Candidate Interview Preparation, Skills to Increase Interview to Hire Ratios
The key to a successful candidate interview lies within your preparation. Simply telling your candidate what to say and do in the interview is a poor approach to candidate interview preparation. And simply telling a candidate where and what time the interview is, who it is with, or what to wear is NOT preparing your candidate for the interview either. In fact, one could argue that simply informing a candidate of this information is really just an activity associated with sourcing candidates. If this is what you consider “candidate interview prep,” than you should know that all you’re really doing is preparing your candidate to BOMB the interview. Even the smartest and most skilled and experienced candidates needs to properly prepare for the client interview. Properly preparing a candidate for an interview means that recruiters must run a mock candidate interview. After all, how can a recruiter truly coach and prepare a candidate on how to effectively interview without first seeing the candidate conduct him or herself in an interview? They can’t and that is the point of running the mock candidate interview.
In the mock interview, the recruiter acts as the client and the candidate acts as the candidate. Running a mock interview serves as another opportunity for you to screen and qualify your candidate including their interviewing skills but also to gauge how genuinely interested they are in your opportunity. If a candidate doesn’t take the time to properly prepare for the mock interview, why should you expect him or her to take the time to prepare for the real client interview?
Stop Telling and Start Asking, Lead with Questions
The first skill to increase interview to hire ratios that recruiters must master is they must STOP TELLING and START ASKING. Recruiters need to learn to lead with questions. As I mentioned as the onset, telling your candidate what to do is not preparing your candidate. In general, people don’t like to be told what to do. A far more effective approach is to lead by asking questions. Anything you (want to) tell your candidate you can turn into a question. Instead of telling them where the interview is you can ask them, “have you pulled the location and directions to the interview up on your phone or navigational system?” “Have you done a dry run by driving to the interview location to ensure you know where it is you are going and how long it will take you to get there?” By asking, instead of telling, recruiters can learn so much more about their candidates such as understanding their decision making process. Not only that, leading with questions disarms candidates and empowers them to come up with answers on their own. If they struggle or don’t know the answer then you can coach them through it.
Establish Clear Expectations with Your Candidate for the Mock Candidate Interview
Once you get word the client wants to interview your candidate, call your candidate and check that nothing has changed with their current situation. Assuming nothing has changed let them know that the client would like to interview them and that as part of your interview preparation process, the two of you will be conducting a mock candidate interview. To properly set expectations with your candidate regarding the mock interview you can follow the guideline below.
Explain the purpose of the mock interview
The purpose of the mock interview is to prepare the candidate for the real, client interview via a face to face mock interview. Running a face to face mock interview will increase the likelihood of a job offer. The candidate needs to write down and ask the questions they will ask of each person interviewing them and practice asking these questions in the mock interview. The candidate also needs to prepare their responses and what it is they will say for the most likely and anticipated interview questions.
Explain what will happen in the mock interview
Explain to your candidate that you will be playing the role of the customer and you will be asking the candidate a variety of questions to test the candidate’s knowledge of the customer’s business, project/job, as well as their interpersonal and communication skills and their technical skills and experience.
Time allocation: explain how much time is needed
Properly set expectations on how much time you will need. It is best to schedule more time than you will actually need. I suggest you schedule 1 hour for the mock interview. The mock interview should also be scheduled 48 hours before the client interview, not the day of or the day before!
Set expectations for how the call will end
Be sure to set the expectation that the goal is to identify any areas in which the candidate is not as prepared as he or she could be in order to maximize the opportunity for a job offer. You need to communicate to the candidate that if the mock interview reveals weaknesses or “blind spots” that an action plan will be agreed upon to “tighten up” up those blind spots and a second mock interview will take place before the real client interview. In preparation for the mock interview, ask your candidate to do the following:
- Ask your candidate to make a list of questions that he or she has about the client, job and/or project
- Ask the candidate if they have visited the client web site (if they haven’t ask them to take a look) and if they have created a list of questions based on their research (if they haven’t ask them to)
- Share with your candidate the address of the client’s location (where the interview will take place), assuming the interview is face-to-face. Ask the candidate “how do you feel about doing a dry run and driving to the office location to ensure you know where you are going on the day of the interview?” It’s better to get lost on a test drive then on the day of the interview!
- Send the candidate the names and titles of the managers conducting the interview.
- Ask your candidate to look these people up on LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook and to develop questions for each manager based on their research
Resistance to Mock Interviews
Let me hit the pause button real quick to address a couple of concerns. Some recruiters reading this right now might be thinking:
- “Candidates are not going to do a mock interview, they don’t have time for it plus they will think this is silly and a waste of time.” Or, you may be thinking,
- “I’m not going to do this, I know how to screen my candidates and I don’t have time for this”
So, the question is, why wouldn’t a candidate want to take the time to properly prepare for an interview? There is a reason for this and that is either something changed with the candidate’s current situation, or he or she is not 100% committed to your opportunity. The candidate is not genuinely interested in your opportunity. Part of the reason for the mock interview is to flush this stuff out. You don’t want to send a candidate on a client interview only to discover the client wants to hire the candidate, but the candidate is not interested. The best way to gauge if your candidate is truly and genuinely interested in your opportunity is by seeing how much time and effort they are willing to put forth into getting the job. If they don’t want to put the time and effort in then how interested are they? Or, your candidate may have another opportunity or you failed to qualify the candidate’s compelling event in which case they have no reason to leave their their status quo. If this is the case, then you need to have a separate conversation with your candidate to re-qualify him or her.
Regarding those recruiters who are thinking “I’m not going to do this, I know how to screen my candidates and I don’t have time for this” That may in fact be true, but are you being 100% honest with yourself? I have found that many recruiters don’t like running a face to face mock candidate interview because they themselves were never formally trained on how to properly run a candidate interview and as a result they lack the self confidence so they avoid the experience all together. The other reason I see recruiters shy away from running mock interviews is they’re afraid of what they might learn about their candidates.
Running the Mock Candidate Interview
Below are some sample questions you can use to run your mock interview.
- Tell me what you know about our company and what attracted you (to us)?
- What do you know about the project/job role/function?
- Tell me a little about yourself and you've grown into the position you're in today?
- What is it about this opportunity that interests you and why?
- Give me an example of how you have dealt with difficult customers or co-workers? What was the issue, what was your approach and what was the result?
- What was your greatest professional failure and what did you learn from it?
With these questions, the recruiter is simply listening to hear how well prepared the candidate is and if the candidate is clearly articulating him or herself. Does he or she talk too much or not provide enough detail? Are his or her thoughts, ideas and accomplishments clearly communicated? Does he or she sound overconfident, arrogant or uninterested? Is the candidate asking follow-up questions? And most importantly, is the candidate listening to your questions?
From here you can develop additional mock interview questions that are specific and unique to your role and opportunity to hear your candidate will articulate their skills and relevant experience.
Coaching Candidates How to Close the Interview
With the exception of sales people, most people have no idea how to effectively close an interview. Many shy away from asking follow up questions out of fear of coming across too aggressive while others fear that if they they fail to ask for feedback they come across too passive and uninterested. And of course there is the topic of candidate salary or pay rate. How should a candidate handle the salary question when they are represented by a recruiter from a staffing firm?
Here is a genuine and professional way for your candidate to close an interview. “Thank you again for your time and consideration today. I have enjoyed meeting you and the other team members. I’m very interested in this opportunity and the opportunity to work for your organization. Based on our interview today, how do you think I might fit in with the team and this project?" As the recruiter responsible for preparing your candidate for the client interview, your job is to make sure your candidates know exactly what they should say to close an interview. For most candidates, you will need to coach them on this part.
Additional questions that you can coach your candidates to ask when closing the interview include
- “What concerns do you have with moving forward with me as a candidate?”
- “What do you see as the next step?”
You can learn more about our methodology and training approach here but how do you prepare your candidates for client interviews? What are your best practices? What do you find most challenging? Let's start a conversation in the comments section below.
About Dan Fisher
Dan Fisher is founder and owner of Menemsha Group, a provider of sales enablement solutions dedicated to helping IT staffing firms improve win rates, shorten their sales cycle, and increase revenue per sales rep. Since launching Menemsha Group in 2008, Dan has consulted with over 200 IT staffing firms and has invested over 5000 hours coaching IT staffing sales reps. He’s authored is his own proprietary sales methodology and has previously spoken at Staffing World, TechServe Alliance and Bullhorn Live 2012. Prior to launching Menemsha Group, Dan spent 16 years in the IT industry running local, regional and national sales teams. Dan worked for Kelly Services, Oracle Corporation and Alliance Consulting. Dan currently resides in Boston, Ma.