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How to Use Second Interviews to Better Vet Potential Candidates by Jack Craven (Appeared in Forbes.com 12/29/16)

Jack Craven
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February 3, 2017

*How to Use Second Interviews to Better Vet Potential Candidates by Jack Craven as featured in Forbes.com on Dec. 29, 2016

Steve ran a growing company. They had outgrown their bookkeeper and needed a CFO to take the company to the next level. An executive search firm presented a candidate (Ed) with stellar credentials. Ed had worked for large, respected organizations and had great references. Steve was enamored that someone like Ed wanted to work for his small, growing company. During the second interview, Ed's questions to Steve focused on pay and future equity in the company. Ed kept pressing the future equity issue throughout the second interview, even after Steve said it would be tabled for two years and moved the conversation to Ed's background and success. Steve's gut told him Ed was too rigid, in posture and temperament, but he focused on Ed's background and decided to hire him.

Two year later, business process and financial reporting improved. Yet, every employee avoided Ed and company meetings were stressful. Vendors also avoided talking to Ed because he never conceded or compromised, whether the issue was big or small. Frustrated, Steve terminated Ed, began a new search, and repaired the strained relationships with his employees and vendors.

If your second interview style mirrors Steve's or you've failed to adequately vet candidates, it's likely because you've treated the second interview like the first. You want to get beyond a candidate's stock answers, reaffirm your opinions, and fill any gaps about them. Change your mindset for the second interview to the goal of weeding out all but the most qualified candidates. By following the below steps, you can successfully find the right fit for your organization.

Pre-interview process

  1. Get more people involved for a cross-section of feedback. Be thoughtful in identifying who should be part of the second round of interviews with the candidates. Give your interview team support on types of questions to ask and what to look for from the candidate. Everyone needs a clear understanding of the job description, goals and expectations of the hire. Had Steve invited other key employees to the interviewing process, for example, they likely would have also mentioned their concern about Ed's rigid behavior.

The Interview process:

  1. Everyone involved in the interview process should agree on the key characteristics and areas to focus during the interview. Have them rank they key areas (skills, experience, culture fit and leadership style). Culture fit and values are more important than work history. Help those involved frame questions tied to the agreed key areas. Have them take detailed notes. Everyone on the team should complete a scorecard, ranking each area. The scorecard helps create an objective rating for each candidate.
  2. Listen to the candidate's responses and questions. Are they listening or anticipating questions? Does the answer sound canned? Are their questions and answers insightful? Do they show a true understanding of the job and what is expected? Ask what about this job excites them? Ask the candidates to share their accomplishments and listen if they also acknowledge their team. As they talk, what is your gut telling you (are there red flags)? 
  3. Get candidates out of their comfort zone. Have the candidates meet with a group or team to see how they handle the stress of a round robin of questions. Ask probing, direct questions in ares where they are more vulnerable (job history gaps).
  4. A little stress can show you how they react. I once interviewed a candidate and saw that he had a handwritten page of talking points for the second interview. I asked if I could see his notes to understand what he felt was most important to cover. To his credit, he handed me his notes. I liked what I saw, and he ended up getting the job.
  5. Ask questions to learn about their thought process. Sometimes, I have given candidates an assignment between the first and second interview. Find a current issue within the company that relates to the job opening. You can learn how they approach an issue, problems solve, and how seriously they take the assignment.
  6. As they share their work history, ask them the names of the key people they worked with. Write these names down. After the interview, select the names of the people who were involved at significant periods. Get the candidate's permission to talk to your choice of people, rather than call the candidate's hand-picked references.
  7. Then ask the candidate to list three people that they helped develop professionally (if relevant). How quickly do they answer the question? If they still keep in contact with the person, it shows they developed a close relationship. Then ask permission to contact these names as references, as well, in order to learn about the candidate's leadership style. This will help you see if the person's style is a good fit for your company.

Post Interview Process:

  1. Have a debrief with each person who was part of the interview process. Review their rankings, impressions and reasoning, and get their feedback. What were the candidate's answers to key questions? What questions did they ask? What did they observe about body language, attitude, energy and temperament? Did thet cnadidate treat everyone with respect? Have them share any red flags.
  2. Follow up with the references you felt would be most important to contact. Corroborate key areas. Ask questions about the candidate's leadership traits that are most important regarding your fit and opening.
  3. Do a background check and verify employment history. Don't assume that everyone is accurate in their resume.
  4. Make your hiring decision and send out an offer letter.
Jack Craven
Jack Craven is an executive coach to business leaders, and the teams and companies they lead.

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