Interviewing and Screening for Success

There are many reasons people do not perform up to expectations after they’re hired. A tighter “front end” screening process will solve this problem.  Here’s what experience has shown is the best way to screen for success.

Prior to beginning the search, you brought together all the people who have a direct stake in this individual’s success and worked to build consensus on all of the parameters of the role – now you need to follow through and screen against those parameters.

WARNING: Don’t underestimate the importance of this task. No matter how many times your organization has recruited candidates for a given role; the elements of the position and/or the required background of candidates constantly change. It is never the same twice.

Executive Recruiting For Dummies {Dummies Press: Wiley 2017, David Perry & Mark Haluska}

Executive Recruiting For Dummies {Dummies Press: Wiley 2017, David Perry & Mark Haluska}

A Robust Interviewing process

You’ve invested thousands of dollars to come up with a short list of candidates that can take your organization to new heights.   A Search Committee has been assembled to help ensure a balanced perspective on each candidate. There is a Search Committee Chairman to keep the process in motion.  Assuming that attracting the very best executive onboard truly is critical, it is essential that you also have in place a robust interview process.  One designed to produce the executive hire you want AND provide a positive experience to the candidate.

Conceptually this is simple: it should be treated much like a first date. This is a business meeting, of course – of equals.  Both parties need to make a positive first impression.   Unfortunately many companies fail miserably at this stage no matter how compelling their brand.  You can avoid this potentially fatal gaffe simply by treating the candidate much as you would a senior executive from your largest client.   After all, you need this person as much as they in all probability need you. Now is not the time to play Mohammed and Mountain as so many companies do.  The company (of course) views itself as the mountain.

How candidates are treated from the second they arrive until their time of departure will leave a lasting impression which will do more to help you negotiate a final deal than anything else – including money.  Make it a positive experience.  Letting the wrong person slip through your fingers at this point may cause irreparable damage to your company’s future.  Or at the very least might cost you a richer compensation plan.

Shaping a robust interview process

What is a robust interviewing process?  It actually starts well before the interviews ever begin and though it can be defined in a variety of ways, listed below are some suggestions:

Before the interview

First, FedEX an itinerary to the candidate’s home address immediately after all plans have been laid out for the interview. Express mail is particularly important if the individual is currently employed. This eliminates the risk of an e-mail being opened at work.

[Fact is, most companies now (legally) monitor e-mail for things such as violations of no-compete agreements or to see who is loyal, who might be looking, and therefore who is next to be let go.]

  • An itinerary is especially important if there is travel involved.  If no travel is involved an itinerary is still needed. In addition to covering all travel arrangements, if any, let the candidate know in advance the time, date, and venue. In terms of actual meeting location, be cognizant about candidates being in public spaces including those areas of your company where employees or clients may recognize this person and compromise their confidentiality.
  • Notify your candidate who they will be greeted by upon arrival at the designated destination, who will be conducting the interview, and what format the interview will take. Indicate how long the interview is likely to be and what you will be covering.  Make sure all members of the Search Committee have a copy of the itinerary to avoid any confusion.

Second, if more than one individual will be involved with the interview process, educate all members of the interview panel on “how to be” an ambassador for the company. Your very first meeting should be scripted in a manner of speaking. We all think and perceive situations differently and what one member of the team may deem as acceptable protocol may not be consistent with what the other team members believe creates a “welcoming” atmosphere.

  • Be there a single round or several additional interviews planned for prospective finalists, one of the first things the Search Committee should have already agreed upon is a realistic and targeted time frame in which consensus will be met. This is important in final stages of the process which is the time you could be in danger of losing both your first and second choices for the position if assurances of timely feedback are not kept.
  • Although not every contingency is possible to plan for, if the Search Committee will be involved with the interviews; be mindful of everyone’s commitments such as meetings, required travel and vacation schedules.
  • Rescheduling a “first date” when it could have been avoided in the first place does not bode well for a better than good first impression.
  • If the single interview or a series of interviews is going to go for several hours, be sure to schedule breaks as nature does have a way of calling at most the inconvenient times.

Third, go over the candidate’s complete resume and Candidate Brief, if provided.  Ask yourself these questions:

  1. What has the candidate accomplished that is relevant to your goals?
  2. Does their experience meet your needs?
  3. Is the candidate’s story credible and convincing?

Lastly, your candidate should be promptly greeted by a member of the Search Committee or even the Committee Chairman.  Whoever is assigned to greet the candidate should also take the lead in introducing the candidate to all the individuals participating in the interview.

Prior to the interview, it is imperative that all members of the Search Committee and the Committee Chairperson have meticulously reviewed the candidates resume and any other materials (White Papers, articles, presentations, etc.) the candidate may have provided up-front. Have questions prepared to address any areas that beg for clarification.

Expect your ESP to brief you on the candidate fit.  If the fit is not perfect then expect the consultant to detail where they are shy on experience and why you should interview them. Your consultant should – at a minimum – provide you with a written Candidate Brief.

During the interview – start at their beginning

If the interview will be in a panel format, have a plan in place to clarify how the interview will flow.  Specifically, what information are you seeking?  Which questions will be asked to all candidates and who will be asking which questions?  Script the general outline and make certain everyone has reviewed it.

With the exception of HR, many senior executives are not fully conscious of what may or may not be asked in an interview.  This is a serious matter. In this day and age of political correctness and extremism, it would be a sound idea to run your questions by a senior member of your HR staff to ensure compliance with the current laws. Bear in mind, you are not asking for HR’s permission to ask what is needed, but rather if they are legal!

The legality of interview questions and HR involvement aside, do not be tempted to have HR actually fashion your interview questions. If you do, you are likely to receive a series of questions that very closely follow a prepared job description. Rarely if ever do questions based on a job description allow for one to weigh the essential skills, behaviors, and cultural fit necessary for success.

The most important information you need to glean from an initial interview has to do with their character – not their skill set because actions speak louder than words.  [NOTE: you would already have screened for the basic skills in the preceding section before you agreed to interview them.] Character can be distilled from the patterns which reappear throughout their life.  For our purposes, we’re looking to discover if they have a strong internal locus of control or not.  You’ll be able to assess this if you ask them to step you though their career ‘story’ from the beginning to the present day.  Themes will appear over and over again – how they addressed controversy, took on new challenges, and how their contribution impacted the organizations – or not.

The following explains how to do this unobtrusively. When you are interviewing actively listen to what the candidate is saying and how they are saying it.

  • Focus on the candidate’s accomplishments.  Did they grow as a result?
  • Find out why each career move was made.  Ask yourself – did it make sense?
  • Has there been steady career progression?
  • Was the candidate’s decision reasonable?
  • How clearly did they see the situation?
  • What are the driving forces in this person’s career and life?
  • Look for personal situations, which may influence performance.
  • Determine areas of job satisfaction and dissatisfaction.
  • Do the same things that were negatives in earlier situations exist in your company?
  • What does the length of tenure at each company tell you?
  • Are there holes in their story?
  • Is there anything unusual about the person? (Be careful here; unusual qualities, if used appropriately, can be real assets.)
  • Do they respond to situations in ways that will work in your organization?


  • Question inconsistencies.
  • Check out dates.
  • Look for subtle clues – i.e., vague answers to direct questions.
  • Get specific answers; if they are not specific, keep digging.

And lastly:

  • Is this an individual who stands out from others you have met?  What is it about them that makes them stand out?
  • How insightful are the candidate’s questions about your company?
  • Did they do their homework?
  • Can you discuss industry specific issues in depth?
  • Does their method of presentation make a positive impression?
  • Do you sense they are sincere?

Although you’ve carefully “planned” your traditional, situational and behavior based questions in advance, each and every candidate will undoubtedly bring to light certain points of significance that the interviewer(s) are going to want to follow-up on. Don’t hesitate for a moment to improvise with your questions to gain further discovery. Just keep them legal.

Closing the first interview and subsequent interviews

Irrespective of how many interviews there eventually will be, timely follow up is crucial with those individuals still in consideration as well as those who have been eliminated from contention.  If the Search Committee has (as they should have in the planning stages) agreed upon a target time frame to set follow-on interviews and reach consensus then there should not be any difficulty in saying to each candidate that,  “You’ll be contacted no later than “X”.  You of course then have to adhere to it too.  If you hired a consultant this is their job and it is critical they do it, as you will live with the consequences.