Career Development: Reinventing the Job Interview from the Interviewers Perspective

Apparently I am thinking a lot about hiring these days! In my last post, I talked about hiring an executive assistant (happy to report Ronald is still kicking butt while I sleep, and my productivity is up over 300%) and this week I want to talk to you about another insidious time waster for marketing professionals… prospect interviews.

I was a journalism major in my undergrad years and my strength was the investigative interview so interviewing candidates has always come easy for me. I never run out of questions and I’m pretty creative about coming up with questions that get to the heart of a candidates qualifications and fit-level. My favorite moment was asking an inside sales candidate about his vision for the future. This was a $30K a year job – double with commissions – so I asked him where he thought he’d be in 5 years.

“Oh, in 5 years, I’ll be making $80K a year easy,” he said confidently.

“What does that look like,” I probed. “How is your life different with that salary?”

“Well, I’d be moved out of my parent’s house. I’d buy a mansion with 5 bedrooms, a swimming pool and a Ferrari or something like that. I’ll be living the dream.”

Living the dream on $80K in Washington DC?!?! Not a chance. If he couldn’t set realistic goals in his personal life, this guy was not going to set realistic goals on my sales team. It was not a fit. (It was, however, a good laugh!)

This week, however, I learned about a new approach to interviewing that changed my perspective. Many professions have a proficiency component to the interview process, something that makes it a little more quantitative, but with marketing that’s always been difficult, especially for junior level jobs. I’ve been content with reviewing writing samples, portfolios and relevant web sites to serve that purpose but it always comes up short and feels a lot more like art than science.

The new approach was introduced to me by Market Hardware COO Patrick Smith. Market Hardware is the web division of ServiceMagic.com, and they produce thousands of small business websites each year. That means Smith is constantly hiring. A “Getting Things Done” kind of guy, he hated the lost productivity of having candidates come in and parade through the various members of his staff losing time as each prepped for the interview, dragged out 30 to 60 minutes with the candidate, and then rehashed the candidate’s qualifications with other staff members. So he invented a solution.

He has chucked the sequential Q and A approach and opted for a more practical, speed-dating-like interview process. Candidates at Market Hardware are brought in in groups of 4 – 6, and given the ten minute “about the company” speech that makes interviewing particularly exhausting, repetitive and inefficient for interviewers together. Then he pairs each candidate with a staff member for a ten minute “date”. The staff members are asked to prepare a task for the candidate so instead of asking questions they can actually see how the candidate performs and also assess their intelligence, personality and experience.

For a Junior Market Researcher, the interview schedule might look like this:

0:00 – 0:10 – Group introduction with Executive

0:10 – 0:20 – Internet Research Observation with Staff Member 1

0:20 – 0:30 – Respond to an email (checking for speed, efficiency, grammar, and personality) with Staff Member 2

0:30 – 0:40 – Analyze the pros and cons of a 1 question poll that’s in the field with Staff Member 3

0:40 – 0:50 – Conduct a mock phone poll with an existing script with Staff Member 4 on the other end of the call

0:50 – 0:60 – Group wrap up and questions from the candidates with Executive or HR person

I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve been 30 seconds into an interview and asking myself why I was going to waste 30 minutes or even an hour pretending to be considering the person for a position I knew I’d never hire them for! This system is so much more efficient and in many ways I think offers a deeper, more accurate perspective on how the candidate will perform if hired.

Hiring? Try this new interview method and let me know how it goes in the comments. I am not sure if I am willing to give up the Spanish inquisition approach just yet but this definitely got me thinking. Interviews are stuck back in the 50s and need a refresh. I think Market Hardware’s Patrick Smith is on to something and it’s a trend I’m going to keep an eye on.

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