In Part 1 of this article, I covered how to carefully articulate what is needed for success in writing a holistic job description. I then explored a method for narrowing the candidate pool based upon a resumé and cover letter review to seek alignment with your critical success factors. I followed this with providing a model for conducting a strong telephone screen process with your selection committee. I then left you, the reader, with a more limited candidate pool after you made the follow up calls to your first round candidates. If all has gone well, you have 3-5 candidates you want to bring to campus for in-person interviews. This article outlines how you prepare for and conduct the campus interview, make the offer, and then close the deal.
In order to prepare for the campus interview, you will need to determine the structure and order of the day. For frontline roles, 1-3 hours of interviews are sufficient. Director and other office or division-wide roles may be better served with 6-8 hours of interviews. The broader the campus responsibility, engagement and authority, the broader the participation needed. Assuming most of the positions you will be hiring will be frontline and first level managers, the 1-3 hour interview protocol outlined here will serve you well. You will have a selection committee comprised of peers and others who come into contact with this role regularly. Depending on the protocol of the institution, the one hour interview, panel interview, and search committee might be best. However, it can be intimidating to the candidate, and may not allow candidates to show as well as they could. For a 2-3 hour interview, which I strongly recommend, you can start with the hiring manager providing an initial meeting of 30 –45 minutes, followed by 45 minutes for the employee’s team to interview, 45 minutes for the search committee interview and then close with 15-30 minutes with the hiring manager again. This inclusive model allows not only for different constituents to assess the candidate, but it also gives the candidate a good sense of the community they may be invited to join.
As the hiring manager, your first 30 minutes will give you and the candidate the opportunity to follow up on any questions that have arisen since the telephone screen and will additionally give you a chance to probe the same or new ground more deeply. Since virtual communication is such a key part of our work with prospective students, their families, current students and faculty as well as staff, I will often have a communications exercise that I ask the candidate to complete while in this interview. If the role is an admission counselor role, I might have the candidate reply to an email from a prospective student who feels he was treated rudely by a tour leader on a recent visit. If the role is a credit evaluator, the email exchange might be with a student who feels your response was not complete and led her to make a bad course choice over the summer. The goal is to provide a scenario that allows you to see an uncomfortable exchange generated in real time. Is the person overly apologetic or lacking empathy or do they strike the right note? Do they make grammar or spelling errors or present a professional exchange? How does the person handle a question if they do not know the specific answer? In addition to this type of exercise, asking candidates to give you examples of their past experience, and then digging into them a bit is a best practice. If you ask for an example of managing priorities by relating a time the candidate had to juggle multiple deliverables in a short period of time, seek to understand not only the situation, but what made the situation stressful, what strategies the candidate employed and why and then what the results were – did they get everything done as expected? Ask if there is anything they would do differently if they could rewind and go through that process again. This rich questioning technique tells you a lot about a candidate. It gives you a sense of their role in the situation, how they think about problems, how they reflect on their results and generally gives you insight to a depth you would not get to if you just asked a barrage of questions. The key is to balance depth with breadth.
The next one or two 45 minute to one hour sessions are with the search committee and/or the team the candidate would be working with. In these interviews, place one person in charge of moderating and keeping time. Allow the teams to explore the topics of their choosing. The hiring manager should work with the search committee team ahead of time to prepare for the conversations and create structure around the interview. Make sure the candidate has water and is given the option to take a break between sessions. Remember, candidates interview best when comfortable and at ease.
At the end of these interviews, another 15 minutes with you, the hiring manager, allows for a period of debrief. Provide the candidate with your anticipated decision timeline and your hope for a possible start date or start date range. Ask for permission to contact the references provided and confirm the names and contact information for each is correct. Thank the candidate for their time and reaffirm when the candidate can expect your next outreach.
As you prepare for these interviews, make sure you communicate to the interview team(s) what criteria you are using for your hiring decision and let them know how their feedback will be gathered and used. As the hiring manager, the decision is ultimately yours, but it is prudent to use the search committee and/or team as valuable consultants. To that end, reuse the assessment form used for the phone screen. Provide areas of focus and rating options and ensure people know when they need to submit feedback for it to be given due consideration. Provide an opportunity for additional comments and ask what committee members would like to gain further insight into or probe with references. After all the candidates have been through the process, you may choose to solicit from the search team and peer team their hire recommendations. For each candidate, determine if they would hire or not and then for the ones that get a hire nod, ask for a rank in order of preference. Take these ratings and compare them to the feedback for a rich assessment of each candidate’s perceived strengths and also sometimes the interviewer bias and skill and knowledge emphasis. This is rich input and comes in quite handy when delivering bad news to the unsuccessful candidates. This feedback also allows you to frame your decision in context of the experience of others.
Once all the feedback is gathered and assessed, and the references have been contacted for further probing and insight, you will decide if you have one or more viable candidates or if you have a failed search. Assuming you have one or more viable candidates, the first order of business is to determine your salary offer. If you have a range to work within, consider what is fair based upon background and training as well as current market realities. If you have a compensation professional located in your Human Resources department, they may be able to help with this discernment process. In addition to salary, however, be prepared to highlight the valuable benefits of working at your institution and in your workgroup. In today’s market, salary is of course a large part of the decision process, but I have seen candidates choose good working conditions and a valuable benefits package over a higher salary, so make sure you have a good sense of why your position should be given due consideration by your candidate of choice. When you call to make the offer, start with a good “Congratulations, I am pleased to offer you the position of X at institution Y”. Let the candidate know specifically what made them the candidate of choice. Provide the salary offer and tout the benefits of the organization. Ask if the candidate has any questions and then provide a timeline within which you need them to respond to the offer and express hope that a yes response is forthcoming. Follow up with an email that communicates your excitement about the candidate, again communicates the content of the offer and the deadline by which to respond. Make sure to include your benefits website and a person to contact about benefits if there are questions that can be answered to help in the decision process. When you get a yes to your offer, make sure it is accompanied by a signed offer letter with a confirmed start date before you reach out to your other candidates to inform them of your decision.
And lest you think your work is done, remember to thank your search committee and any other interviewers. Inform these key partners who was hired and why. Send out an announcement to the office and any other appropriate colleagues introducing the new hire and the start date. In the announcement, again thank your search committee members by name. It is then time to start preparations for the hire’s first day. A warm welcome by a prepared staff allows you to conclude the interview process with great follow through and sets up your hire for ultimate success as a great team member!
– by Joyce Allen, Seattle University