job applications

Redefining Applicant Red Flags


By Stephanie Hammerwold

Early in my HR career, I was trained on recognizing a long list of so-called red flags on job applications. These are the kind of thing that could land someone in the reject pile and included things like gaps in employment, criminal record, spending only a year or two in each job (a.k.a. job hopping), certain reasons for leaving a past job and more. The list of red flags was long, and sometimes I could go through a pile of applications and find a reason to rule out everyone.

The reality is that no one’s employment history is perfect. Perhaps it is time that we reevaluate the traditional HR red flags and look more at who a person is now.

How Red Flags Can Become Barriers for Some Applicants

The reality is that there are many reasons someone may have had a bad experience at an employer or a gap in employment—reasons that may have little bearing on their likelihood of success at a new job. Yet so many HR decisions are based on scrutinizing someone’s past to the point where we are going on a fault-finding mission.

Some red flags can become huge barriers. Take criminal record, for example. There are many job seekers with criminal records who struggle to find work because that record follows them around even though they have paid their debt to society. The first HR director I worked for told me that anyone who checks the application box indicating a criminal record should be tossed in the reject pile without being given consideration. The reality of this blanket action was that we were tossing out plenty of good candidates. Since my early days in HR, I have volunteered in a women’s jail and have also started a nonprofit dedicated to working with formerly incarcerated people. In that time, California has become a state where employers cannot ask about criminal background until a conditional offer has been made. But employers can still make a decision to not hire at that point, so it still could be viewed as a red flag.

A recent episode of Invisibilia tackled the issue of whether we end up repeating patterns. The episode focuses on the story of a woman who had a rough childhood that included being in and out of jail. She ultimately ended up turning her life around, went to school and eventually earned a law degree. When she applied to take the Bar, she was denied based on her past. The panel was concerned that because of her past issues, she could relapse in the future even though she had demonstrated stability in the years since she went to school. What the episode found was that humans are complex, and our behavior often cannot be reliably predicted based on past behavior. Yet this idea that we need to scrutinize someone’s past to predict whether they will be a good employee persists in HR and hiring.

When a Red Flag Isn’t a Red Flag

Barriers can also include lengthy gaps in employment or the decision to leave a job because a person was miserable there. Think back on your own work history. Are there times you left a job because you had a horrible boss? Or maybe you decided to take an extended amount of time off work for personal reasons. Are those things that make you a bad employee in your current job? Probably not. So why do we use them as criteria to determine if a candidate would be a good fit?

As I have refined my interview style over the years, I have started to ask less about the traditional red flags (e.g. gaps in employment, reasons for leaving a job) and started focusing my questions more on how candidates worked in their previous jobs.

Let’s look at the example of someone with a gap in employment. There are all kinds of reasons someone may take time off work, and most of those have nothing to do with what kind of employee that person will be. Whether it was taking time off to raise a family, travel the world, care for a sick family member, serve time, sleep in, write a novel, look for a new job, go to school or simply to take a few months to relax between jobs, most reasons for a gap have little bearing on what an employee will do when working for you.

New Ways to Read a Job Application

As I mentioned, I have updated my interview style to focus more on culture fit. Of course I am checking to make sure someone has the required technical skills, but many of my questions ask candidates to provide an example from their work history.

For example, I have been interviewing a lot of senior software engineers lately. I work at an organization with a flat structure. Rather than having middle managers, we expect our seniors to take on an informal leadership roles. This means I want to look for candidates who are more interested in mentoring junior-level employees than they are in taking on a fancy manager title.  So I ask questions that require candidates to give examples of how they did this in the past. I also want to see if their goal is to take on a management role or if it is to contribute to an overall team effort. At my current company, we are looking for people who want the latter.

Rather than seeing work history as a place where we can find fault with a candidate, it is time that we see it  as a vast array of experiences. Whether experiences at a past employer were good or bad or if decisions made were good or bad, these are all things that contribute to who a person is now. What matters more is how a person grew and changed from that experience rather than a mistake made in the past.

Is it Time to Ditch the Cover Letter?

By Stephanie Hammerwold

Whenever I have a friend who is in the middle of applying for jobs, I hear the inevitable grumbling about cover letters. I don’t blame them—whenever I have done a job search I find myself complaining about such things.  Studies show that the average time that a recruiter spends on a resume is a measly six seconds. With such a small amount of time spent on a resume, is the cover letter getting any attention? After over a decade in HR, many years of which included reviewing applications, I think it is time to bid farewell to the cover letter.

What Recruiters & Hiring Managers Look at in Applications

Filling out an application, creating a resume and writing a cover letter can be very time consuming. When a piece of paper or information on a screen must fill in for making a good first impression, the stakes are high, which can be a stressful situation for even the most seasoned professional. The questions I hear most often are, “What does a potential employer want to see?” and “What should I include on my resume?”

I must admit that I am not surprised by the six-second statistic. When I screened applications and resume, I always start with a quick scan. I was most interested in seeing what someone’s work history was and if it was relevant to the job. If there was enough there to pique my interest, I would spend much more time on the resume and read it in detail before making a decision on scheduling an interview. You may have noticed here that I am talking about the resume and not the cover letter. That’s because the cover letter was often the last thing I read.

The reason for this is simple: there is very little information in a cover letter that cannot be gleaned from a good resume. This is my biggest argument for ditching the cover letter. Conventional wisdom on cover letters was that the letter should point a recruiter or hiring manager toward the highlights of your resume. But if your resume is well organized, you should not need directions in your cover letter, right?

Changing the Application Process

Employers, it is time that we all agree to stop asking for cover letters. Let’s let resumes and job applications speak for themselves. While we are on the subject of unnecessary steps in the application process, many companies seem to ask candidates to jump through hoops to apply for a job. This is a good reminder for employees to review their process and to determine which steps are unnecessary.

Applying for employment can feel like a full-time job itself. Many applications ask for a cover letter and include pre-employment questions. Perhaps it is time to remove those things from the first stage of the application process. Consider starting off with a basic application that asks for just enough information to help decide if a candidate is worth pursuing. If they are, then ask them to provide additional information. This saves an applicant from wasting time completing unnecessary application materials and keeps employers from having to read through excessive text. When reviewing your application process, ask yourself if the information you are soliciting is necessary to make an initial decision on a candidate. If it is not, remove it from the application.

If there are additional questions you want to ask beyond work history and experience, consider moving them later in the process so that only candidates who are moving on to the phone screen or interview have to provide additional information. This helps to focus your screening on only the relevant information.

Some Final Advice to Job Seekers

Job seekers reading this may be tempted to stop sending in cover letters, but do not abandon them so quickly. Make sure to read all the instructions an employer provides before applying. The application process is not a good place to stage a cover letter protest. If a potential employer requires a cover letter, draft something concise that highlights some of your accomplishments and explains in a few sentences why you are the ideal candidate for the job. If you do end up getting hired and, better yet, get hired into a supervisory position or something in HR, spend some time making the case for getting rid of the cover letter once you have put in some time at your new company.

Easy Ways to Improve the Hiring Process


By Stephanie Hammerwold

The new year will be upon us in a few weeks, so it is time to start thinking about resolutions. With job openings increasing and unemployment dropping, it is a good time to start thinking about your hiring process and resolving to improve it in 2016. Here are a few easy ways to take the HR Hammer to your hiring process and setting up a system that helps find the best candidates to fill your openings in the upcoming year.

Job Descriptions & Ads

While it is not a legal requirement to have a job description, it is an HR best practice to do so. A good job description clearly communicates expectations to an employee, but even before someone becomes an employee, it is a tool to ensure that a candidate understands the requirements of the position. Creating or updating a job description also ensures that everyone at the company is on the same page about what the position will do.

Prior to posting an ad, review the existing job description for accuracy. Jobs evolve and change with each new person who takes on a position, so make necessary adjustments to the old description. If you are starting from scratch, get input from people already doing the job so that what you have on paper accurately reflects the day-to-day work of the position.

&&&Use your job description to create your job posting ad. Gone are the days of having to string together cryptic abbreviations to minimize the cost of a classified ad in a newspaper. Most job posting sites give you plenty of space to describe the position; however, this does not mean that you have to create the War and Peace of job postings. Remember that job seekers will be scanning many job sites, so keep your posting brief. Focus on the key responsibilities and qualifications for the position, and include something about your company culture and benefits. You can include a link to the job description on your own site for interested job seekers who want more information, but the goal of the ad is to spark someone’s attention enough to learn more about your company and to visit your career site.

Winging It

Sometimes we get so busy that preparation for an interview is little more than a quick scan of a resume while a candidate waits in the lobby several minutes before the interview starts. Unfortunately, such an approach is little more effective than trying to read and memorize a semester’s worth of material in the hours before a final exam. There is a strong possibility that you will miss out on important details and will forget to ask good questions.

To help avoid having to wing it for interviews, take some time to develop interview questions while you are creating or updating the job description. If the candidate is going through multiple interviews, this is a good way to prevent making the candidate answer the same questions over and over. It also gives you a chance to review questions for suitability and to get rid of any questions that might be inappropriate or touch on protected classes. Focus on asking about work experience, relevant training and education and questions that require the candidate to demonstrate their knowledge.

Do not forget to schedule some time to review the candidate’s resume and application prior to the interview. Get to know their experience and history so that you do not have to waste interview time on questions that the candidate already answered on paper.

Too Many Cooks in the Interview Kitchen

Now that you have a polished job description, beautifully written ad and flawless questions, it is time to take a look at who will be a part of the interview process and just how many interviews a candidate has to go through. Keep things simple, and avoid unnecessary interviews.

In all my years of interviewing job candidates, I have come to realize that you can usually get a pretty good idea if someone is a top contender within the first few minutes of the interview. That does not mean you should stop the interview after only a couple minutes, but it does mean that having the candidate come back for multiple interviews or having a large team of people conducting interviews is probably a bit excessive.

With the exception of high-level positions, you probably do not need too many people involved in the interview process. It is often good to have a second opinion, and the hiring manager and someone from HR should be sufficient. If you feel the need to include others, consider conducting panel interviews to cut down on the number of interviews. Trust your managers to make good hiring decisions. Train them on interview skills so that they do not need a bunch of people involved in the interview process for openings on their team. If you find that a number of people would like to be involved, consider quick, informal introductions following an interview, so others have the chance to briefly meet a candidate before a final decision is made.

Don’t Call Us, We’ll Call You

Finally, put a process in place to make sure there is adequate follow up with candidates. At the conclusion of the interview, let the candidate know how long you expect the decision process to take. If it takes more time than planned, follow up with the candidate by making a call or sending an email. Once you have made a decision, get in touch with all candidates to let them know whether or not they got the job. Waiting for a call about a job is stressful, and a quick call or email can help ease the frustration many feel during the waiting game of the hiring process.

Why HR Should Support Ban the Box

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By Stephanie Hammerwold

The key to success for many people leaving prison and jail is getting back to a normal life. A big piece of this is having reliable housing and the income to pay for it as well as other life expenses. The formerly incarcerated have served their time, yet many face challenges in securing employment because of their conviction history. The Ban-the-Box movement has been gaining momentum, and even President Barack Obama and several democratic presidential candidates have drawn attention to the need for employment support for the formerly incarcerated.

The U.S. has the largest prison population in the world, and it continues to grow. On the employment front, this means a large pool of job seekers facing the challenges of finding work with a criminal record. For employers and HR professionals, supporting the formerly incarcerated in securing gainful employment starts with not making criminal history an automatic barrier to employment.

The Problem with Using Criminal Background as a Job Qualification

When someone serves time for a crime, and then is released, we should be able to say they have paid their debt to society and can move on. Unfortunately, many of the formerly incarcerated face barriers to employment, public assistance, housing, support services and other things that can help them build a post-incarceration life. These barriers increase the risk of recidivism. Throwing up unnecessary barriers, in effect, continues to punish someone for a crime for which they already served their time.

On the employment front, the commonplace question on job applications that asks about prior convictions can keep someone from getting a job. I have worked with HR professionals and hiring managers who see a yes answer and automatically put an application in the reject pile. One person I worked with said that people should build up a stable work history post-incarceration and then come back to us for a job in the future when they have proven that they can hold a job. But if all employers take this approach, we are barring the formerly incarcerated from building a stable work history.

Because stability in things like employment and housing are among the keys to keeping people from returning to prison, it is imperative that we set up practices that remove some of the barriers to those things. When reviewing your application process, ask yourself if finding out about criminal history at the beginning of the process is relevant to the job. There are many jobs where it is not, and removing the question from your application can be a huge step in helping the formerly incarcerated secure employment.

Ban the Box & Criminal Background Checks

In 2012, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) issued its “Enforcement Guidance on the Consideration of Arrest and Conviction Records in Employment Decisions Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.” The guidance from the EEOC is not law, but it is used in investigating claims of discrimination that may arise relating to criminal conviction. Although there are still questions regarding how employers should proceed when considering criminal background checks, the EEOC’s guidance provides some insight into how use of criminal history in selection of candidates for a job may create barriers to employment, especially for groups of people who experience higher rates of incarceration.

One of the key items in the EEOC’s guidance is that employers who exclude candidates based on criminal history must show that, “such an exclusion is ‘job related and consistent with business necessity’ for the position in question.” Again, this comes down to determining if criminal background is necessary for a particular job. As someone who has done quite a bit of hiring in the course of my HR career, I can only point to a small handful of jobs that I could make a case for knowing someone’s criminal history. Even then, a conviction would not necessarily exclude someone. It would come down to the nature of the offense and how long ago it happened.

Removing the question about conviction from job applications is a good way to avoid the biases that may happen when an applicant responds yes. If a criminal background check is required for a job, consider holding off until later in the process and then giving a candidate a chance to explain their conviction before making a decision to hire or exclude them. In any event, avoid a blanket policy that covers all criminal convictions, and instead handle each applicant with a conviction on a case-by-case basis.

Some cities, counties and states already have laws in place regarding criminal background checks, so familiarize yourself with the requirements in your area. The National Employment Law Project has a useful publication that details specific requirements throughout the U.S.

Benefits of Hiring the Formerly Incarcerated

Removing barriers to employment for the formerly incarcerated benefits everyone. As a society, we should be focused on providing the tools, training and support services to keep people from doing things that land them in prison. And, for those who have been previously incarcerated, our focus should be on helping them to not go back. Doing so helps build a healthy society.

For employers and HR professionals, taking small steps to change the employment process can do wonders for helping the formerly incarcerated build a solid foundation where they have the means to support themselves, provide for their families and contribute to society in a meaningful way. Rather than continuing with a system where we are constantly forcing people to rehash bad choices in their past, we should instead focus on building a system where people are given a second chance to improve their lives.

Employers can also benefit from a federal tax credit for hiring those with significant barriers to employment, which includes ex-felons. Some states offer additional tax credits. The National HIRE Network has an excellent list of what different states offer. In addition, the Federal Bonding Program is an initiative of the U.S. Department of Labor and offers bonds that cover the first six months of employment for at-risk and hard-to-place job seekers.

Remember that it is important to carefully consider changes to your hiring practices when it comes to determining how you will use criminal background checks. Consult with an attorney if you have questions about your hiring practices and the use of background checks.

If you are formerly incarcerated and struggling with employment and figuring out how to answer application and interview questions, Kathleen Murray’s Out and Employed blog offers excellent advice, and you can also find some useful tips on the Denver Public Library’s website.

Job Seeker Advice: What HR Wants to See in a Resume


By Stephanie Hammerwold

One of the most common HR-related requests I get from friends is to review their resume. Even in the age of LinkedIn and online portfolios, there are still countless articles about how a great resume can be your ticket to success. There are no magic tricks that can guarantee your resume will land you your dream job, but there are things you can do to keep your resume from automatically being tossed in the reject pile. After years of reviewing thousands of resumes, here are my tips for creating a clean, easy-to-read resume that showcases your experience and qualifications.

What (Not) to Include

I am once and for all taking the HR Hammer to the objective section. If you have an objective section lingering at the top of your resume, I’ll give you a moment to go delete it right now. Most resume objectives are the same, and it is some variation on “To find a job that challenges me and where I can be a positive member of a dynamic team.” A company already knows you are trying to find a good job, so there is no reason to waste valuable resume real estate space with an objective. You want to showcase your skills and experience rather than write a generic statement that is similar to what many other job seekers have at the top of their resume.

Now that we have the objective out of the way, let’s tackle the question of length. It used to be that one page was the generally accepted length of the resume. This was in the days before online applications and emailing in a resume. These days, it is not very common to mail in a resume. Length becomes less important when a recruiter or hiring manager is scrolling through resumes on a screen rather than flipping pages. This does not mean you should send pages and pages to a prospective employer, but it is perfectly acceptable to fill two pages. Unless you are applying for an academic job or a highly specialized position, I would not recommend going much longer than that.

It is important that your resume is easy to read because your resume usually only gets a minute or so to make a strong enough impression to warrant a closer read by a recruiter or hiring manager. Have clearly labeled sections (e.g. work experience, education) and create bullet points rather than lengthy paragraphs.

The star of your resume should be your work experience. I prefer to see work experience listed chronologically by job rather than sectioned out by skill. If you want to showcase some skills relevant to the job, include a short section at the top with a few sentences summarizing your experience. For those who are new to the workforce, include any volunteer experience or school activities as part of your work experience if you have not worked before or have only had one job.

Do not forget to include education and any relevant training at the bottom. Avoid listing every single training you have attended, but instead focus on including things relevant to the job.

Show, Don’t Tell

Some job seekers fall into the trap of simply listing skills without showing that they have used those skills on the job. For example, take this statement:

Experienced in using Microsoft Excel

Consider rewriting this statement to show that you know how to use Excel:

Used Microsoft Excel to manage the budget and expenses for the annual company picnic

When I see this on a resume, I know that a job seeker has experience using the software.

Focus on ways that you used a skill in a previous job that is relevant to how the skill will be used in the job you are applying for. This is especially useful if you are jumping careers and want to show how your skills from other jobs will be applicable to a new career.

Good Writing Matters

Write your resume in clear language that is easy to understand. Do not get bogged down in buzzwords and inflated language. Say exactly what you did. A prospective employer does not need to read phrases like this:

Collaborated with team members to build capacity in an impactful manner that increased optics, learnings and upward velocity.

Instead, be clear in what you did and accomplished:

Managed recruitment and training of 100 new employees for a new store location; implemented new hire training programs that reduced turnover by 10% from the previous store opening.

Do not send out your resume without having at least one other person proofread it. I have been in situations where I was deciding between two high-level candidates with similar experience. There have been times where it has come down to spelling and grammar mistakes. If a candidate does not make the effort to make sure they are sending me a clean resume, why should I hire them to be a manager?

Remember that your resume is often the first impression you make with a potential employer. Be honest about your experience. Take the time to put your best effort forward. Write cleanly and clearly, demonstrate your skills and qualifications through your experience, and make sure it is free from errors.

Still not sure your resume is in good shape? Use the contact form on the about page to get in touch with the HR Hammer for a resume review.

Job Seeker Advice: How to Conduct a Targeted Job Search

By Stephanie Hammerwold

Looking for a job can be a big undertaking. Major job posting sites are overwhelming and often job seekers find themselves wading through endless ads promising ways to get rich working from home. While some people may have luck with casting a huge net online in their quest for the perfect job, the average job seeker may find that resumes sent in response to ads on major job sites go into some kind of application blackhole. The way around this is to take a targeted approach in your job search.

Search for Companies, not Jobs

The key to a targeted job search is to look for companies that provide the type of work you want. While companies may not pay to post all their openings on a big job search site, they will probably put all their openings on their own website. Check the company’s site regularly for new openings. I worked for one company that was popular in the community. Many applicants were people who had walked into one of our stores asking about job openings or were persistent job seekers who made a habit of regularly checking the company’s website. This meant we rarely had to rely on paying to post our openings on other sites.

Research companies in your area, and do not limit yourself. Last year I spoke to graduate students at my alma mater. Many of them were planning for careers in academia or the nonprofit sector. I reminded those eyeing nonprofit jobs that there are for-profit companies out there who have a socially-minded philosophy that is similar to what can be found at a nonprofit. Before starting my consulting business, I worked at a small grocery chain that had a goal of giving at least 10% back to the community. They also offered a volunteer benefit for employees and other programs that were focused on giving back. In doing your research on companies, look for such opportunities to expand the pool of places you can see yourself working.

Connect with your target companies on social media. Some companies have even set up specific profiles for job seekers. This is a good way to find out about new openings that may not be posted on major job search sites.

Use Your Network

Here’s an inside tip about reaching out to the companies you want to work at: do not call their HR department in the hopes that it will make your application stand out. As an HR person, I can tell you that it’s not that we do not want to talk to every applicant, but HR is often inundated with calls to the point that it is impossible to get back to everyone. For job seekers, it can be discouraging to send in an application or resume and then hear nothing. Even though HR may not be the right place to go to make a personal connection when you first submit an application, there are ways to reach out effectively.

Focus on your network. Do you already know someone at the company? If so, they may be a good resource to put in a good word for you or to introduce you to someone who has power over hiring decisions. LinkedIn can be an excellent tool for seeing who you may already know at a company or if one of your connections may be able to introduce you to someone who works there. As I mentioned earlier, some companies connect with job seekers through social media, so this can be another way to network with people in a way that could bring positive attention to your application.

Finally, get involved in your community. This is an excellent way to connect with people who may turn out to be powerful connections when it comes to finding a job. In my own experience, the best networking happens at events where the main objective is not marketing yourself. This may be volunteering for a beach clean up, working on a political campaign or getting involved with your favorite nonprofit.

The Problem with Job Sites

What you have heard about job posting sites is true: companies do not post all their jobs in such places. Posting on some of the bigger sites can run several hundred dollars each. For many businesses, this means they may be choosy about which jobs they pay to post. When I used to work on hiring, I would only post harder to fill jobs on the big sites. Job sites can also take a lot of time to wade through. Even when employing filters and narrowing search criteria, it can be a challenge to find jobs that are a good fit. This is especially true if you live in a major metropolitan area, where the list of open jobs may be really long.

While it is good to keep an eye on the major sites and give them a weekly scan, a better strategy is to figure out what kind of job you want and to then find the places offering positions that are a good match.

Stop Making Candidates Jump Through Hoops

By Stephanie Hammerwold

Applying for a job can start to feel like a full-time job itself. Searching online is time consuming, and once a job seeker finds something they are interested in, there is often a long application process. While it is important to get enough information from a candidate to ensure that a good hiring decision can be made, often companies ask for unnecessary information, which results in tedious application processes that can scare good candidates away.

Long & Detailed Application Process

Several years ago, a friend and former coworker of mine was looking to relocate out of state and was applying for jobs prior to her move. After spending a couple hours on the application, she heard back from a company that sounded like a good fit, but they sent her several links to a long online personality profile as well as some skills tests. Once my friend was confronted with the several hours it would take to complete all the tests, she decided to give up on that company and to look for jobs elsewhere. As a result, the company lost out on someone who would have been a great employee.

A common best practice in HR is to have a job seeker fill out an application even if submitting a resume. The job seeker then signs the application stating that all the information is true. The application serves two purposes: it is a signed statement from the applicant about the veracity of their work history and it also gives the recruiter and hiring manager all relevant information in an easy-to-read format. The problem with this approach is that we often ask far more than we need to know in the initial application.

Prior to embarking on my HR consulting career, I did quite a bit of hiring in both grocery and warehouse/manufacturing industries, both of which constantly had job openings. As such, I developed expert screening skills to sort through a large volume of applications. What I started to realize over time was that the application asked for far more information than I needed to do my initial screening. If this sounds like you, do a review of your job application.

In an initial screening, I am most interested in work history and if the person’s experience shows that they have the skills required to do the job, which means that the first thing I scan is the job history section. Many applications include a variety of screening questions that require paragraph-long responses. I often breezed right past those and did not bother to read them unless the applicant’s work history piqued my interest. Instead of asking for detailed information from all applicants, consider a shorter pre-application that gives you just the information you need to determine if someone would be worth pursing. If they are, send them a more detailed application where you can ask screening questions and for more information about their experience.

When it comes to pre-employment tests, evaluate whether the information from the test really helps in determining if someone would be a good hire. As in my earlier example, hours of tests coupled with a long application could scare good candidates away.

Endless Interviews

I remember interviewing at one company where I went back four separate times for interviews, only to not get the job in the end. The process involved a mix of a group interview, panel interviews and one-on-one interviews. It was tedious and required me to have a flexible schedule to fit in all those return trips to the company. On top of that, I found myself answering the same questions over and over again.

Making the decision to hire someone is hard, so often companies go to great lengths to have plenty of people meet the candidate. In reality, a lengthy interview process could result in losing candidates who end up taking a job elsewhere while they wait for yet another interview with your company.

To edit your interview process, start by looking at the list of people involved in interviews. I was once hiring for for an entry-level produce staff position in a grocery store. Interviews included the hiring manager, produce director, store manager, director of operations and me representing HR. When I looked at the candidate who was visibly shaking due to nerves as he stared at the five people across the table from him, it was clear to me that we had too many people in the interview room. For higher level positions, it is important to include more people in the process, but entry-level positions rarely warrant that kind of interviewing. When it comes to such hiring decisions, trust your managers to make good choices for their team. In the case of the produce position, it would have been sufficient to simply have the hiring manager and HR involved.

When you are hiring for a position that requires a number of interviewers, set up panel interviews whenever possible. This reduces the chance that the candidate will keep answering the same set of questions over and over again. It also cuts down on the amount of time a candidate must spend in the interview process.

While we are on the topic of interviews, take the time to review the questions you ask. While it may give you insight into a candidate’s critical thinking skills to ask why manhole covers are round, such questions can become unnecessary when asked of a retail worker. Do your questions give you the information you need to see if the candidate is a good fit for the particular job? If not, cross the questions off your list. Avoid questions that are not relevant to the job.

Failing to Follow Up

So, imagine that you have put someone through a long and tedious interview process and at the end of it, they hear nothing from you for weeks. Aside from the risk of losing a good candidate to another company, this also shows a lack of respect for the time the candidate has already put into the hiring process.

Let a candidate know during the interviews how long you expect the whole process to take. Even if remaining interviews, reference checks and such are delaying the process, take the time to write an email or make a phone call to keep the candidate updated. If a candidate really wants to work for you, they will be more inclined to wait and push away other offers if they know there is still a possibility they will be hired at your company.