Listening vs hearing: Why interviewing leaders is not a one-way process

Interviewing is not straightforward and its critical to thoroughly prepare in order to get it right. Think about not just what the person you’re interviewing is saying, but what you are hearing, and what they are hearing from you.

The interview is a crucial aspect of the hiring process and its importance should never be underestimated.

The humble interview is and always has been a pivotal stage in executive recruitment. In a market that is not just candidate short, but quality candidate short, getting it right is key to selecting great and extraordinary leaders for your business.

Amidst the excitement of the interviewing process, it’s possible to get caught up into viewing it as a one-way interaction. In fact, it’s a mutually beneficial process. You don’t just choose the candidates – they choose you.

This means preparing for an interview is as important for the interviewer as it is for the candidate.

Saying verses hearing

Firstly, it’s important to remember that there’s so much more to an interview than what the candidate is saying. What they’re saying are the facts – and is really just an expansion upon the information you can find on a CV.

What you can hear if you try is emotions, both conscious and unconscious, which help build a picture of who they are as a person. These emotions can be gleaned from paying attention to the words they use and how they are saying them, as well as how they deliver them. All these together can demonstrate patterns which say a lot about a person.

So, when hiring, look out for what a person is really saying. Let the conversation flow. If necessary, take them out of the board room and for a coffee. Pay attention to their body language. How they treat the wait staff. Watch what they do before and after the interview as well as during.

This of course goes the other way. Be conscious of what you’re saying about yourself and the organisation as the candidate will also be looking for clues on the culture and work environment. How you, as the leader, communicate in the interview will give the candidate insight into how you will communicate in the business. This will help both of you make a decision on whether it’s the right match.

Honesty is the best policy

In an interview, there’s no point in trying to hold back. Being honest with the candidate will virtually guarantee honesty in return.

Paint a picture by explaining exactly what the job is and what you foresee the role to be – including specifics. Explain typical scenarios they are likely to face and why the role is important to the success of the company.

They will appreciate the information, plus the way you communicate will demonstrate to them that has a clear you have a clear understanding of the job and how it adds value to the company.

Ask the right questions

Questions are of course the foundation of the interview, but not all questions are created equal. The quality of the answer is determined by the quality of the question.

The difference between a good and bad question comes down to agenda. If you ask a question with your own agenda in mind, instead of the other person, then that’s a bad question which usually leads to the answer you want to hear, rather than a genuine answer.

Asking good questions helps people to explore their thinking. They start with ‘what’ and “how” to allow for open exploration. They provide the space to answer thoroughly by offering silence and stillness. It is amazing what you can discover when you simply stay still.

Another point to keep in mind when framing questions is to make them open ended.  Closed questions such as “did you” or “can you” encourage a yes or no answer and make it impossible to get the full story or visualise someone’s expertise. Instead, use words such as “who, what, how, why and when” or “tell me more about”.

To dig even deeper, think about flowing questions, which keep the conversation moving. This involves phrases like “go on”…”tell me more”….and “what else”…

Also, go back to the concept of the interview being a mutually beneficial arrangement, and allow the candidate the opportunity to ask lots of questions.  This will help them to find out more about you and your company. It will also provide insight into how much research they have completed, therefore helping you gauge their interest in the job by the questions they ask and the way they

Prepare, and then prepare some more

Interviews are many things, but long they are not. Generally, you have only an hour to uncover enough information to make a decision.

Make the most of the time by preparing questions well in advance and making sure they correspond to the role you’re looking to fill. Read CVs, covering letters and any other information thoroughly and adjust your list of questions accordingly. All of these resources will help you build a story about the candidate – how they communicate, their style, their personal brand. All of this adds to your understanding on who they are as a person in addition to their technical ability.

How well or badly you prepare will easily be observed by the candidate. The more you prepare, the more engaging and positive the interview experience will be.

Be yourself and showcase your personal brand

It is important to be yourself and let the interviewee get to know you. Can you see yourself working closely together, everyday? If the answer is yes, then things are off to a good start.

During the interview, the employee and employer relationship will develop. Having a personal connection and respectful engagement is the basis of an effective relationship.

It’s also important to showcase your personal brand during the interview, to help you build a deeper relationship and trust with the candidate. This is separate to building the employer brand, which is equally important in attracting top talent. Both are complementary to each other during the interview process and in attracting, hiring and retaining talent.

Follow up

How you follow up and provide feedback will also give the candidate an idea of your personal values and how you engage. Poor communication during the recruitment process will reflect negatively on your employer and personal brand. People have long memories and if they are treated badly or ghosted, this will impact your ability to hire in the future.

Be respectful and kind, but provide specific feedback. Generic comments will make a candidate feel disregarded and undervalued. Give people time by making an effort to provide meaningful feedback.

The interview is a crucial aspect of the hiring process and its importance should never be underestimated. It’s your opportunity to deep dive into the candidate’s ability, character, skill, and motivation. To find the best leaders for your business, it’s worth putting time and effort into getting the best information out of the candidate and also paying careful attention to how you present to them.

The Hunton Executive Team has a wealth of experience in executive and leadership recruiting. Contact us to find out how we can help you.


Related Articles