A Guide to the Interview Process

Once you’ve posted your job, collected the résumés, and identified the most promising applicants, it will be time to begin the interview process. But where to begin?

Phone interviews as a first step – As search consultants, we often conduct phone interviews with promising candidates. In a call we can quickly get a read on a candidate’s communication style, sense of humor, and seriousness about the job. We also check to see whether the anticipated salary range is really acceptable, so nobody’s time is wasted moving forward. These initial conversations also provide an opportunity to explore more deeply their level of experience with key aspects of the position and to dig into any questionable aspects of the résumé or cover letter: “What about the four-year gap in your work history?” Once the candidates’ responses and our impressions are relayed back to the search committee, members are able to make an informed decision about whom they would like to interview.

Initial interviews with the committee – After the initial phone screening, we recommend that the search committee conduct 45-60 minute interviews with the candidates it considers most promising. If the candidates are local, interviews may be done in person, but Skype or Zoom video conferencing can also work well for this purpose and avoids the need to reimburse candidates for their travel expenses. In a case where some candidates are local and others are “from away,” video conferencing with all helps to level the playing field.

By asking the same set of questions—developed and agreed upon in advance—and giving the candidates time to ask a few questions of their own, the committee is sure to identify whom they would like to move to the next stage in the interview process.

On-site interviews – Bringing candidates on-site for a tour and a variety of interviews and meetings is usually the final step in the interview process, reserved for the best of the best applicants. Keeping in mind that you want your candidates to be impressed, excited, well-informed, and ready to say “yes” if you make the job offer, who they meet with is an important consideration.

In addition to a final interview with the search committee, we suggest inviting interested and available board members to join the candidate for coffee or lunch where they will have the opportunity to engage the candidate in casual conversation to assess potential fit more holistically. Structuring meetings with staff is usually dependent upon the size of the organization. Sometimes it makes sense for the candidates to have one-on-one meetings with individual senior managers, while other times it works best to plan one or more group meetings with direct reports or managers.

In all cases, role clarity and the management of expectations is very important. Those who meet with the candidates need to appreciate that their time with the candidates is a “two-way street.” Just as they’ll want to vet the candidates and relay their impressions to the search committee, the candidates will want an opportunity to ask their questions and assess the board and staff.

Provide a vehicle for feedback – In all cases where board, staff, or other stakeholders meet with the final candidates, it is essential to have a vehicle to allow for feedback to the search committee. Without closing this loop you might miss the benefit of their perspective and unique takeaway; as importantly, you risk sending the message that you didn’t really care about their opinions. Our experience suggests that an online feedback survey (with a link provided immediately after their interaction with the candidate) is an efficient way to get a quick read on how those who are not on the search committee feel about each candidate.

Be clear upfront – However you decide to structure your interview process, let board and staff know upfront if or how they will have an opportunity to be involved. Board members need to appreciate their roles and responsibilities, and clarity with the staff will help reduce misunderstandings and hard feelings down the road. While many details of the hiring process should remain confidential, being open about the steps you’ll take, the timeline, and how your various stakeholders will be engaged is key to bringing the search to successful conclusion and preparing your organization for a positive transition.

This blog post, authored by Jeff Wahlstrom, is an example of the kind of advice we offer our clients. Additional information about Starboard Leadership Consulting can be found on our website: www.starboardleadership.com, or you can begin the conversation today by clicking here and filling out a contact form. We look forward to hearing from you!