Flip Around the Interview Process

Interviewing is stressful. Candidates interviewing for a new position are obviously nervous. There are so many new things happening that the interview process itself can be too much to handle. Then there is the whole game of trying to answer every question exactly the way the interviewer expects it to be answered. If the candidate really needs the job, the stress is even higher.

On the other side of the table sits the interviewer. This person has to find the right people to fill the jobs. They worry that they might get people who cannot do the job, who may not fit with the culture or who may make mistakes. The stakes are high. It takes a while to interview, hire, onboard and train people. If you get it wrong it is expensive, time consuming and negatively impacts customers.

So there we have it, a one hour meeting where both sides of the table are nervous. Probably not the best way to make a solid decision. What if we flip this around a bit? What if instead of both sides trying to answer questions exactly how they think the other person wants them to, we just have everyone at the table be honest, put as much information on the table about themselves as possible and trust that the other person uses that information to make a good decision? How powerful would that be?

When I interview people I spend a good deal of time telling them everything I can about our company. I do not mean a list of great things about our company; I assume they already have an interest in the company or they would not be going through the nerve-racking process of interviewing. I tell them what it is like to work at Benefitfocus. I have worked here since the founding of the company and can share a lot of information with the person that I hope will help them make a good decision. If they have come for the right reasons, with a well-rounded set of information, then they are more likely to stay and be successful.

I explain what types of folks have worked out well and accomplished great things at our company. I tell them about some folks who did not do so well. I ask the person to be honest in their assessment of their desires and abilities.

I interviewed the first 200 people who worked at Benefitfocus. I remember thinking that I wanted to explain what type of company we were building and to ask people not to accept our offer if they did not want to be a part of such a company. I felt like I needed to help people by giving them as much information as I could so that they were well equipped to make a good career decision.

Over the years I have come to believe even more in this approach. It is a bit easier now that people know more about our company and come in to the first interview with a fair amount of knowledge. However, I do not assume they have all the information they need. I pack a lot of information about us into whatever time I have and always provide time for them to ask me questions. I suppose it is a bit naive to think that people will take all this information and then decide that the company or the role we are discussing may not be the best fit for them, or even more outlandish that people would be truthful and say that they could not do the role properly and pass. Regardless, I do choose to see it that way. It is a principle I suppose. If I cannot trust people to make good decisions during the interview process, then I will not trust them to make good decisions when they are working at the company.

In my experience, this transparent interview process has worked well. I have had situations where I’ve interviewed a candidate and it did not result in a job offer or lead to them accepting an offer, only to have that individual come back around years later and become an associate. They will share stories about those early interviews - what we said to them, what they thought at the time and how that influenced their decision. Years later after that early interview experience, they admired the company from afar and then came back. A good fit was now available and it worked out great. When you see the company and people's careers over a long period of time, it helps you interview differently. It helps you be transparent and helps the candidate assist in making the best decision for both of you at that time. Perhaps they join the team now. Perhaps not. In the long run the best decisions are made when the most information is shared. Give it a try. You might just find that you discover a powerful principle in the process.