It’s the big day. The candidate you have been waiting to bring into your company shows up for her interview with the hiring leader in your organization. Dawn, as we will call her, shows up 10 minutes early, brings a copy of her well-written resume, and seems excited at the prospect of joining your organization.

The hiring leader arrives, escorts Dawn to a conference room and proceeds to interview her for the next 60 minutes. At the conclusion of the interview, the hiring leader escorts Dawn back to the front of the office, shakes her hand, and thanks her for her time.

Minutes after the interview is over, you receive an email from the hiring leader that Dawn was a great candidate but is not the right fit for the role. You ask, “Um, why?” in your email response. A few hours go by and the hiring leader responds something to the effect of, “It just wasn’t the right fit.” You scratch your head wondering what you missed; what questions did you not ask; what could you have done differently; how do you know who the right fit even is?

If you’ve been recruiting for more than a few months, I’m sure you know that variations of this scenario (or worse) happen multiple times every single day. But why does this happen? While I could write a long list of reasons, I can tell you that one of the biggest issues is that we ask questions without knowing what kind of answers to expect.

Let’s face it: Unstructured interviews turn into a free-for-all. There’s no clear outline for what to expect, no targeted questions prepared. And even if questions are prepared, do you even know what type of answer to expect from the candidate? We tell ourselves we’ll know when we hear it, but is that really true?

Create an Answer Key

The odds of selecting the right candidate that not only fits the role, but that you and the hiring leader actually agree on, increases exponentially when you’re both looking for the same things, asking similar questions, and identifying concrete answers to those questions.

Most recruiters and hiring managers ask vastly different questions because they’re looking for different skills or competencies. What’s worse is when both individuals ask the same questions but accept different answers. This is generally because they didn’t create an answer key!

If you’re looking for someone who exemplifies the competency of ownership, for example, both parties need to agree that it’s a critical competency for the role and the company. If the candidate possesses this critical skill, the hiring manager and recruiter can determine if he fits the bill.

Set Expectations

Consider this scenario:

The hiring leader may be looking for a candidate who answers a targeted question with an example of ownership, such as a situation where another team member dropped the ball, saving the day. With that same candidate, however, the recruiter may be looking for someone who showed ownership by way of another example: the candidate describes a situation where he went to leadership so the individual who dropped the ball was held accountable. Both instances demonstrate ownership, but they can be interpreted differently.

If you don’t know the answer you’re looking for, who’s to say who’s right or wrong? Neither answer is, in fact, wrong; but one answer could be incorrect to the hiring manager and spot-on to the recruiter.

Think back to when you were in school. What good was a test if you didn’t know the answers? Even in the case of an essay, the professor needs to have a general sense of structure in order to award an A or a D. If you and the hiring manager aren’t using the same answer key, or structure, it’s no surprise that one thinks the candidate is great and the other decides he’s a bust.

4 Questions to Ask Yourself Before an Interview

• Have you and the hiring leader agreed on the skills and competencies needed in the candidate?
• Have you and the hiring leader agreed on the questions both of you need to ask to determine if the candidate has the skills and competencies required?
• Have you and the hiring leader agreed on the direction of the answers required in response to the questions?
• Have you and the hiring manager compared the answers provided by the candidate against your answer key?

Long story short: If you don’t solidify and agree on the answers you’re looking for, the questions are useless. Subjective answers never did anyone any favors.


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