time probing will not hurt.
HR managers we speak with often say that self-awareness is an important trait. It helps employees to, among other things, take the necessary steps to navigate a new work environment, pick up skills and develop competencies they may not have yet. To test for self-awareness, aside from behavioural and situational questions, an additional question to ask would be, “What would you do differently if you were starting your career all over again?” This enables the candidate to express their own perspectives on their strengths and weaknesses, revealing self-awareness or at least an openness to it.
ELICITING HONEST ANSWERS TO SITUATIONAL AND BEHAVIOURAL QUESTIONS
When asking situational questions, in addition to asking candidates for their response to a hypothetical scenario, hiring managers might ask them to relate it to a past experience. As they tell the story, feel free to ask follow-up questions to get their analysis of its various elements. True stories often have multiple layers.
For instance, if the question pertains to problem-solving, you should ask the following:
- The accomplishment – what was the problem you solved?
- How did you identify the cause of the problem?
- Describe your solution. What was the rationale behind your solution?
- What challenges did you face in implementing the solution?
- How did you overcome these challenges?
- What did you learn from this incident?
- How do you think you can apply your lessons to other situations?
Behavioural questions can sometimes be met with answers such as “Unfortunately, I’ve never encountered such a situation.” Don’t hold this against the candidate. After all, they’re just being honest. Also, not having encountered the situation before doesn’t mean that they won’t be able to handle it well in the future.
Instead, ask them to describe how they’ve seen others handle such situations and what they’ve learnt from others’ experiences. Alternatively, you can ask them to handle the question situationally – describe how they would handle the situation should it arise.
COACH THE CANDIDATE
In a Harvard Business Review article, Alicia Bassuk, founder of leadership development firm, Ubica, and Jodi Glickman, CEO of leadership development firm, Great on the Job, discuss “on-the-spot coaching.”
For instance, if a candidate is giving succinct answers without elaborating, they recommend prodding candidates towards more in-depth answers with coaching directives.
An example of a useful coaching directive is: “Can you please answer the same question by telling me a story with an arc?”
If the candidate appears to be having difficulties answering questions such as “can you describe your leadership style?” they advise giving him/her a different coaching directive: “Let’s change the question. How would your staff describe your leadership style?”
According to Bassuk and Glickman, the manner in which the candidate responds to your coaching directives can give you useful insights into their character.
- Does the candidate understand the feedback? Does he/she “get it” quickly and is she able to take action and redirect in the moment?
- Is he/she receptive to your feedback, or defensive?
- Does he/she know how to ask clarifying questions?
- Does he/she integrate the feedback into the rest of the interview, or does he/she continue to offer succinct answers or stories without an arc?
HAVE A “CULTURAL FIT DIALOGUE”
While assessing candidates for traits that would enable organisations to thrive in an uncertain world, most hiring managers also want some indication of whether the individual would thrive in the organisation’s corporate culture.
Bassuk and Glickman advise asking detailed questions about culture as it is “an effective way to expose work preferences, assumptions, and biases.”
This means asking probing questions. For instance, if someone says they thrive in an “entrepreneurial culture” you should “ask them to define what that means, using stories from their past or specific examples about what they want in the future. Do they read “entrepreneurial” to mean a culture that allows employees to run their own group as an independent business, or does it signal a workspace with whiteboard walls and beanbag chairs? Is a culture with a strong sense of community one that offers a general sense of collegiality and group lunches, or one that encourages and creates opportunities for community service and social activities outside the office?”
Being direct and specific at every stage of the interview process serves both parties in the long term. Hiring mistakes cost time and money. During uncertain times, these resources are even more precious.