How to Improve Employee Retention With a Thoughtful, Multi-Stage Hiring Process
Sometimes the potential talent to join our team is right in front of us and then what? We freeze. It’s like the dog that catches the ice cream truck… now what? What do I say? What do I ask? In what setting should I hold the interview? How do I really know if they will fit in my organization? There are so many candidates – where do I even start?
This second installation in a two-part series on hiring top talent will attempt to answer these questions. (Check out part one on attracting the right applicants here.) Maybe not the ice cream truck question, but we’ll focus on how to interview to capture each candidate’s strengths and gauge his or her potential fit with your company. This process can be lengthy, but it is critical to hire the right people. A mis-hire can damage employee retention and wastes your organization's time and resources. With a thorough, and well thought out plan, you can get it right the first time.
Before I dive into how to set up your interview process, here are a few tips that will help you craft a successful job interview.
- Interesting Vs. Useful - Our firm believes interviews should be both interesting and useful. In a traditional interview setting, most interviews are just interesting. . . or not. There are few drivers that can make your interviews go from friendly, casual conversations with no focus to a series of meaningful and intentional conversations that lead you to a clear decision on whether the candidate is a fit.
- Start With the End in Mind - You spent time and brain power to create the “Selection Profile” – a job description that goes beyond job duties and describes the behaviors and actions you want from an employee. Use that “Selection Profile” throughout the interview phase. It will help you compare what you said you are looking for to each candidate’s qualifications and skills. There are multiple stages in the interview process, and by staying focused on the outcome, you will be much more effective.
- Embrace the Process - I have never hired anyone after one interview. You might think you want to, but you owe it to the candidate and to yourself, to continue conversations so both sides have an opportunity to see if this is the right fit.
- Script it Out - Write out your questions for each interview stage. Create questions that are right for both the role and your organization. Then rinse and repeat. You might have some edits on questions from role to role, but many of your questions will become core to your interview process that you can use over and over. This is another great way to be efficient and effective.
- Impress Your Prospects - The talent is interviewing you as diligently as you are interviewing them, so blow them away with your impressive, intentional questions and organized interview process. Having the mindset to wow them throughout the process, even if you don’t hire them, will create fans of your brand beyond this search.
- Funnel of Selection – or Elimination - Separate your interviews into stages as a way to reduce the number of qualified candidates along the way. This is an efficient way to cull through large amounts of applicants in a fair and objective way. Each step should dramatically reduce the number of applicants moving down the hiring funnel.
- Listen Closely - In every stage, you can learn a lot by listening and paying attention. Do they share specific stories, or are they canned and regurgitated? They “say” they have accomplished something, but do they have evidence to back it up? How about their temperament? Do their answers reflect the culture and goals of your company?
Now, let’s get into the actual interview and hiring process. Following are the five stages of a successful hiring process.
Use this stage as an opportunity to compare your Selection Profile to the candidate's resume. Look for impact items, experience in execution of the role you are hiring for, and even progression in career. This is a very easy process to filter out candidates that just aren’t going to be able to be a fit. Send a nice decline letter for those that don’t make it through this initial screen.
This is a quick call – maybe 20 minutes. This is framed to the candidate as a touch point or introductory call just to establish a connection, but you can garner a lot in a short time. Focus this stage on seeking why they are excited about the opportunity. You will be able to get a feel for their motivations and expectations for the role. Some things you should think about on this call:
- Are they excited about your company?
- Were they prepared for the call?
- How did they relate to you?
If you can answer these questions positively, set up your first in-depth interview. If this is not a candidate you want to continue with in the process, send a nice decline letter.
In-Depth Interview #1
My team always does this first interview on the phone, regardless if we are in the same city. The reason is you want to focus on depth and quality of conversation in this interview. Stay focused the content of the conversation. You don’t want distractions of any sort. And in reality, you still have a large number of candidates to vet, so it is more efficient to have a call.
In this interview stage, focus on what drives the candidate to succeed:
- What got this person where they are?
- How did he or she accomplished something in a previous role?
- How did the candidate overcome a challenge?
- What is a mistake he or she made and how did that person resolve it or learn from it?
I am a big believer in what is officially called behavioral-based interviewing. In simple terms, past success is a significant predictor of future success. If candidates can give examples, real examples, of how they have done something that you will need them to do in this role, the chances of them replicating these successes in your organization are greater. Use this call to let them tell their story. If this is not a candidate you want to continue with in the process, send a nice decline letter.
In-Depth Interview #2 (Or More)
If they have made it this far, you certainly have a strong feeling that they can do the job from a competency standpoint. This stage is focused on two things: cultural fit and leadership fit. Ask questions around culture and your leadership style that will help you identify how you would work together and how they would work with your team. You might ask:
- Tell me how you build trust with a new team
- How do you see your first 60 days?
- What would you need from me in order to be successful?
- Thinking about how you like to be led, what would be important for me to know?
- How have you received critical feedback from your manager in the past and how did you handle it?
- And of course, what questions do you have?
If this is not a candidate you want, call them with a short, yet gracious, decline that you are moving forward in the process with other candidates who are a better fit for this position, but you enjoyed getting to know them.
This is it. The moment for you to decide: offer or no offer. Use this time as wrap-up interviewing. What didn’t you get answered that you feel you need to know? Do you need other people within your organization to also interview the candidate? If so, make sure you show off your snazzy interviewing process and questions; set the tone for how you want him or her to handle the candidate interview; and share how you have navigated this candidate through the interview process so far, so that colleague can best reflect your organization’s recruitment brand to the candidates.
If this is not a candidate you want to continue with in the process, call them with a short, yet gracious, decline that you are moving forward in the process with other candidates that are a better fit for this position, but you enjoyed getting to know them.
Plan for Success, Mitigate Risks
As thorough as this process is, we are all human beings… so you aren’t perfect and can surely mis-hire. But what this process does do is mitigate potential mistakes that many hiring managers make with an abbreviated, unstructured, or empty interviewing process.
This process helps set up success for both you and your new hire. So if it seems like a lot of work, it is. But the work (and cost) of losing an employee – either on their decision or yours – and rehiring and rehiring and rehiring after mistakenly hiring the wrong person, is much more of a time drain. Plus it is a cultural blemish that can reach far beyond a “bad hire,” because turnover is contagious.
Talented employees want to know it is hard to get a job at your organization; that you are willing to put in the work to respect the current team; that you thoughtfully add each new hire with intention and thorough vetting.
Handling the No
Notice how each step along the way has instructions on how to decline the applicant. Why? Because each prospect deserves communication on the status of their application. They took the time to apply; you take the time to let them know where they are in the process. Besides being the right thing to do, it is a direct reflection on your organization. Each stage can have a set up where the “decline” is done in the most efficient and “stage appropriate” way. At the front end, during the screener, there is nothing wrong with an automated email that goes out to each “no” applicant. A phone call decline is more appropriate once prospects have reached a certain point in the process.
The most significant message around the decline is this: You have an opportunity to leave on a classy and respectful note with someone who has an interest in your organization. The way you handle the decline will say a lot. You have a tremendous opportunity to create a fan of your organization, and it’s hard to put a dollar figure on that.
As CEO/President of Accendo International, Kimberly is a seasoned strategist who provides expert guidance to C-Suite executives, senior-level management, corporate and nonprofit boards, and managers identified as high-potential performers. Her deep experience across numerous industries enables her to help clients around the globe identify and execute human capital strategies that elevate ROI through greater organizational capabilities and performance.