Best Practices for Achieving Talent Success Maturity

Building a Consistent Interview Process

With insight from

Libby Sartain

Libby Sartain

Former CHRO, Professional Board Member

Libby Sartain is an independent advisor, working with companies on human resource issues. With more than 30 years of experience in human resources, she is also an author and frequent speaker, using her HR leadership and management experience at companies in technology, transportation and manufacturing. She led human resources at Yahoo! and Southwest Airlines during transformative periods. Both companies were among Fortune magazine’s “Best Places to Work” during her tenure. She is the former board chair of the Society for Human Resource Management and is on the board of Manpower Group and is the Vice Chair of the Board of AARP.

With research and insight from LinkedIn Talent Solutions.

  • Who it’s for: 
    Hiring and HR managers, recruiters, and others who interview candidates
  • What you’ll get: 
    A simple interview feedback form that works for any role
  • Why you need it: 
    To introduce consistency and accountability into your interview process
  • When it applies in the talent success process: 
    Before and after a candidate is interviewed

Interviewing for A-players

Because candidate interviews are often the primary method for making hiring decisions, they also present one of the best opportunities to improve your success rate for hiring A-players. A best-practice approach to interviewing consists of two parts: clearly defining what you’re looking for in a top candidate, and a consistent, well-designed method for soliciting valid and actionable feedback from all the interviewers.

Studies show that unstructured, seat-of-the-pants interviews (which is what employees will do in the absence of informed guidance) are no more effective than a coin toss at identifying whether a candidate is likely to be an A-player or a C-player.

“The first failure point of hiring is not being crystal clear about what you really want the person you hire to accomplish,” says Geoff Smart, co-author of the New York Times best-seller Who. “You may have some vague notion of what you want. Others on your team are likely to have their own equally vague notions of what you want and need.”

Too often, hiring managers rely on what Smart callas “voodoo hiring.” They cling to their favorite methods, even when evidence suggests those methods don’t work.

“Our experience and our research say [that] in an age in which every other management process has been studied and codified, we find it amazing that people still view hiring as something that resists an orderly approach,” Smart writes. His research has uncovered this list of the top 10 voodoo hiring methods:

  1. The Art Critic *
  2. The Sponge *
  3. The Prosecutor *
  4. The Suitor *
  5. The Trickster *
  6. The Animal Lover *
  7. The Chatterbox *
  8. The Psychological and Personality Tester *
  9. The Aptitude Tester *
  10. The Fortuneteller *

Any company can benefit immediately by following a consistent, well-designed interview process that covers all types of jobs. This can be done with a scorecard — an interview feedback form — used across the company, regardless of the interview style or job.

If you already follow a standard interview process for all roles, the next step is to build a tailored scorecard for the specific role you’re hiring for. This technique has a proven 90 percent success record at predicting success in the role. The most effective interviewing technique involves using job- and role-specific behavioral questionnaires.

Using a standard feedback form ensures that every interviewer knows in advance what is expected of them, and provides guidance to steer interviewers away from vague attitudes or opinions as their reason for endorsing or rejecting a candidate. Providing consistent questions or sections for every interviewer to respond to also makes it easier to compare feedback across the interview team.

Libby Sartain

Libby’s Take

Everyone asks me how Southwest Airlines was able to find the best, most customer service-oriented employees in the airline business. The simple answer is that we created a process that delivered candidates with the right profiles for the workplace. It started at the top of the organization. Our executive leadership team made hiring a top company priorities, and our CEO mandated that all departments follow the process established by our People Department (HR) to select and hire candidates.

We used behavioral-based interviewing for all job segments. Before hiring, a team defined the top five to seven behavioral attributes required for each segment and prepared specific interview questions developed to draw from the candidate situations, actions, tasks, and results of their past behavior. Southwest believed that past behavior was the best and strongest indicator of future behavior.

We didn’t interview people about the technical aspects of the job; the resume would tell us whether someone had the necessary rating, hours of flying, mechanical license, programming language, or accounting skills. Instead, we focused more on how a person worked with others, whether they were customer-focused and a servant leader, and how they reacted in a crisis.

Southwest trained hiring managers and peers in these interviewing techniques and the hiring panel would recommend hiring. HR would do reference and background checks, and then another panel would make a hiring decision based on the entire picture.

— Libby Sartain, Former CHRO, Professional Board Member

The Interview Feedback Form: For Faster, More Consistent Hiring

An interview feedback form guides interviewers to ask questions that are more likely to yield the information needed to assess a candidate’s future success and ensure that different interviewers’ responses can be compared meaningfully.

Five Specific Benefits of a Standardized Interview Feedback Form

  1. It allows for different interview styles. *
  2. It creates alignment across hiring managers, team leaders, and others involved in the hiring and talent development process. *
  3. It ensures legal compliance. *
  4. It bases each interviewer’s feedback on a fairer, factual set of information. *
  5. It provides guidance to less-experienced interviewers. *

To learn more about methods of interviewing, see Interview Considerations at the end of this article.

Example of an Interview Feedback Form

Example Interview Feedback Form

Why Standard Interviewing Fails to Identify A-players

The typical interview process fails because top performers need to be able to adapt their past accomplishments to your company’s culture and resources, and be able to thrive and grow in your environment.

Standard interviewing processes look only in the rearview mirror. They assume that if a candidate was successful in a previous job, they will be successful in your company, too. This is simply erroneous thinking and fails to identify potential A-players for your organization.

Brad Remillard’s Five Interview Questions

  1. “Give me an example of where you have demonstrated initiative?” *
  2. “Give me an example of a time when you executed a project flawlessly.” *
  3. “Tell me about your biggest team accomplishment in a difficult time or situation.” *
  4. “One of our critical objectives is [explain a critical problem the candidate will address in the new position]. Can you describe your most comparable accomplishment?” *
  5. “How would you go about implementing [pick a project at your company that is important to the position] in our company?” *

A One-question Approach

“What single project or task would you consider your most significant accomplishment in your career to date?”

Why do more than 90 percent of hiring managers identify themselves as good interviewers, and yet rarely reach a unanimous hiring decision with other “90 percenters” in the same room evaluating the same candidate?

That was the question that Lou Adler, a respected thought leader in the recruiting industry for nearly four decades, asked himself more than a decade ago. The realization led Adler on “a quest to find the one interview question that would yield universal agreement from hiring managers,” he wrote in Inc. magazine. “It took 10 years of trial and error, but I eventually found it.”

Then You Dig a Little Deeper

Of course, that question is just the starting point. But as Adler wrote, imagine you were a candidate and a hiring manager asked you that question. How would you respond, and what would your answer say about you?

7 Rules for Job Interview Questions That Result in Great Hires

Regardless of the interview questions you ask, John Sullivan, a professor of management at San Francisco State University and an internationally known HR thought leader from Silicon Valley, believes keeping seven rules in mind will result in faster and better hires.

“It’s time to rethink your interview questions with a focus on work-related questions that are harder to prepare for and to fake an answer to,” Sullivan wrote.

Sullivan’s Seven Rules for Interview Questions That Get Great Hires

Click here to read the full article at Harvard Business Review.

1. Avoid easy-to-practice questions.

If you work for a major corporation, most of the interview questions used by hiring managers at your firm are publicly posted on — along with recommended answers. So start with a clean slate of questions, and at the very least, eliminate overused and easy-to-practice questions with a low predictive value, such as:

  • “What are your greatest strengths and weaknesses?”
  • “Why are you the best candidate?”
  • “What’s your dream job?”
  • “Where would you like to be in five years?”

2. Be wary of historical questions.

Questions that require a candidate to describe how they performed in the past, also known as “behavioral interview questions” (e.g., “Tell me about a time when you led …”), are problematic in a fast-moving world where yesterday’s approaches quickly become irrelevant. And according to research by professors Frank Schmidt and John Hunter, those questions predict success only 12 percent better than a coin flip. Why? Because the way a candidate did something years ago at another firm may be the wrong answer today at this firm with its unique culture. Historical questions also allow a good storyteller to passionately describe how a problem was solved even though they only played a minor role in the solution.

3. Assess their ability to solve a problem.

If you were hiring a chef, you would ask them to cook a meal. Taking a “job content” approach, by having an applicant do some of the actual work, is the best way to separate top candidates from average ones. Consider asking them to identify problems on the job. Say something like, “Please walk me through the steps of the process you’ll use during your first weeks to identify the most important current problems or opportunities in your area.” Or ask the candidate to solve a current problem. The ability to solve current problems is often the number one predictive factor of job performance. Provide them with a description of an actual problem they will face on their first day. Then ask them to walk you through the broad steps they would take to solve the problem. Prior to the interview, make a list of the essential steps. Deduct points if they omit important steps like gathering data, consulting with the team or customer, and identifying success metrics. Identify the problems in the process. Hand them a single-page description of a flawed existing process related to their job. Ask them to examine the process and identify the top three areas where they predict serious problems are likely to occur. Prior to the interview, make a list of those pain points and flaws.

4. Evaluate whether they’re forward-looking.

In fast-evolving environments, employees must anticipate the future. Consider asking these questions to assess how well a candidate can do that: Outline your plan for this job. The very best develop a plan before they begin a major project or new job. Ask them to outline the elements of their plan of action for their first three to six months. Have them highlight key components, including goals, who they’ll consult with (by title), what data they’ll analyze, how they’ll communicate with their team, the metrics for assessing their plan’s success, etc. Forecast the evolution of the job or industry. Anticipating major shifts is critical. Ask them to forecast at least five ways their job will likely evolve over the next three years as a result of changes in the business environment. New hires must also be able to anticipate changes in your industry. So consider asking candidates to project three to five major trends in your industry, and then forecast how the top organizations will need to change over the next few years to meet those trends.

5. Assess a candidate’s ability to learn, adapt, and innovate.

If the job requires any of those factors, consider these questions:

  • Learning: “Outline the steps you’d take to continuously learn and maintain your expert status in one important technical area.”
  • Agility: “Outline the steps you’d take to adapt when a dramatic, unexpected change occurs in either technology or customer expectations.”
  • Innovation: “Outline the steps you’d take to increase innovation among your team to respond to increased competition or new technologies.”

6. Avoid duplication.

When selecting questions, avoid asking about factors like education and job responsibilities that were already covered in the resume or in the telephone screen. Don’t waste their time or yours.

7. Allocate time for selling.

The bulk of the interview time should be allocated to assessing the candidate, but set aside time to excite and sell candidates on the job and your organization. Proactively ask, “What are the top factors you’ll use to assess a job offer?” Then be sure to provide compelling information covering each “job acceptance factor.” Interviews are tough to get right. (Some companies, like the India-based e-commerce company Flipkart, are successfully hiring candidates without a single interview.) But research has shown that carefully selecting questions and determining acceptable answers ahead of time greatly increases your chances of success. Research also shows that most hiring decisions are made within 15 seconds, so you must consciously avoid any judgments until the interview is at least 50 percent completed.