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Interviewing – It’s A Two-Way Street

Interviewing – It’s a Two-Way Street. I’ve used this phrase with clients on many occasions and usually, it draws the proverbial “duh” response. But recently a hiring manager who had done a couple of phone interviews with a “passive” candidate (who by the way is a top performer at another company) said, “It was like the candidate was interviewing us!”

I could hardly contain myself when I responded “he WAS interviewing you!!!” Too often companies think the candidate is the only one who is supposed to be “selling” during the interview process. This attitude can be very costly if you are trying to hire top performers – which in many cases are “passive” candidates.

These candidates are not actively looking for a job or career change when the opportunity is presented. They have no strong motivation to make a change unless you give them the motivation through a compelling interview process. In these instances, the company is doing at least half of the selling. And if you are not doing an effective job selling your company and opportunity, these high potential, passive candidates are not likely to make a change.

Sounds simple, right? Then why do so many companies make the same mistake with “passive” candidates? Let’s start with some basics. What does the “ideal candidate” for the position look like? Currently employed or unemployed? Successful in their current position or not doing so well? Looking to make a logical step in their career or desperate to simply make a change? Generally satisfied with their current job/company or disgruntled and unhappy? You see where we are going with this, right? The best candidates are often (not always, of course) “passive” vs. “active.”

There are many ways to identify passive candidates, and a recruiter with expertise in your business is a great way to go. For the sake of this article let’s assume you successfully identified a top-performing, passive candidate with the right mix of experience for your position. Now what? Do you treat this candidate the same as you would the plethora of other candidates who applied online? Of course not. The best way to attract this passive candidate is to ask yourself a simple question, “If I was not actively looking to make a job change and was approached by another employer, what would I expect/want the interview process to be like?”
•Would you want the interview process to be timely and efficient? Or would it be OK if it dragged on and on and on?
•Would you like to be treated like you were a well-qualified candidate who would be a welcome addition to the organization? Or would you prefer to be grilled like you were lucky the company was even giving you the time for an interview?
•Would you like timely feedback after interviews have taken place? Or would you like to be left hanging indefinitely with no idea how things are progressing?
• Would you prefer to speak with and/or meet a representative of the company? Or would it be OK to do video interviews via your laptop to be reviewed by someone with the company at a later date?
•Would it be OK if they ask you to drive 3 hours each way to meet the manager so it is more convenient for the company? Or would you prefer the manager travel to the location of the position to interview you to maximize your time?

While many of the answers seem obvious, you would be surprised how many companies and hiring managers fall into the “one-way” interview trap and lose the interest of passive candidates. As a result, companies often have no choice but to hire the active candidate who will eagerly jump through all of the hoops only to become disgruntled or not perform within months of joining the organization. And they become disgruntled or don’t perform because they were not the right person to hire. And they were not the right person to hire because the interview process was not designed to attract passive candidates. Chicken or egg?

Here are a few rules of thumb for creating an interview process that ATTRACTS passive candidates:
•It has to be timely! There is an old saying in recruiting – “time kills all deals.” This is especially true with passive candidates. Remember, they were not looking to make a change in the first place. Unexplained delays create ambivalence. Ambivalence does not motivate someone to make an important change. So you have to ask yourself the question: “Does the pace of our interview process inspire a great candidate to make a change?”
•It has to make the passive candidate feel important and wanted. If you are happy in your job and generally feel important and valued by your current employer, would you want to go to work for someone who did not seem to really want you to join their organization? And I mean REALLY want you to join their organization! So if your interview process is more of an inquisition than mutually selling, how do you think that is likely to turn out? You are still evaluating and assessing the candidate. You still have the ability to not offer them the job in the end if they do not turn out to be the best candidate. But if you are not selling along the way you won’t have the option to hire or decline them, because they will decline you first. That is the beauty of the “Two-Way Street” interview process – you ultimately make the choice on the BEST candidate because all candidates (especially passive candidates) remained engaged and interested all the way through.
•It has to keep the passive candidate engaged. You have to provide them with TIMELY FEEDBACK. No matter how great your company is – no matter how good the culture – no matter how exciting the job – without timely feedback you will lose the interest in the passive candidate. Guessing games cause people to speculate. They speculate that the interview didn’t go well. They speculate the manager is not a good communicator. They speculate that making a change with uncertainty will only lead to bad things. And they were not actively looking to make a change. So they stay in their current job because it is a pretty good job in the first place. And you go back to your pool of active candidates. They accept the fact that you didn’t provide timely feedback – because they REALLY need the job! Rinse and repeat. And be prepared to refill the job in 6-12 months.
•It needs a personal touch. I hate to state the obvious, but people work for people. Don’t get me wrong, technology is great and definitely has its place in recruiting, interviewing, and hiring. But if technology is so great why don’t we date on Skype? Are Facebook friends the same as real-life friends? Do you try to sell your company’s products/services solely on Facetime? Remember, you are trying to sell someone who was not looking to change jobs to come to work for your company – and you cannot rely on a video interview to do that. Sure it can be a small part of the process if/when it makes sense. But the keyword in the last sentence is “small.” Once again the active candidates who desperately need a job will welcome the video interview because they REALLY need the job. People work with and for people. They need to shake your hand and look you in the eye (without a webcam) to be convinced it is a good decision. And in hiring aren’t we all trying to make good decisions?
•It needs to be easy! While travel is frequently required in the interview process, you have to make it as easy as possible for the passive candidate. Sure they may need to fly to corporate HQ for final interviews – which can be sold as a positive to the passive candidate. They get to meet senior managers, see the home office, get a taste of the culture and work environment. Hopefully, those are all positives for your company and help sway the passive candidate to join the team. But don’t ask the candidate to drive 3 hours each way for an initial interview! They are still in the early stages of determining if they should make a change in the first place. When you put those kinds of demands on a passive candidate early in the process you are helping them make the decision – and the decision is to stay put. This all gets back to making the passive candidate feel they are important and wanted. Respecting their time is paramount in doing that!

Creating a process that attracts high-quality, passive candidates is kind of like exercise for many of us. We know how important it is but we don’t take the time to do it! The benefits are extraordinary in building a high-performing organization. You will eventually have to fill fewer positions because high-performing, passive candidates who make career changes for the right reasons typically stay with companies longer. The extra time and work on the front end will pay off for you and your company long term.

Brian is a VP/Partner at Ideal Steps Healthcare Recruiting, Inc.