Interviews are a crucial part of the recruiting process and when I surveyed recruiters as to what their purpose is, I got the following responses:

  1. Assess competency and fit: 100%
  2. Take money off the table: 20%
  3. Demonstrate to the candidate the recruiter is a career counselor: 13%
  4. Defend good candidates from bad decisions: 13%
  5. Assess someone who doesn’t want to be interviewed: 0%

I would argue that while assessing competency and fit is important, the purpose of the interview is actually all of the above. As a recruiter, getting tough-to-impress passive candidates to the interview is quite the feat, and you cannot completely leave the assessment process up to overworking hiring managers who are likely to make mistakes and often times fall for the best presenter instead of the best candidate.

To ensure that the best people make it to the interview and that you are setting up the candidate and the manager for a productive discussion, following these steps:

1. Set the stage by preparing a performance-based job description that describes the job as a series of performance objectives rather than a list of skills and experiences.

Of course you need to get the hiring manager to agree to this profile as the criteria for hiring. Surprisingly, this is not hard. For example, one client wanted a top-notch circuit designer with a MSEE and 10 years of applicable experience. When I asked if he’d interview someone who had less experience but had designed similar state-of-the-art circuits to some acclaim, he instantly agreed.

2. Ask candidates to describe work they’ve accomplished that best compares to what needs to be done.

I suggest the most significant accomplishment question as the primary means for this. This involves 15-20 minutes of digging into each of the person’s comparable accomplishments that best relate to those on the performance-based job description. A pattern soon emerges of where the candidate excels and what organizations best meet their needs.

I used this exact approach to persuade a CFO to hire someone to lead a worldwide implementation of a major ERP-based cost system. The CFO initially thought the candidate didn’t have the technical competence or fortitude to do the job. When I described how he did something similar at a larger firm and was recognized as a global leader in the company the CFO relented and re-interviewed and hired the candidate.

3. Take compensation off the table by showing that the job is a significant career move.

I’ve used these identical techniques for hundreds of searches over the past 20-30 years but have never had enough money in the compensation budget to pay these top-notch people what they initially wanted. However, by demonstrating that the job represents a career move the money became less important.

The key here is to suggest that a career move requires a minimum 30% non-monetary increase consisting of a bigger job, faster growth, more important work and more satisfying work. Just mentioning this as the purpose of the call is enough to get passive candidates to agree to a screening interview. Then, if the job is big enough, compensation is rarely a bottleneck by making it a negotiating item, not a filter.

These are the things you need to do to hire top tier passive candidates on a consistent basis. And most of it takes place during the interview. That’s why its purpose is much more than assessing competency and fit. It’s to make sure the best person, not the most charismatic interviewee, gets hired.