As a hiring manager, your goal is to gather enough information about each candidate to predict who will succeed on the job. But moving candidates through an interview process without sacrificing rigor is a balancing act. Rigor doesn’t come from the number of interviews you schedule or the amount of time you require of candidates. It comes from structuring your interviews well and using proven methods to assess each candidate’s job competencies. Your goal should be to draw the best candidates in and evaluate them thoroughly while avoiding unnecessary barriers that can negatively impact their experience. Here’s our perspective on what works and what doesn’t.

Rigorous Practices That Work

Competency-Driven Interviewing

Due to a series of cognitive errors, faulty opinions, and unexamined biases, common interview practices are often flawed. Competency-based or skills-based interviewing is a more effective approach that generates consistently good hiring results. Find a full, step-by-step guide here. Some highlights:

  • Decide what you want to learn before the interviews. Determine the business results you hope to achieve with this new hire, the competencies required to achieve them, and what working style and values might add to your organization’s culture. Use these to inform your questions.
  • Decide who you will include in the hiring decision and their specific roles. Debrief everyone with your performance expectations, desired competencies, and the type of feedback you’ll expect. Read more about how to include colleagues in your interview sequence here.
  • Create a welcoming environment for candidates; be kind and respect their time.
  • Prepare in-depth questions for the second interview, work sample testing exercises when appropriate (see below), and establish a framework for evaluating what you’ve learned.

Skills-Based Assessments

We recommend using skills-based assessments at different points of the hiring process. Because these assessments can be rigorous, some of our clients ask if that rigor might potentially cause some candidates to disengage. Over hundreds of searches, we have found the opposite. Most candidates appreciate this skills-based approach. It helps them think deeply about how their skills align and allows them to demonstrate their strengths and visualize themselves in the position. And, for candidates drawn from traditionally underrepresented backgrounds, it sends a powerful signal that you evaluate candidates consistently and fairly.

According to a 2022 study by talent success company Criteria, “94% of candidates say assessments demonstrate their potential well. And 74% agree that assessments help them demonstrate their potential beyond their past experience.”

Here are two types of assessments we use:

  • Supplemental information form. Following the initial screening call, we ask candidates to submit written answers to questions directly tied to the competencies needed for the role. We encourage hiring managers to read them before reviewing resumes, like a “blind” first interview. Many clients say this gives them far more useful information than a resume ever could and widens the pool of candidates they will consider.
  • Work sample testing. Later in the process, we recommend giving candidates a sample of actual work to do. Research shows that work sample testing is more predictive of success on the job than the interview itself. This should involve no more than two hours of work with a week to prepare. We advise against work sample testing any earlier in the process; at the initial stages, it can be a barrier to candidates who are not yet invested in the process with you. For guidance on this step including examples from association and nonprofit executive searches in a range of functional areas and career levels, read How Work Sample Tests Help You Hire Better. You might also like How to ChatGPT -Proof Your Work Sample Tests.

Practices That Create Barriers

Several commonly used hiring practices actually create barriers to developing a large, inclusive pool of candidates. They ask for a lot of time from candidates without yielding the information you need to make a good hiring decision. To be more inclusive in your hiring, try to avoid as many of these practices as possible.

Outdated Job Advertising

Typical job description language is often abstract and imprecise, leaving a candidate without a good understanding of the role and performance expectations, if their knowledge, skills, and abilities will help them succeed, and whether the organization’s culture aligns with their values and working style. Find our full guide to writing effective job advertising here. Avoid these common practices:

  • Attribute-focused language. Vague attributes like strong leader, team player, and strategic thinker can be interpreted differently and can be off-putting to some candidates. Instead, ensure your job advertising clearly outlines the role, your performance expectations, and what competencies a candidate will need to succeed.
  • Long lists of unnecessary requirements. Limit your requirements to the most essential. With most jobs, only a handful of factors are critically important, while others are only “nice to have.” For example, there is a shift in many industries away from degree requirements in job descriptions. From a Harvard Business Review article, “Previously overlooked workers will be able to pursue attractive career pathways even without a four-year degree, and companies will be better able to fill jobs that need filling.”

Asking for More Information Than Needed to Apply

Cover letters, multiple samples of previous work, and salary history are not proven to be accurate predictors of success on the job. Requiring them at the application stage adds an unnecessary step.

  • Consider whether a cover letter will give you measurable information about a candidate’s skills. If so, clearly outline what you want it to include in your job ad. If not, don’t ask for it.
  • If you require previous work samples, limit the number you ask for and explain the context.
  • Rather than ask candidates about their salary history to determine alignment (an outdated practice many states now legally ban), we recommend posting your salary range in the job ad. Here’s why pay transparency is a better approach.

Asking for Too Much Time, Too Early

Top-performing candidates are busy doing great work for their current organizations. Where possible, limit how much time you ask of them, especially during the early stages.

  • Make it easy for candidates to schedule the initial screening call, keep it brief, focus on the skills required to do the job, and be transparent to ensure you both get the information you need to decide whether to move forward.
  • Match the amount of time you ask of a candidate to the appropriate step in your interview sequence. Start small and increase as their commitment to the position develops.
  • Limit the total number of interviews that must be scheduled (both Zoom and in-person) and limit one-on-one interviews to the most essential, using panel interviews for other team members.

Complicated Application Systems

Many application systems are clunky, requiring candidates to upload a resume and then fill out a lengthy form repeating the information in the resume. Make it easy for candidates to apply using the “apply now” feature on job boards, allow them to apply directly through email if you can, and welcome inquiries.

Let Skills and Competencies Be Your Guide

We have tremendous empathy for busy hiring managers and understand that your time is limited and valuable. Making changes to your current hiring practices is an investment, but one that will benefit your organization for years to come. Remember that candidates are also investing their time—do your best to ensure both parties’ energy is well spent. For every requirement you ask of candidates, ask yourself first, “Does gathering this information have proven merit in predicting success on the job?” If the answer is no, the requirement may prevent a potential outstanding hire from taking that next step.