Hiring: how I evaluate candidates

Frankly, I pictured Sam getting bored or frustrated as time passed. As a result, I didn’t invite Sam back for a second round of interviews. I was in touch with Sam afterwards and provided a complete explanation of my reasoning; it turned out my projection had been spot on.

Victory_podiumOver the past few weeks, I’ve been doing some hiring. While comparing/evaluating candidates to choose the most suitable one, I realized:

  • that my thought process is quite involved; and
  • it might benefit some people – either hiring managers or applicants – in their own career journeys to understand that thought process

So, read on if you’re into that sort of thing.

At the highest level, there are three questions I’m looking to answer in an interview: Can you do the job? Will you like the job? Will we (as a team) work well together?

Sound familiar? That’s because I’ve written about it before.

[Related: enjoy this collection of posts relating to hiring]

Usually, just these three questions are sufficient to create some initial separation from the candidate pool (typically anywhere from 5-8 people).

After that ‘filter’, a few candidates remain and I have to dig deeper.

Plus, as much as possible (and how much is possible varies significantly), I want to tailor the role to a candidate.

Please allow me to get a bit engineery with you: choosing between candidates is like a big optimization exercise in which I’m trying to satisfy three simultaneous parameters. I have to define a role that:

  1. Aligns with / fulfills company and departmental objectives, the basic requirements of which are covered in the job post
  2. Caters to / leverages a candidate’s strengths and experience, which is where a good chunk of the tailoring comes in
  3. Taps into a candidates interests, which is responsible for the rest of the tailoring

…all while thinking about the medium and longer term.

That is, as I look forward to the evolving nature of our team and our department, I ask myself how the role will evolve in scope or function, and then ask if, in doing so, will it stay ‘aligned’ with the candidate (e.g., it’s no good if the role expands faster than the candidate, it’s no good if the role doesn’t evolve as quickly as the candidate needs/wants, and so on).

In other words, the three parameters above must be considered in the long term, in the larger context of the wider organization. Of course, I can’t perfectly anticipate the future, but I can feel pretty secure in some broad points and direction.

So here’s what I do: For each candidate who satisfied the initial ‘requirements’ (the three questions), I envision/define a role as per the three parameters above. In conjunction, I project 6 months, 1 year, 2+ years into the future to identify what functions, tasks, initiatives, etc. my team (Product Marketing) will likely need to cover in those time-frames.

This projection becomes the criterion by which I determine who to invite back for a second round of interviews: by comparing each role/candidate against the future, I attempt to determine who will be the best fit, enjoy the most success, and actually enjoy him- or herself the most, over the longer term, based on the (albeit) limited understanding of each person that I’ve developed through our initial conversation.

That is, as I look forward to the evolving nature of our team and our department, I ask myself how the role will evolve in scope or function, and then ask if, in doing so, will it stay ‘aligned’ with the candidate…This projection becomes the criterion by which I determine who to invite back for a second round of interviews.

Armed with a relative ranking of who I think will be the best long-term fit (and the person being happy/satisfied is a big part of that, for me), I invite some candidates back for subsequent interviews. If the rankings are tight, then I might invite more folks back; if there are some applicants who’ve separated themselves, then I’ll probably invite fewer. The subsequent interviews are, generally, with my boss, folks on my team, and some other marketing leaders. Typically, I’ll also quickly meet with each candidate again to ask any new or remaining questions, and to answer any questions that they’ve thought of during their most recent conversations.

My aim is to be left with at least two people who could realistically join the team, so I have a little bit of redundancy if my top pick starts getting unreasonable or unrealistic with his or her hiring terms.

Personally, I find this exercise to be very valuable. For instance, on a recent occasion I interviewed a candidate (for sake of explanation, let’s call the candidate Sam) and we really had a great initial interview – the hurdle of the big three questions was passed easily.

But as I projected things out, my ‘feel’ was that Sam would be a great addition in the short-term, but that about 8-10 months in we’d have some divergence, in that the evolution of the role wouldn’t properly tap into Sam’s skills and that we’d quickly exhaust some of the immediate objectives without filling the queue with suitable replacements. Frankly, I pictured Sam getting bored or frustrated as time passed. As a result, I didn’t invite Sam back for a second round of interviews.

Of course, I realize this is all speculation, and can seem unfair in the sense that the candidates don’t have the opportunity to provide a counter-view, but I have to do the best I can in the short time-frame I have, and all the candidates get evaluated in the same manner.

For whatever it’s worth, I was in touch with Sam afterwards and provided a complete explanation of my reasoning; it turned my projection had been spot on, with Sam saying, “I can’t argue the fact that this role likely would have a shorter term outlook for me.  The fact that so many of your programs paralleled similar programs at (my previous company) did make me feel a little deja vu.  I do like new challenges, so the bored factor was a concern.”

I was happy to read that, because it meant I hadn’t unfairly passed over a very qualified candidate. I’ll also keep Sam in mind both for future openings that are better aligned, and for opportunities that I hear about from peers in the local scene.

Anyway, I hope this insight is helpful in some way. I’d love to hear any comments, and I’m always open to learning how other people engage in hiring.

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Posted in Careers, Leadership, Management, Marketing

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