Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Hints for Interviewers: Don't Telegraph Answers

Sooner or later, all of us hire someone.  I thought I would create a series of posts on how to interview. 

All too often, companies do what I call, hiring résumés.  What this means is that when a job is open and a résumé is received, if the résumé matches the job, the candidate is practically hired before the applicant walks through the door for the first interview.  It is what happens when you see a résumé you love.

I have seen this happen many, many times.  Mostly, it leads to disaster, especially when the candidate is the CEO, COO or Executive Creative Director or other executive who can truly influence the direction of the company or account.

I can remember an agency with a large cereal account looking for a senior manager to run their business.  A person I know told me that a recruiter had sent his résumé.  He was working on a directly competitive brand at another agency.  He had his first interview on Monday, came back Tuesday and Wednesday and received a job offer on Thursday.  He was "snowed" and immediately took the job.  No one really interviewed him and he was so anxious to leave his old job that he never interviewed them.  The problem was that he had never worked for an agency with a culture like the one he went to.  In none of his interviews was this ever explored.  Consequently, he never fit with the new agency and was dismissed within six months.

How could this have happened?  Simple.  They hired a résumé, not a person.  They were so impressed with his background that he was, indeed, hired before his first interview.  It is really important to remember that perfect résumés do not make perfect candidates.

When a great résumé shows up, and the candidate comes in for an interview, it is critical to remember to conduct an interview.  It is human nature to let one’s guard down and ask questions which lead to the answers that you want to hear.  But this doesn’t get to the facts or to the essence of the candidate.  Questions are asked in such a way as to telegraph the responses the interviewer is looking for.  For instance:  “I presume you have done lots of television production supervision, haven’t you?”  Or, “I know you know the category; I presume you were very involved with the development of the strategy for the new campaign?”  Or, “XYZ is such a great company; you must have really liked working there.”  It isn’t even a question.

Questions like these beg the interviewee to give the answers that the interviewer wants to hear, but really do not lead to the discovery of the essential nature of the candidate.  Much better questions might have been,  “Tell me about your involvement with the production of your current advertising.” Or, “What was the market situation that lead to the development of your new commercial?”  “What was your role in development of the strategy?” “Tell me about your experience at XYZ” with a follow up on why he/she left that agency.

Just because someone worked on Cialis does not mean that they are right for Viagra. It is critical to get to the core of the candidate so that a determination can be made as to how they work and what they really can contribute.  Every interview should be approached in the same way, no matter what the candidate's background.  All the issues in the job specs should be covered with every candidate who is interviewed.  It may be a far better move to hire someone without specific category or brand knowledge than to hire someone who may know it but lacks other more essential qualifications for the job. Companies tend to overlook
really important issues when they are interviewing a résumé and not a person. 

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