May 1, 2023

Creating an Equitable Interview Prep


Episode Highlights

Employee Referrals & Search Firm Candidates Have an Unfair Advantage


Serious About Diversity hiring? Prep ALL Candidates


Creating An Equitable Interview Prep Process


A Case for Providing the Interview Questions in Advance


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Michelle Mehlis and Liz Everett both have worked for both sides – Internal Talent Acquisition and external search agencies. Today they are going to chat about What’s Broken in Hiring and provide ideas for change. They’ll focus on inconsistency in candidate experience from an interview prep perspective and how that impacts DEI efforts. Then they’ll dive into ideas for how to improve candidate preparation no matter how they first heard of the opportunity.

Episode Transcript

Hello! I’m Michelle and I’m here with Liz today and we are going to talk about interview prep. And I want to take a minute just to introduce myself. I work with Hirewell, I’m a senior technical consultant, and the reason we’re so passionate about this topic and how it impacts DEI is because we’ve been on both sides of the house, so we want to shed some light on that. Liz, why don’t you share a little bit with our audience? Sure. Yeah, Michelle, really excited to be able to share this perspective. My name is Liz. I’m a lead recruiter in our HR division. And like Michelle mentioned, we have both had the chance to sit on the corporate side as well as the agency side.

So we’ve got some unique perspectives. So let’s jump right in here. You know what I mean? We’ve seen it from both sides, so. And really from the internal side, you think about like where candidates come from. We call it sourced, in recruiting, right? So let’s talk about the three main ways that they get sourced.

So give me some insight. Any company, what are they going to say? Referrals. Referrals, right? Employee. Yep. Okay. And obviously us coming from agency, search firms are definitely a source of candidates. Yes and then just directly applying to the company’s website or to the agency’s website.

Yep. So I mean, obviously that’s a very simplified view of where candidates come from, but that’s three of the main ideas. And one of the things that I really noticed one of the times I was internal was, we treat these candidates pretty differently. And so almost everybody is like, oh, employee referrals are great and search firms are necessary.

We’ll just leave it at that. And you get better candidates if you use those two sources. Which yeah, a lot of times certainly they interview better and sometimes they perform better. But I started thinking about why? You get a quicker time to fill and you get a better quality candidate. But why is that?

And that made me start to think about we maybe treat them a little differently. And you had said you’d experienced that too. So why don’t you share a little bit about what we’ve discovered in common was happening? Sure. So, I think we’ve discovered that they have a little bit of an upper hand. A candidate that’s being presented by an agency versus a candidate that comes in from referral, they have two different types of upper hands.

So if it’s someone who’s coming from an agency, that agency recruiter is making sure they are prepped on everything they need to know about who they’re interviewing with. Any insights that they’re able to share, especially if this is a client that they’ve worked with for quite some time. They’re able to give them more than someone who might have just applied on the website versus if it’s a candidate who is referred by an employee of that company.

They are also able to tell them, “Hey, this is a little bit about the manager you’ll be meeting with because I’ve seen him in action. These are the kinds of things that he likes to talk about or gravitate to.” And on that same token, that manager or that contact can reach out to the manager and say, Hey, I just referred a great candidate. I give him my stamp of approval.” And so whether or not that manager is intending to have a bias, he’s got that bias because his star employee has just referred someone who he says he thinks really highly of. So two different types of upper hands that a candidate who just applies directly to the website is not going to have, because they don’t have the referral or the agency to fall back on.

And if you think about it from like a markets or a capitalistic society perspective, in both cases, usually employee referrals in a search firm, there’s a financial incentive for that person to help to make the process smoother to and it’s not just this at the beginning stage, right?

Like, there’s also like, “Hey, this is what we’re doing.” So it makes the candidate feel like they’re more engaged and more prepared because they can now speak to examples that directly relate to what’s going on in that team. Because either the search firm recruiter or the employee who’s referring is saying, “Hey, yeah, this is the projects and the initiatives we have going on right now.” Information that’s probably not available on the website, you know, closely held. And now you can know which parts of your background you should highlight. The other thing that I think that even gets forgotten is-

So, let’s talk about from when the offer happens through the person’s been working there 90 days. Again, the employee who referred and the search firm’s checking in. How’s it going? Is there a problem? You got any questions? So the person’s feeling more connected, more engaged, more loved, if you want to call it that. Yeah. They have an advocate. It feels like. An outside advocate that someone coming in isn’t going to have.

Yep. And if there is a snag, which there often is with transitions, there’s someone there to help mediate it. “Oh, you’re experiencing that? Well, why don’t you talk to them? Or I can call this person up.” There’s like that resource there. So once we started thinking about that, we were like, this really is like not the same process.

And it’s pretty hard to eliminate this. So what some companies are doing now is eliminating their employee referral program altogether based on DEI. And I love them for that, that they’re thinking about DEI that seriously. But realistically recruiting operation is about filling your jobs.

And when you’ve used employees, they do a very effective job “marketing” the role and marketing the company. So throwing that out because it’s not exactly the same experience and using employee referrals. Which research has shown if you have a company that’s not diverse, then they’re likely going to refer in people who are diverse, getting rid of that bias.

There’s that truth in that. But really what maybe is better is we start to look for other pipelines and we treat those candidates with that extra love and care. Yes. So let’s talk about a little more the DEI piece of it. So if we were going to start looking at solving for this problem where we want to not take away, right?

Not take away the employee referral programs but add up to other sources, whether they’re diverse sources or just the applicants. What might that look like? What might a company do to try and level the playing field so that those candidates all get a more equal shot? Yeah, I think they would want to ensure that every candidate that goes through the interview process is going through the same interview process in terms of how they’re being prepped.

And so if there are certain attributes about the hiring manager that an agency, a recruiter from a recruiting firm is sharing and a referral is sharing, making sure that those attributes are also shared with a candidate who applies directly on the website. So just giving them more than here’s the job description.

Here’s the website, but here’s the LinkedIn of the hiring manager you’ll be speaking to. Here are the sorts of questions this person likes to ask. They lean more towards behavioral questions versus, questions about your resume. So just almost preparing some sort of interview packet that they share with their referrals, with their agencies, and then with candidates who apply directly on their website.

And just keeping that a really consistent continuous process. One of the things that I’ve had a little bit of like conversations with hiring managers on this is like, they’re like, “Oh, I don’t want to give away my secrets.” Yes, I’ve heard that. And I’m like, so are you hiring someone you know who can deal with unknown situations on by the seat of their pants. Right. If that’s your job. Okay. I’m for it. Right. Right. Nothing should be given away to any of ’em and we need to just be sure that employees and search firms know and as little information is given out. But if that’s not the role, and the role has more to do with collaboration and planning and all these other things that are more common in most roles than letting the candidate have what you’re saying there, like the easy access to prepping the knowledge that “Hey, this interview’s going to be focused on how you deal with difficult situations. And this one’s going to be how you communicate.” That just sets them up to think about those examples that they’re going to be sharing because ultimately, you have 30 minutes or 60 minutes to convey down years of experience. Exactly. And then they have the ability to show that they can prepare for an interview with the information they were given.

I mean, you think about just being back in school, you had to study for an exam. It wasn’t just like, you’re going to have to guess what’s on that exam. You don’t know if it’s going to be what we covered in unit one, unit two, or unit three. You went in knowing, “Okay, this is a unit three exam, so I have to study everything that we went over in unit three so that I can be successful.”

I mean, it’s just kind of applying that to the working world. Well and I think it’s interesting. I’m implementing this right now and all my scheduling confirmation emails say, “Hey, to learn a little bit more about us.” And it has three links, has a link to like a three to four minute video.

And it has the link to our open jobs so you can go easily read the job description and link to the about page or the career page of the company. And then I start the interview and I say, “Hey, let’s just be sure we know what we’re talking about here. Did you have a chance to watch that video?”

What does that tell me? You know what I mean? And then usually what I get is like,” Oh yeah, I watched that and I did this.” And for the candidates who haven’t done that, like, it’s not a huge barrier, but like it changes a little bit. And like, yeah, life happens. But it tells me a little bit about their level of interest, you know? Exactly. And usually they dive deeper by me just giving ’em the first couple steps there. That’s so true. That’s so true. So what other ideas do you have? What else could we potentially be doing to try and help level this playing field? Well, I know we had talked a little bit about open house sessions that are hosted either by the hiring manager or if it’s the company, their internal recruiting team or internal tech talent acquisition team where maybe it’s the information that we send in an email, but we allow them to come to this session with questions.

And then the talent acquisition team or the representative can talk out loud about all the things that we talked about, but in a asking question, sort of setting, obviously they can’t give everything away. There does need to be some mystery I’m sure in the interview process.

But allow kind of everyone to have that open playing field, I think, is another option that we were talking through that might be something that is just more equitable. And I love that. I haven’t headed that up before. I worked for an organization that did use it for like a reoccurring need.

Like where they regularly had that. But I also love it for, let’s say there’s a business unit, has a lot of growth planned. It doesn’t necessarily need to be specific to individual roles, but if you know that your vertical organization is going to have 20% growth in headcount this year. Getting a C-suite and a couple of the leaders talking about what’s coming down the pipeline in terms of like what are the big initiatives like, “Hey, we’re going to do an ERP conversion.” Well, that’s really helpful information about anybody who’s going to come into an organization. And then if they’ve done that before, which would be usually really helpful to your organization, they know to be sure to tell you, “Hey, I’ve done this before and this is the gotchas and this is the successes and what I can bring from that.” Whereas if that’s not, that’s kind of buried, you know, it’s not available information yet, then, maybe it takes a while to get to that.

So I love that idea that you came up with the open house. Yeah. Well, and I think in addition to just making the process more equitable, it just elevates the employee experience because it elevates it before they’re even an employee. They’re a candidate also considering do I want to come work for this organization? And if they’re seeing like, wow, they’re taking extra steps and measures to make sure that I’m prepared and that I feel comfortable in this interview process, which interview processes are so daunting. And just kind of setting them up to succeed.

I know as a candidate, if I were in those shoes I would feel really thankful to have the buy-in, if C-Suite joined or if just they took the time to do that. I think it would just make the experience so much better. Yeah. So, we can’t forget the one that our counterpart James Hornick, throws out all the time, which is a really easy lift, right? Like, you know, maybe open house sessions seem intimidating or not sure where you’re going to think about them for your own organization. But, a frequently asked questions section for the webpage. Yes. I mean, think about-

And really all you got to do is spend a month and have all your recruiters and hiring managers say, what questions are my candidates asking? Just keep a list. That is so good. And get those questions answered upfront. You know, we have moved to a self-service society. We like to be able to order food to get delivered to us in 25 minutes and be able to, you know, we know where on the web and order stuff to get to us the same day or the next day.

So, we want to be able to have that information now. So when they’re thinking about it and they’re scrolling through your job and they’re trying to figure it out, having a really easy to access frequently asked questions that clearly articulate some of the things that differentiate you. Right. Because you’re not trying to make this all bland, right? Like it is who you are. So be transparent, let ’em know. And then the right people are going to migrate to applying for you and already have those questions answered. Which makes your interviews more efficient.

Exactly. That is so true. An FAQ page, you cannot go wrong. What about another idea? Do you have another one for us? I think piggybacking on that FAQ page. Taking it a level up from just having questions answered is actually having videos on that page. So maybe having hiring managers on there if there’s a specific role they’re recruiting for talking about the role. I just think I remember back to a time this was, even before I knew about Hirewell that Rosanna Krug popped up on my page. Ro, is one of our partners here at Hirewell on our HR division because Hirewell was recruiting for an internal position and she had a video on LinkedIn. And maybe it was on the website as well, but where she was talking about what they were looking for, who they were looking for. And I just remember thinking, she looks like such a nice person. And I just think having the managers or the talent acquisition team on that website, on the videos, just showing kind of this is who we are as an organization as well. I think could be a level up too.

And I think that one of the things that you have to kind of get your organization comfortable with is like, look at this video. We’re not in a studio. It’s not professionally done, you know? Yes. But reality is this is where the content’s coming in, the content that can help you today. And if we try and make it look perfect, then it doesn’t get done.

So. Right. Think about employer branding and that candidate experience is like, done is better than perfection, you know? Yeah. And really they’re looking for authentic and they can sniff out that stuff that the marketing department, and the PR department, the legal department have “cleansed.”

That’s not what actually attracts, you know? Yeah. Yes, you can tell when it’s authentic. And I think most people gravitate to that. They gravitate to the realness versus, like you said, like this was clearly staged and scripted and it just, it’s not as authentic. Yeah. All right, so I’m going to throw one more out here that I’ve been thinking about and I haven’t seen too many companies adopt this one yet, but I’d really like to see some companies try it out and that is,

Why don’t we give them some of the interview questions in advance? Love that. That’s a great idea. Are you thinking, have the hiring managers write the questions, pass that onto the talent acquisition team, or more the questions that they would get from that first step where they’re talking to the recruiter or the talent acquisition person?

I mean, I do think it’s going to depend on the role and the company and that kind of stuff. I acknowledge that, but when you think about what you want an employee to do, right? If you know you have a meeting scheduled, you want that employee to go look for the agenda and prep for the meeting. So the meeting’s the most productive. So true. Yep.

So why do we not even tell them what we’re trying to in a lot of cases we don’t even, well, sometimes we don’t tell ’em who they’re meeting with, but hopefully most internal talent links tells them who they’re meeting with, but we don’t tell ’em like, ok, this interview is aimed to focus on technical or this interview is to focus on cross collaboration and then like method, but like, let’s take it the next step further and say, “Hey, if we’ve got a half an hour together, half the time, the questions are going to be these same questions, exact same questions every single time, and we’re going to let the candidates know in advance.”

It doesn’t mean we say, “Hey, this is the perfect answer.” It just gives them the time to really think through their experience and it acknowledges that interviewing to some degree is just like the ability to present and think by the seat of your pants, and tries, pull a little bit of that and help you get to better hires versus hiring better interviewers.

Yeah, I love that. I think that would be game changing. So if any of you out there are doing that where you’re giving the candidates some of your questions in advance, hit us up in the comments because we would love to hear about what your experiences are and how that works. Any last thoughts here, Liz?

I’m excited to see what the comments bring and thoughts on making this a more equitable process all the way around. Yep. I mean we got together and it was like, this one was like, okay. We need to talk about it. We need to talk cause people need to think about this. I don’t think there’s that many companies out there thinking about this whole bias, which says employee referrals and search firms get better candidates and maybe self-fulfilling that, so. All right. Well, lovely chatting with you folks. Drop your comments below. We’d love to hear what you guys are doing and what resonated or your questions or concerns about the ideas we presented here. Let us know. Absolutely. All right. Thank you. Bye bye.

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