Years ago, when I started in this profession I remember firms doing some oddball things. One of them was hire someone after a brief meet and greet with very minimal interviewing and vetting. This worked out for a few but was far from a best practice. Mainly because there was scant time spent around assessing whether the candidate could perform the functions of the job or even knew what the job functions really were! Which is why we advocate for a strong position description and thorough skills testing process in the work we do with our clients. Fortunately, times have changed and as firms have grown larger and become more sophisticated they are utilizing different ways of interviewing. In this month’s article, we will review some of the most common interview approaches and how they could benefit your hiring process.
The three types we see most frequently are informal, semi-structured, and structured.
- Informal(Unstructured) Interview: This is not traditionally called an interview and often takes place in a casual setting such as over coffee, drinks, or lunch. Firms sometimes do this when they are unsure of their current staffing needs and want to spend time with a variety of candidates. Other firms choose to participate on an ongoing basis to maintain a healthy pipeline of candidates if/when the need arises. There are no pre-determined questions in this format and the interviewer can ask anything within the legal guidelines they would like.
Potential Benefits – Very easy to develop a rapport and dialogue with candidates using this approach, as candidates are more likely to open up and speak frankly. Flexibility to discuss a variety of topics and questions in a less threatening environment. There is no commitment expected, reducing the pressure to make an offer of employment. Ability to invite other staff members to interview, further assessing cultural fit. This is the most mutually benefiting interviewing format.
Potential Challenges – Top tier candidates will know they are being interviewed no matter how informal the positioning and setting and may not let their guard down. In a tight job market, candidates may refuse the interview if no current career opportunity is available. You don’t want to lead candidates on, but one way to combat this is to focus on the future by describing how the firm is growing and what a position down the road could entail. Difficult to objectively measure candidate rankings if comparing multiple candidates.
- Semi Structured (Hybrid) Interview: Offers a mix of pre-determined questions combined with the flexibility for the interviewer to explore areas further based on responses. Best used when there will be only one opportunity to interview the candidate. Depending on the size of the organization, one person might conduct these interviews or multiple team members might conduct interviews separately. If multiple interviews are being conducted with the same candidates, I suggest holding them individually, having each interviewer score the candidate on the pre-established rubric. From there share results in a collaborative group setting. This helps offset "groupthink" that can arise if multiple interviewers interview the candidate at once like a panel style interview.
Potential Benefits – Interviewers can prepare questions ahead of time. Keeps high socially, entrepreneur, type A firm owners who like and tend to want to hire everyone they meet to a qualitative and quantitative formula for selection. Provides firms “big data” analysis points to be used in lots of ways, but namely reconciling the fit, longevity and effectiveness of the hire made based on the scores they received during the interview process.
Potential Challenges – Can be rigid and not as free flowing as an informal. Interviewers need training and practice to not ask leading questions and/or suggest answers. Difficulty trying to write down the candidate’s response while focusing on the interview, resulting in poor note taking. Can be costly in terms of time and resources to collect and analyze data.
- Structured Interview: More commonly associated with larger firms (1+ billion in AUM). This format tasks the interviewer with asking all pre-determined questions in the exact same order producing a consistent interview over the hybrid format. Some firms create their own process and others use a vendor like Topgrading*.
Potential Benefits – If done correctly, provides the firm with an extremely precise comparison of candidates. Results and success ratio much easier to track. Candidates might feel more comfortable knowing they are being measured on their skills and not subjectively. Offers a more rich, comprehensive view into the candidate.
Potential Challenges – Sheer length of the process might prompt an otherwise good candidate to remove themselves from consideration. Inflexibility with regard to going off script gives the interviewee less chance to tell their story and for the interviewer to learn potentially important details. Candidates adjusting their answers based on ‘social desirability bias’.
You should select the one that most closely represents your style and culture and for the position you are hiring. It is not necessarily efficient to have multiple interview processes, but we have found that the informal and semi structured options work well for client facing type roles where a candidate has ample opportunities to demonstrate communication abilities, personality and emotional intelligence. Unstructured tends to work well for the administrative, operations, and client service type roles. Keep in mind though, no interview process is fail proof and remember you can ask all the right questions and have a hire still not work out. Hiring is both art and science so whatever model you think works best for your needs consider building in some flexibility, so you truly get to know who you will be relying on to get your firm to the next level.