Getting the right people in the right roles is critical for growing businesses, and the interview is the most essential part of this process.

The hiring process involves many steps, but interviewing is perhaps the most important. As we continue to manage through the COVID-19 crisis, in-person interviews may be off the table, but everything I recommend in this post can be done in a virtual environment to help improve hiring success. And even if you still have a hiring freeze in place, now’s a great time to step back, analyze your process and make improvements before hiring picks back up again.

Interviews are an opportunity to go beyond what a candidate looks like on paper and evaluate their skills, experience and cultural fit up close and in person. Getting this step wrong can have devastating consequences. Every bad hire costs your organization money and can open you up to legal issues. It also potentially damages customer relationships and erodes trust in your management team.

The issue is especially critical for high-growth companies, where the hiring volume can be significantly greater. In my first year with Eyewitness Surveillance we hired 50 people, increasing the workforce by about 50%.

When I joined as Director of People and Culture, I chose to focus on enhancing our interview process to ensure that we were putting the right person in the right seat from the beginning and setting the whole team up for success. We now have a structured process that includes preparation and innovations such as two-person interview teams and scorecards to ensure that the hiring team can dig deep, with specific areas of focus and standardization.

This in-depth, multi-round screening process ensures that we only meet the most highly qualified candidates in person.

Interview Process Steps

Step 1: Multi-Round Phone Screening

To set up for success, we allocate a disproportionate amount of work to the job description and selection methodology, which creates the foundation for a focused and deliberate interview process. The core tenets of a job description identify what success and a humming state looks like for that position. The job description also needs to account for the behavioral tendencies and vulnerabilities of the hiring manager. By creating this optimal experiential and behavioral profile, we can benchmark each candidate against the right attributes that create a symbiotic relationship to constructively challenge and elevate both the hiring manager and the overall team.

Conversations with each candidate start with two or three short (30- to 60-minute) phone screens to ask questions carefully tailored to reflect the pre-interview work on the job description. The first screen is conducted by someone in the People and Culture department to review the candidate’s background and confirm that they have the skills identified earlier as critical by the hiring manager.

The second phone interview is conducted by the hiring manager, who confirms the accuracy of the candidate’s resume and dives into the candidate’s experience and behavioral tendencies in greater depth.

We all can lose our objectivity. To counteract this tendency, the hiring manager must choose someone who will work closely with the candidate or who has a valuable outside perspective on the role to conduct a third phone interview. This in-depth, multi-round screening process ensures that we collect and verify candidate information thoroughly and only meet the most highly qualified candidates in person.

Allocate a disproportionate amount of work to the job description and selection methodology to create the foundation for a focused and deliberate interview process.

Step 2: Highly Targeted Pre-Interview Prep

After a candidate has passed the phone screens, they take a behavioral profile test to make sure they fit within the desired parameters. Then we set up the in-person interviews. For the foreseeable future, many companies will still conduct virtual interviews to limit exposure risk to COVID-19, but the preparation methodology should stay the same.

As I am sure many readers have experienced, interviewers often walk in completely unprepared. They may have just printed the resume five minutes beforehand or have no idea what the key decision points are for the role. We saw this time and time again, and it became another area of improvement. Remember, candidates are interviewing us as employers, too!

To address this lack of preparation, I work closely with the hiring manager to plan the in-person interview. First, I help them choose the interview team, which includes one or two individuals within the department as well as a few from the outside who may need to interact regularly with this role or can simply provide a valuable perspective. All interviewers have passed the interview prep training and are subject to feedback from the candidates on their interview experience.

Once the interview team is selected, I hold a prep meeting to go through the focus areas, the behavioral profiles and why certain traits are critical. This meeting is a forum to answer any questions and address concerns the team has about the candidate. The hiring manager will also highlight points of emphasis or concern based on the candidate’s resume and phone interview.

Our in-person interviews are designed to explore up to five focus areas required for the role. Focus areas are the skills that our organization has determined to be most critical to success on the job.

For example, when we hire a Regional Sales Manager, we focus on five different areas, including “desire for constant improvement and a curiosity for learning,” “business acumen and gravitas to understand and uncover customer needs,” and “grit and competitive drive.” Each focus area is very descriptive and broken into specific behaviors that the right candidate must demonstrate, thereby giving the requisite feel and flavor for interviewees to properly know the end goal.

Step 3: Team-Based In-Person or Virtual Interviews with Accountability

Candidates for open positions at Eyewitness Surveillance go through several interviews, each addressing a different focus area. Dividing up the focus areas gives each interview team the time to explore one area in depth. Too often, we interview people and leave it liking the person but realize we don’t know that much more about them. At Eyewitness, we stress that we must be investigators responsible for uncovering very specific information. Laser-focused questions uncover enough analysis to give a binary answer as to whether the candidate satisfies the qualities within their investigative purview. “Walk me through your resume” never happens now because it does not lead to satisfactory information.

“Walk me through your resume” never happens now because it does not lead to satisfactory information.

Each interview is conducted by a team of two—one person to focus on asking questions and staying engaged with the candidate, and one to take detailed notes. The person asking is equipped with a question sheet tailored to their assigned focus areas, and possibly areas in the candidate’s behavioral profile that warrant analysis. The note-taker is given a matching scorecard. After the interview, the note-taker will share the notes from the interview. Both the interviewer and note-taker will fill in a scorecard, which records whether Eyewitness should hire this person for the specific focus area that interview centered on. It also asks whether we should hire this person based on anything else learned during the interview. These are yes/no questions, and we want our interviewers to commit to a hiring decision on paper. (For more information on how to create a scorecard, read Kristen Chang’s GrowthBit on the topic.)

At the end of the interview process, the full hiring team comes together to discuss the results for each focus area as a group, and the hiring manager makes a final decision based on their own conclusions and the group’s input.

Organizational Impact

Since implementing this interview process, we have seen a huge difference in the quality of the interviews and the eventual hires. In addition, our staff and employee retention rates have significantly improved. By introducing more structure, consultation and planning into the process, we encouraged our staff to become more prepared and engaged, and to feel confident about the role they play in hiring.

The whole company can see how the interview process has positively impacted our ability to hire the most successful people into key roles.


Interview Process Best Practices

These six elements of the interview process were critical to success:

Get executive input: When I decided to rebuild our interview process, I worked closely with our president and CEO, holding multiple ideation sessions with them. Not only did this extensive consultation result in more informed and effective interviews, but it also helped to secure leadership buy-in.

Stay focused: Our process is structured so that every interview is focused on the areas that we know are most critical to job success. With tailored interview questions and scorecards based on those focus areas, we can be sure that every candidate is evaluated based on the most relevant and impactful criteria.

Prepare in advance: A prep meeting forces the interview teams to think carefully about what they’re looking for and walk into each interview informed and ready. Once the team is selected, I walk them through the focus areas and address questions or concerns they may have about the candidate. The hiring manager will emphasize key points to listen or watch for as well.

Interview in pairs: When you hold one-on-one interviews, you’re asking the interviewer to perform double duty as a note-taker. This interrupts the flow of the interview and prevents the interviewer from listening carefully to the candidate and staying fully engaged. Interviewing in pairs allows each team member to stay focused and receptive. It also provides good dialogue, perspective and clarification.

Engage the hiring manager: I work closely with the hiring managers to ensure they have the support to conduct a good interview and understand how to use the information they gathered to select the best candidate. Continuous communication with hiring managers is critical to the success of the interview process and the ultimate hire.

Create accountability: Our process is designed to require every member of the interview team to make a yes/no decision, and that’s critical for several reasons. First, it helps our employees feel like a valued part of the process. It also gives them control over who will join the team and it ensures that they put deep thought into the decision because they’re putting it in writing and know that they will be held accountable.

Here’s the bottom line.

Getting the right people in the right roles is critical for growing businesses, and the interview is the most essential part of this process. By being more intentional about our interview process and introducing innovations such as focus areas, two-person interview teams and scorecards, we created deeper engagement and accountability while improving hire quality and retention.