The Interview: A Make or Break Proposition

By Steven E. Sacks, CPA, CGMA, ABC

According to the February employment statistics as reported by the ADP National Employment Report, there were 235,000 new jobs created between January and February. Nearly 85 percent of the private sector employment was in the service sector, including professional and business, hospitality, and education and health. Despite what appears to be robust employment with new opportunities across a broad swath, companies on the hunt for talent are still facing the challenge of finding the perfect candidate.

Companies are using third party services, such as Workable, to assist them in their quest to get the “right fit” because their goal is to build solid teams. The team approach ensures that there is consistency in attitude and performance within and between departments. This is not to suggest the creation of automatons or the cultivation of groupthink. However, a recruiter considers not only whether the individual is competent but also if he or she will be compatible with the other players. As has been documented repeatedly, costs associated with turnover are not insignificant. The prospect of beginning the candidate search from scratch is not only expensive but can have both tangible and intangible costs, such as loss of productivity and reduced morale, respectively. To avoid this misstep, companies take a more deliberate approach to hiring, or in the case of turnover, replacement

The interview process requires the candidate to prepare sufficiently. This includes a comprehensive research of the company, including its products and services, newsworthy achievements and its market activity. On the flipside, the hiring managers are looking to approach the candidate with effective questions to uncover any hidden quirks or personality foibles. For them, it is better to find out sooner rather than later. Innovative companies may use puzzles, case studies, or scenario planning to identify the creative and quick-thinking individual. There may be multiple levels of interviews that include conference or Skype calls and in-person interviews. During this process, the expectation is something new about the person will be revealed. If that revelation negates the positive impression initially made, the extra time and effort will have been worth it.

Using this approach, however, assumes that the interviewer(s) have the capability to make an accurate assessment. To accomplish this, the company has to consider in advance the criteria it wants to measure. Without this step, the process will be ineffective.

Build the Interview Structure

If a company had a previous bad and costly hiring experience, it should employ an interview strategy to identify the most effective line of questions, so that after the candidate has left, those involved in the interviews can build a composite profile to gain an overall impression.

The interview is like a credentialing process. It includes a review and acceptance of the application and accompanying resume, any necessary tests to evaluate technical and communication skills and assessing personality traits — and even involve role playing. Companies will refer to one-to-one meetings, group discussions, research and presentation and other elements to form an overall opinion. This is a two-way investment, though nothing says the interview process will always go swimmingly.

As part of the interview strategy, the hiring group should agree on what are “acceptable responses” relative to collaboration style, work habits, industry knowledge and overall personal conduct — even including body language.

Expect that the candidate may be a little nervous at the beginning, so it is up to the interviewers to create a climate conducive to quality conversation. Consider the room layout and seating, lighting, and the availability of beverages. It is important to treat each candidate as a potential colleague. Sometimes finding a more casual location, such as a coffee shop may reveal the social skills of the candidate. Part of the interview strategy is to employ a consistent approach for all candidates in order to accurately determine similarities and differences. So whatever approach you use, make sure it is used for all candidates.

It is important for companies to examine their interview techniques and make improvements where necessary. If the usual approach has been to “wing it,” make sure that a structure is created. Different questions or areas of discussion from one candidate to the next will limit the ability to make effective comparisons between the current candidate group and even between the candidates and recently hired employees.

It goes without saying that a candidate for IT director will and should be asked questions that are different from a candidate for controller. Because operations and processes (and of course, technology) have changed over the last few years, be sure the questions you ask are relevant for today’s business world. Be sure that the questions you ask the IT candidate reflect today’s protocols and tools. And don’t forget to continuously update the criteria used for all candidates.

Once you have agreed on the environment and the criteria, focus on the skills to evaluate and make sure that everyone who will be participating understands the criteria and can correctly measure them. If others in the hiring process need to be trained on interviewing techniques, make sure they can perform them effectively. If rehearsals are needed, then rehearse. The interviewers should not only be insightful and aware, they should also be friendly and have the right interpersonal skills. Remember, the interview process is a two-way proposition. A particular candidate may be perfect, but he or she may be turned off by the interview process.

Last, consider the time frame to successfully complete the hiring quest. While some companies give the perception that the process has no determinable end, candidates’ time and effort do have value. If the time it takes to make a single hiring decision is disproportionate to the position’s level, or the effort is not yielding the desired results, then it is time to overhaul the hiring process.

If the position needs to be filled, make sure it can be done in a cost-effective manner that allows for careful and accurate measurement against strategic criteria. This will eliminate the hazard of uncertainty that leads to a selection based on questionable “intuition.”


About Steve

Steven Sacks is the CEO of Solutions to Results, LLC, a consultancy that specializes in helping individuals, firms and organizations meet the challenges of communicating with clarity and purpose. Visit his website at