Five ways hiring teams can gain better insights from job interviews.

Job interviews have a reputation for being a waste of time for both the company and the candidate. This isn’t because hiring managers can’t learn anything from them. On the contrary, when done right, interviews enable companies to learn how well a candidate understands the problems facing the organization and the challenges of the job. 

Interviews with a range of stakeholders, including the hiring manager, leadership peers, business stakeholders and team members, provide the opportunity to see how candidates handle themselves in a variety of situations. 

Can they express a vision and inspire people, both within IT and across the company, to follow them? Are they able to communicate with different audiences and in a variety of environments? Do they listen as well as talk? You can’t derive any of this knowledge from candidates’ resumes. 

But despite the importance of each and every hire in IT these days, interviewers are frequently unprepared to ask the questions that will enable them to evaluate which candidate is the best fit. 

The blame lies with the unstructured nature of many executive interviews. Companies that will have the best chance of gaining useful insights from the interview process do the following:

  1. define in advance what they want to learn from an interview,
  2. ensure that everyone involved understands the requirements of the role, and
  3. agree to a consistent set of questions and ratings they can use to compare all the candidates.

At Heller Search, we’ve placed hundreds of IT executives using a process of structured interviews. In almost every case, the candidates selected for these positions have stayed with their company for years and been promoted--a successful outcome for both the company and the executive. The key is for HR and the company’s external recruiting partner to take an active role in providing the interview team with a strategy for interacting with candidates for IT leadership positions.

Here are five steps to more useful interviews. 

1. Make sure everyone knows who you’re looking for

Interviewers need to be clear about the requirements for the role, including the necessary technical and communications skills, functional business knowledge and what qualities make for a good cultural fit. 

During the interview process, it’s fine to divide and conquer. If you’re looking for a CIO to turn around your ERP implementation, your supply chain executive may be best at sussing out each candidate’s capability to handle that challenge. But every interviewer needs to also be able to evaluate candidates’ expertise in a particular area against the other hiring criteria. 


Related Resources:

CIO Interview Guide

How to Make the Most of Phone Screen Interviews


2. Structure the interviews and be consistent

Coach interviewers to approach their conversations with candidates consistently. It’s impossible to compare candidates if interviewers focus on selling the role to a few and drill into technical expertise with the others. Without structure, interviewers can also easily fall back on questions that gauge a candidate’s personality and cultural fit and forget to probe their qualifications. 

Developing a set of questions that interviewers ask everyone during the first round will enable you to compare candidates more easily as you narrow the field. For subsequent rounds, engaging candidates in a common set of scenarios, such as a conversation with the executive committee, one-to-one meetings with key business stakeholders, and a presentation to a large group enables many people within the company to see how each candidate interacts in different audiences. 

3. Listen and drill down

Give and take between the interviewer and the candidate generates insight. The best interviewers ask focused questions that elicit stories about candidates’ experiences or approaches to solving a problem. They also listen closely and ask follow-up questions to elicit more details before moving on to the next question.

Again, preparation is critical, especially for interviewers who are not accustomed to vetting executives, or who are not deeply immersed in IT. Interviewers are more likely to ask vague questions and fail to ask follow up questions when they don’t understand the role or how it affects their function and the company. 

4. Collect feedback immediately

Follow up with interviewers quickly, while their recollections are still fresh in their minds. If you set up a ranking system with a set of criteria for comparing candidates, it will be easier later to understand the relative strengths of each. Your CFO might have a good impression of Candidate A based on a memory of his striking tie. But Candidate A’s set of twos for communications skills may pale in comparison to Candidate B’s fours and fives.

5. Don’t forget to sell your organization

Remember, the best candidates are evaluating your company, too. Interviewers shouldn’t talk so much that they forget to ask their questions, but sharing information with candidates about your company’s objectives, future opportunities as well as its challenges will help get them excited to work for you. So will having them meet with as many of the people they will be working with as possible: the right mix reinforces how much influence and exposure the role will have. Does your company have one of the most flexible PTO policies in the markeplace? Be sure to mention that. Ex-pat work assignments overseas, or a reputation for promoting from within? Mention those too.

Finally, candidates often don’t consider a job opportunity seriously until they meet their potential boss, so include the hiring manager in the first round of interviews. 

You’re going to work with the person you choose for what you both hope will be a long time. A smart interview process, backed with the right preparation, can increase your confidence--and the candidate’s--that you have selected the person most likely to be successful in the CIO role.

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