Steps to Enhance Onsite Candidate Interviews for AHE & NPOs

March 1st, 2021 – Kim Daly – Affordable Housing entities (AHE) and Non-Profit Organizations (NPO) boards members, senior staff and executive leadership all desire efficient and effective interview processes for obvious reasons. Unfortunately however, they are rarely prepared. Why is that? Let’s explore common obstacles as well as steps for improving the process for both interviewers and candidates.

If possible, move away from the classic 5:1 interview panel/candidate ratio. What you think you gain in terms of time saving, you will lose in process and execution. One-on-one interviews are not only more personable and engaging for the candidate, but they also allow the interviewers greater freedom and unfettered evaluative access. Panel interviews usually come across as hostile and intimidating to the very candidates you are trying to attract. How you conduct your onsite interview processes offers each candidate a glimpse into your culture and decision-making processes, two factors that weigh heavily on candidates.

Include your search partner in the interviews. This both relaxes the candidates and sets a no-nonsense, professional tone for both interview and interviewer protocol. Because interview panels bring with them predispositions, biases (conscious and unconscious) and other historical baggage, a search partner’s presence and observation serves to eliminate noise and maintain a more efficient interview process. Ideally, in a one-hour time slot, each interviewer has 45-50 minutes to ask questions and gain insight. Candidates then have 5-10 minutes to ask their questions, leaving a 5-minute gap before the next interview begins.

If you schedule an interview over the lunch hour, feed the candidate. I cannot tell you how many times over the past 25 years that candidates have conveyed in post interview debrief calls that the interviews lasted 3-4 hours – often starting before lunch and ending after it – and that the client neither offered nor made provisions for a meal. This simply cannot happen. Even though many candidates are too nervous to eat, the mere courtesy of offer and preparation leaves a lasting and positive impression.

Set aside time at the end of each interview day to debrief. Ideally, this session occurs as soon as reasonably possible after the candidates exit the premises. Your search partner should collect interviewer scorecards, tabulate results and summarize them. They should also encourage each interviewer to provide thoughts and impressions, support for scores/rankings and feedback on overall candidate suitability and cultural alignment. The search partner’s job is to listen, learn and advise where needed. Finally, at the conclusion of each interview day, the search partner should invest 10-15 minutes with the hiring manager to share insights, internalize lessons learned, course correct as needed and determine the candidate pool for the next or final round.

Whether you choose to utilize the recommended one-on-one interview approach or the traditional panel style interview, the latter of which may still work better for large search committees, having your search partner present and actively facilitating makes for a smooth and integrated onsite interview process. A dedicated search partner can utilize the insights gained to provide substantive feedback to both client and candidates. Ultimately, this will help refine or solidify their approach to the marketplace. The result is an ability to best attract and recruit additional candidates, both in current and future searches.

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