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Navigating Interview Formats: A primer for new (and experienced) hiring managers.

Hey there, I’m excited to share with you some insights from my journey in hiring. Mastering the art of interviewing is key to unearthing top talent. Let’s explore how choosing the right interview format can transform your hiring strategy.

Choosing the right interview format is key, as it can make the a world of difference in running an effective job search and finding the perfect match for your team. Whether it’s a technical genius, visionary leader, each role demands a unique approach.

A good interview process is also an important part of creating a good first impression on the candidates you are pursuing. Every detail of the interview process – from the experience of booking the time, to the moment they arrive and the conversation itself – is all part of your brand, and will have an impact on their interest in working for you. Not to be overwhelming, but all of the little details matter.

Let’s start with the most popular interview formats and how they can spice up your hiring process.

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1. Single Interviews

Ah, the classic one-on-one interview! All of the energy and excitement of meeting someone for the first time, and getting to know their skills, experiences, and whether they’d jive well with your team’s culture.

These interviews are great for initial screenings and can be developed further to evaluate technical skills, work styles and professional experience. [For instance, when I was hiring for a Graphic Designer, a one-on-one helped me understand the candidate’s creativity and thought process.]

Single interviews are best for their simplicity and efficiency. They are easier to prepare for, and offer more more space for both parties to establish a rapport, which can help in assessing cultural fit and personal attributes.

The downside is that running a great single interview takes preparation, experience and training – any weakness in the interviewer’s ability will result in missing a great candidate. Also, by definition they rely solely on the judgment of a single interviewer, which can lead to a risk of unconscious bias or limited perspective.

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“Planning the 1:1 interview. I typically aim for a 1-hour interview that is 80% my questions and 20% reserved for the candidate’s question”

2. Panel Interviews

Picture this: a candidate surrounded by a team of interviewers from different departments. It’s like a talent show where each reviewer brings a unique perspective. This format is fantastic for roles that interact with multiple teams [Think of hiring a Project Manager – you’d want inputs from tech, sales, and operations to get the full picture.]

But remember, too many cooks (or interviewers) can spoil the broth! It’s essential to keep it organized to avoid overwhelming the candidate.

Panel interviews can be great because they draw on the collective insight of the panel. Interviewers can leverage their own experience to focus on different aspects of the candidate’s potential. It’s also a great way to support a less experience interviewer who might be overwhelmed in a single interview.

Conversely, panel interviews can be intimidating and it is difficult to develop rapport with the candidate. This can lead to underwhelming performances that cause you to not recognize a candidate’s talent. Panels also put a lot of pressure on members to work together and coordinate questions. It’s incredibly easy to go off topic, mismanage time or be generally disorganized. Not to mention that often speed is important in a hiring process so a great candidate isn’t lost to a competing offer. Coordinating calendars with multiple interviews can cause slow-downs in the hiring process.

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3. Job Shadowing

Job shadowing is a test run for both parties. Candidates get a real taste of the job, and you get to see them in action. I’ve seen it used effectively in a wide variety of roles, ranging from specialist developer positions, to office admin teams and even recruiters. In a basic version, the prospective candidate is teamed up with a current employee and shadows their work for part of a day.

Most situations stick to true passive shadowing, however I used to work with a large ecommerce company that loved to run candidates through pair programming scenarios to see how they did in a hands on problem.

Job shadowing is great because it gives both parties a high touch experience of what to expect. The downside shadowing is that it is a big ask on candidates, and can be disruptive to your workplace. It also raises confidentiality concerns, especially workplaces where sensitive personal information is present. Finally, many jurisdictions view job shadowing exercises as unpaid work, and have taken steps to explicitly prohibit it.

4. Case Studies

Here’s where it gets interesting. Present a candidate with a challenge and see their problem solving magic. Case studies are brilliant for roles driven by critical thinking and problem solving skills. Imagine hiring a Marketing Manager – a well crafted case study on a new brand launch campaign can reveal a great deal about their approach and workstyle.

The downside is that the case matters, a lot. A poorly written case or bad facilitation can ruin the experience for the candidate and yield little information to support your hiring decision. Also, case study interviews can be stressful for some people, and lead to you missing an otherwise talented candidate.

Also, be very careful around bias – it is easy to end up ‘leading the witness’ in a case conversation, which will result in an unbalanced assessment process. Be sure to have an objective scorecard for your case study that is linked to the actual job requirements. Here again, you need to avoid any appearance of soliciting unpaid work.

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5. Group Interviews

Group interviews involves multiple candidates simultaneously and can be like a mini reality TV show. You get to see how candidates interact in a team setting – who takes the lead, who collaborates well and so on.

Group interviews allow you to consider several candidates at once, making it a time-efficient method for roles where multiple hires are needed. It also provides insights into how candidates handle group dynamics, competition, and peer interactions, which can be really helpful for entry level candidates, who don’t have a substantial professional history.

If you use this approach, watch out for interpersonal dynamics. The shy folks might get overshadowed by the more outspoken ones. It’s all about knowing what’s needed in the role.

6. Technical or Skill-Based Interviews

Got a specific skill you need to test? Bring on the technical interview. It’s about seeing candidates in action, doing what they do best. For our internal software developer roles, our team focuses the majority of their time on a series of requirements and coding challenges.

It’s important to build an interview script that more than just a trivia check – it allows you to benchmark the candidate’s general competency in a given area and overall approach to work. Too often I’ve seen really bright interviewers who focus on the one single best answer, where as the reality is more complicated. For many types of work, there can be multiple right answers depending on objectives, assumptions, context and experience – all of which are difficult to control for in an interview process.

Technical screening is also very backward looking – ie, what do you know right now? It doesn’t do a great job of considering potential or future performance. As a result, it’s important to leave space to assess curiosity and potential for growth (none of which will show up in a traditional test). One thing is for sure, the tech skills that got them to the present are unlikely to stay meaningful in the future.

7. Behavioral Interviews

Behavioral interviews are like being a detective, uncovering how candidates acted in past situations in order to learn work style and approach to problems. They are great for understanding how someone might fit into your team and handle future challenges.

The general format for a behavior interview question is “Tell me about a time you experienced X. What happened and how did you handle it?”. In the candidate’s response, you are looking to understand the issue, the candidate’s role in addressing it, and the outcome they achieved.

Behavior questions not about having the exact right answer – instead it to give you a sense of their workstyle and how they respond in a given situation. How did they approach the problem – directly or indirectly How do they frame the outcome –results oriented, team oriented or both? Is their answer specific and rooted in measurable outcomes, or more high level and relational?

The biggest mistake interviewers make is allowing candidates to give high level answers and not digging into the details. Be ready to dig and ask lots of follow-up questions. Also, be sure to note any interesting items as something to follow up on in your references step.

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Impact of Technology on Interviews

Technology is having a huge impact on the interview process and all aspects of screening candidates. The adoption of video interviewing alone has been a major shift that has allowed managers to access new types of candidates, but at the same time has enabled a variety of new interview cheating schemes, ranging from substitute candidates, off-camera help, or even more advanced GPT-driven real-time answer support.

On the hiring side, we are seeing a regular flow of new tools, ranging from asynchronous recorded interview platforms to early AI proof-of-concepts claiming to offer meaningful voice and body language analysis.

I expect this part of the hiring process will continue to evolve dramatically over the next few years as the implications of remote interviews and the integration of AI services continue to proliferate.

The technology won’t replace the core issue though – hiring managers are still searching for the perfect person for their team, and are using a variety of techniques to screen candidates and make a hiring decision. Skilled hiring managers will need to keep sharpening their skills or risk making costly hiring errors.

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A quick note on diversity and inclusion

This really is a whole topic on its’ own. Briefly however diversity and inclusion thinking is a critical part of the interview stage. It is essential for creating a workforce that reflects a wide range of perspectives and experiences.

The top practice is to only use structured interviews, which refers to the idea of having a written interview script where all candidates are asked the same questions and evaluated on the common scorecard. This consistency helps reduce the influence of unconscious bias. This practice is closely followed effective DEI centered training for interviewers, and trying to use diverse interview teams wherever possible.

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Making the Right Choice in Interview Formats

At the heart of it, interviewing is all about learning about your candidates, assessing their fit for the role, and building conviction on who you think will be the best member for your team.

Interviews play a critical role in the assessment process, and it’s important to use the right type of interview for your position, skills and hiring objectives. Each format, whether it’s single interviews, panel discussions, job shadowing, case studies, group interviews, technical assessments, or behavioral questions, serves a specific purpose and offers unique insights into a candidate’s suitability for a role.

A great interviewing process will be engaging to candidates and allow you to learn about them, contrast them, and reach a high level of conviction that you have found the right person.

Toolkit for Enhanced Interviewing Skills

As a recruiter, enhancing your interviewing skills is crucial. Consider reading ‘The Manager’s Book of Questions’ by John Kador for a comprehensive list of interview questions. Engage with online courses on LinkedIn Learning or Coursera that focus on refining interviewing techniques. Additionally, participating in seminars or workshops on diversity and unconscious bias is invaluable for conducting fair and inclusive interviews. Staying updated with the latest best practices in interviewing will significantly improve your recruitment strategies and outcomes …and help you avoid the growing number of costly pitfalls from coasting on outdated screening techniques.
Kent 1399x700 1

With over two decades of experience in the technology sector, Kent specializes in leading business and technology initiatives, both internally at Procom and on behalf of its clients.  He’s built teams, led projects and navigated critical business transformation initiatives along the way.

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