In my many years of helping managers prepare to interview candidates, I often handed out an interview checklist as a tool to help evaluate the candidate’s performance. How was their eye contact? How well did they answer the questions?  Did they dress appropriately?  Did they have a firm handshake? How was their first impression? All these things and more are either mentally or physically checked off during the interview process.

But as I do more one-on-one career coaching, I realize how many talented and accomplished prospective employees aren’t discovered when interviewers primarily follow a checklist.  In coaching sessions, you have time to take a deep dive into a client’s work experience and pull out achievements which the client had forgotten or didn’t think were achievements at all. However, in an interview setting, often the interviewer is focused on a specific list of questions and their interview checklist, which frequently don’t get to the candidate’s whole story.  

I guess what I am asking is, is there a better way to interview?  Should we eliminate candidates for one grammar mistake, or a limp handshake? To be clear, I’m not advocating for candidates who come in unprepared, but for those who were a little nervous, or perhaps their answers didn’t meet expectation. Just as some people are not good test takers, there are those who are not good interviewees, but are well qualified for the position, and if given a chance would make excellent employees.

As an HR practitioner, I know providing managers with a checklist makes us a little more comfortable that some employment law isn’t broken, but we must find the middle ground if we ultimately want to end up with the best employees in the right roles.

So, what can we gain by making the interview process more conversational, and asking in-depth follow-up questions? Or by wanting to see the candidate do good in the interview and help them to get over their nervousness by redirecting a question or two? Perhaps you will uncover remarkable experience that the candidate has acquired that can significantly impact your company. Or possibly going the extra mile to get the candidate’s whole story will result in you making a great hire versus a good hire. Because beyond the nervousness, the sweaty palms, and the rambling answer is a person who might not check all the boxes, but is ultimately the best candidate for the job.

Shaunna Tyus, SPHR, SHRM-SCP is a human resources retention consultant specializing in helping organizations that are losing sales or productivity because of high turnover find the root causes and make adjustments that result in increased employee happiness, productivity, and retention.

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