Experiential Interviews: 4 Steps to Help You Identify Superior Talent

If you’re still using conventional interviews when hiring, I’ve got bad news — common interviewing methods set you and hiring managers up to pick the wrong people. Why? Because conventional interviews give only the smallest glimpse of the candidate — and an inaccurate one at that.

During conventional interviews job candidates are always on their best behavior. They say what you want to hear and share only the best parts of their backgrounds. This is why the person interviewed isn’t always the same person who shows up for work.

To combat the inaccuracy of conventional interviews, hiring managers, HR professionals, and talent acquisition staff across the globe are turning to experiential interviews — the kind where the candidate does real work to demonstrate his skills — to fill positions in their companies. Experiential interviews allow you to base you hiring choices on facts instead of guesses.

During experiential interviews, you get to see candidates doing sample work rather than speaking conceptually about the job. What does this look like? Computer programmers can be given specs to write computer code, accounting candidates can analyze financials, and marketing staffers can design a promotional campaign.

Regardless of industry, embracing experiential interviews can help you spot better talent faster. When you get to witness candidates doing the job firsthand, you can automatically assess their skills and instantly have a complete image of the person you’ve just met. This way, there are no surprises or disappointments.

To incorporate experiential interviews into your hiring routine, follow this four-stage process (and be sure to share it with the hiring managers you work with too).

Stage One: Compare the candidate’s written materials to your company’s hiring profile.

Your hiring profile — the specific standards, skills, and qualifications you require job candidates to meet — gives you a point of reference when viewing each candidate’s qualifications. Compare all candidates to your hiring profile by viewing their résumés, job applications, plus, if needed, a few written questions. Any candidate who matches the most important skills, experience, and education level moves on to Stage two.

Stage Two: Conduct a brief phone interview.

For most roles, a 20-minute (or less) phone conversation allows you to hear how the candidate communicates as you review their background and discuss the job. This stage also provides an opportunity to discover how their values, helpful behaviors, and personality features may or may not fit into your company culture.

Effective phone interviews can cover lots of ground using short and simple questions. For example:

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  • Why us?
    Motives are important. Knowing whether your candidate is inspired by your company’s mission or just looking for a job will help you pick the best people.
  • Why now?
    Knowing what’s driving a candidate’s decision to job search is vital in choosing the right people for your company. Is the candidate desperate to make a change and ready to leap at the first offer? Or, is she happy and simply open to a new opportunity that could make life even better?
  • What job suits you best?
    Too often, interviewers ask candidates about their perfect job. Such a question sets up the candidate and the employer for failure, since jobs and companies are rarely perfect. Instead of asking about perfection, ask about personal fit.

If the candidate matches these additional requirements, they move to Stage three.

Stage Three: Hold an in-person hands-on interview.

Here, you’ll have the candidate do sample work — both alone and with others — while interviewers observe. The interviewers can use this time to assess how well the candidate performs. If the candidate demonstrates an ability to do quality work, they move on to Stage four.

Stage Four: Complete reference checks.

Reference checks (and background checks, in certain roles) are used to confirm that the candidate fits all of the required criteria for the job. If they pass this last stage, they’re offered a job immediately, or the next time a seat opens.

Leaders are challenged to find the very best talent available. Experiential interviews are key in this process, and help you really get to know the talent and see how they will perform in real work scenarios. Allowing them to show not only who they are but what they can do helps them shine, and helps you make the best decision for your organization easier, faster, and more accurately than ever before.

As president of the Wintrip Consulting Group, Scott Wintrip has helped thousands of companies improve their ability to hire talent on demand. He helped these organizations to grow faster, increase revenues, improve profitability, and expand market share. In the process of advising, educating, and coaching his clients, he has created more than $1.3 billion in positive economic impact for them. An astute strategist, he is respected for his strong leadership and practical advice. He is also the author of High Velocity Hiring: How to Hire Top Talent in an Instant (McGraw-Hill, April 2017). You can learn more about him and his services at WintripConsultingGroup.com.


2 Comments on “Experiential Interviews: 4 Steps to Help You Identify Superior Talent

  1. Thanks, Scott. IMHO, identifying superior folks is relatively easy, at least in comparison to GETTING them when your organization/position/manger isn’t superior…

  2. Thanks for sharing Scott. You are absolutely right in wanting to test potential candidates instead of just blindly trusting what their CV and cover letter tell you. The 4 steps you suggest are great and at Recruitee we maintain the same hiring process, including the testing assignments for potential employees. In the end, you want to understand not just who they are but what skills and talents they can offer. I believe in collaboration in the hiring process, especially if you are hiring for another department. A good ATS System can speed up this process and enable you to select candidates together with your team.

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