Recruiting: Where the stress begins – for your company.

Image: kissclipart / clipartlibrary / Christian Kloß

„I entered the room and there they were: the group leader, a prospective co-worker – and a screen. The screen showed another two people being „present“ from a city far away via video-call. On the wall, my presentation was already sporting its title slide.

I sat down.

„We will follow a specific structure“, the group leader said, and added: „for the matter of comparability.“ I nodded – and that’s where the nightmare began.

The so called „interview“ began and it couldn’t be worse: I answered work related questions, which felt like in a school exam, I came across a misunderstanding the group leader had regarding my CV, which could have been easily cleared up in advance via email (but wasn’t) – and I never felt like myself.

In fact, I did not get the impression the „interviewers“ ever got an actual impression of me, myself, my abilities – just about how this corset of „structure“ made me be the role this very corset forces me into.

But, one thing, I was sure of: this will lead to a refusal.“ *

Unsolved: the person

Companies usually sacrifice getting to know a person for comparability.

They believe, having a clear cut model and set-up of an interview situation makes it easier to decide, because such a structure, or corset, as the example puts it, makes it easier to reconstruct what has happened. In fact, it does! But on what cost?

In order to reach comparability, one has to set up a structure in two dimensions:

  1. Time
  2. Content

Content forces the interviewee to believe, as soon as he answered the question, she/he cannot go further because she/he knows, there is a next question, a next step, a next thing to be presented from the interviewer – and she/he will be waiting for this.

At the same time, the interviewer cannot, for the sake of sticking to the plan, dive into issues that might be of interest and have popped up on the way but nobody thought about them beforehand. Because, the interviewer thinks, when doing so, comparability goes down the drain since this route would be different than the one taken with other interviewees.

Time makes the whole thing worse – but it’s not the time of the interview as a whole, since every conversation has to end at one point. And it surely makes no sense to talk for hours. Time, in this regard, refers to the time slots for every aspect in the interview: e.g. the candidate will be given ten minutes for her presentation, then another approximately ten to talk about her past career, another fifteen to delve into testing her professional knowledge, and so forth, because all the single issues of the „corset“ have to be addressed in order to be comparable since all the other candidates had and will have the same questions to answer.

In terms of empirical social research, this is called a standardized interview: No matter what happens, no matter what the answers will be, the next question is fixed and ready: Go!

Not time for twists

Recruiting is tough and there might be higher forces to be met in order to fulfill your own requirements as a recruiter: e.g. you need to report your findings, you need to justify „why her?“, or you have to minute every appointment to present them to your boss.

Let’s assume, the candidate twists the situation by asking you:

  • Why did you invite me?
  • What do you think of [and then pulls up a professional, work related, but intellectually very demanding question]?
  • etc.

In other words, what if the candidate had many questions himself in order to get to know YOU better? At least, he had the right as well to know who he’ll be working with. Or should employment be a one-way street in terms of personal fit?

Very likely, you’d feel the same as the example in the beginning depicted: hard-pressed, on a time schedule, and pressured by „what’s next?“

But even if you could answer these questions and handle such a situation very well, which would be nice for the candidate to get to know you better and get a better feeling if this is gonna be a good work relation – it will never happen.

Because there won’t be any time!

The interview schedule rarely leaves time for the candidate to pose her questions sufficiently and if she tries, immediately the nagging feeling of her being nosy or similar might come up.

Narrative interviews: for high potentials

An alternative version or style of interviews in social sciences is called „narrative interviews“. They aim for the interviewee to talk freely and unrestrained (although there is, as stated before, also a time limit). The idea behind this method is, to open up the „field“, to discover what has not been thought about – eventually, to find new theses to be tested. There are many other aspects to be met in order to qualify for a good narrative interview – one of them is, the interviewer shall interfere as little as possible to not disturb the process by forcing in his own ideas. Because, this might tarnish the quality of the outcome, since the interviewee always reacts to what the scientist brings forward.

For the recruiting process, this means, the interviewer is digging for gold nuggets.

Since the resume shows what the candidate has done, the matter of current creativity, of impetus and wit does not show between the lines.

Also, a structure or corset of an interview will not make the candidate feel comfortable – but our human brains do not work well creatively when they can’t be free wheeling. In other words: if you put pressure on the candidate, you will find the best candidate who can stand an interview under pressure. Again: an interview under pressure (not merely pressure!) but the one with the most outstanding ideas will probably crumble, since her brain cannot unfold.

This gets more and more important, the more creativity the job requires. Which usually is the case with higher responsibilities or very highly qualified employees you are looking for.

A narrative interview in a recruiting situation therefore plans for enough time to allow „free-wheeling“ phases and requires a very mindful presence of the interviewer.

If you, as an interviewer, are just waiting to ask the next question, there won’t be a conversation. You’ll feel the rush and the candidate feels it too. But if you are interested in digging for gold nuggets, this feeling will be mutual also. Mindful presence therefore means, to pick up on what the candidate says and go further from there. Usually, at one point, every person reveals one thing personal about himself. This would be the moment to pick up on.

But, make no mistake: if you’re faking your interest, it won’t last long and you’re back in the corset. This is, why not only the executive or manager should talk to the candidate.

Where the stress begins

When in an open conversation, every time something happens what people refer to as: feeling. It’s irrational, it’s hard to prove and it can usually not be documented. But one thing is for sure: You know if you like this person and want to spend time together.

Don’t you want to know this for your work relations? Because, surely, you are going to spend a lot of time together with this person. A lot!

In other words: If you do not pick the person you like, you will plant the seed for a lot of stress – for yourself and for your company.

Here is the moment for some platitudes: People are very different, they usually have a very distinct personality and they have their own stories with their own habits, pet-peeves and point of views. In short: everybody is a very different cog. And none of them interlocks with all of the others very well.

The personal level, personality and character, are very important parts of this cog and when they do not fit, professional skills will very quickly be lost in the background of what then becomes the foreground: staff trouble.

An entire world of research has established around the matter of stress and pressure and people who can no longer work well at their workplace – and they most of the time complain about interpersonal matters. So, it’s not how their arm rest is adjusted or if they have a long enough lunch break, but it’s about how the cogs are grinding against each other.

This has a lot to do with matters of organizational culture, but that’s a different blog entry – following soon.

It also means, avoiding stress and reducing stress in your company starts with recruitment and it is much more a matter of personality traits and character than it is of the employee’s professional skills. Start improving on this one by focusing on the gut level.

Meet the team on a gut level

There are some companies who practice the narrative interview set-up in their recruitment. Many know about it but are either afraid or believe there is no time to use it. Sometimes, it’s being modeled into covering several aspects in different interviews, as lots of the big consulting firms do. They invite you for an entire day to talk to several prospective co-workers and your potential boss in single interviews. Every interviewer tests you on several issues, because they do not want to be fooled on the professional skills of the candidate.

But what is going on on a much more important level is: while spending time together, every co-worker gets an impression of who might be working here soon. They get a feeling of this very person.

The 3M corporation, allegedly, lifted this concept to a higher level. Every invited candidate will talk to every member of the team individually. By this, the team will get a very good impression and everybody has a say in the process.

Let’s assume, every member says: „YES! I want to work with her! Hire HER!“ Wouldn’t you, as an executive manager, be glad about this finding?

Imagine, what an empirical support you would have for this decision!

There would be no surprise for any team member as of „who is this new guy!?“ The legitimization for the hire would be supported by the entire team. The team would have checked very different aspects you would not have even thought about yourself – let alone to have spend so many hours of your precious time. Everybody would be motivated to welcome the new team member. Maybe, the new employee found already friends in the team – at least, it will be a lot easier for her.

This would never work in your team?

Well, here’s the bad news: a good team is not just there. It needs to be built! There surely is just a little won if everybody is fine with the new guy but your current team members are already at war among each other. It’s a no-brainer, the newbie won’t be happy for long.

But, every bigger thing starts with the first step (back to platitudes).

Contact me for details! And we can sort out a strategy for your new recruitment and for building the better team and reducing the stress in your company at the same time.

*the introduction story is fictional but based on several situations from experiences reported to the author.

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