As recruiters and hiring managers, we often focus the bulk of our energy on finding qualified candidates and getting them to apply, but that’s only half the battle. Whether you wind up with two or 200 qualified applicants, you still face the critical task of interviewing them to decide which one is best to hire.
Here, we’ll share a structured, strategic approach for evaluating interview candidates and discuss why such an approach is so important in today’s market.
Importance of an Effective Candidate Evaluation Process
Scheduling and conducting interviews is one of the most time-consuming parts of hiring, with recruiters allocating a whopping two-thirds of their time to it. At the same time, competitive candidates expect a near-instant response to their application and consistent, timely follow-up throughout the hiring process. This means time is of the essence.
A streamlined candidate evaluation process allows you to move through interviews quickly, so you don’t miss out on top candidates who are likely in the running for positions at multiple companies.
When you’re a small company hiring for just a handful of positions a year, you might be able to manage without having a methodical evaluation framework. Once you begin to grow beyond that, however, you need a more systematic approach.
Following a candidate selection process that’s the same every time conserves resources and ensures that the process can be duplicated whether you’re making dozens or thousands of hires.
Interview bias leads to more homogenous teams, which is detrimental to creativity and innovation. An objective candidate evaluation process helps you assess candidates on an equal scale while minimizing personal biases that can lead to hiring mistakes.
At the end of the day, you need to select a candidate with the skills and qualifications to do the job. A thorough evaluation process ensures that you get the right person on the first try so that you don’t have to waste time and money repeating the hiring process all over again.
How to Evaluate Interview Candidates
Evaluate against the job
This is a key concept that even seasoned interviewers get wrong: evaluating candidates against one another instead of the job description. Yes, it’s important to compare how candidates stack up against each other, but this is impossible to do with any level of accuracy when you’re working with a large candidate pool.
The better approach is to first evaluate interview candidates against a fixed set of criteria for the job, which we’ll talk more about below. Only then, once you’ve narrowed it down to the top two or three contenders can you assess them side by side.
Establish assessment criteria
Create an assessment matrix to evaluate candidates on various aspects, and use a scoring system to assign them a numeric score in each area. Once it’s time to narrow down your choices, these scores make it easy to weigh candidates against one another.
If multiple interviewers are involved in the process, everyone should use the same matrix and rating scale.
Key Assessment Criteria to Incorporate
This is one of the most important assessment criteria and one of the most straightforward to evaluate. Do they or do they not have the skills necessary to do the job?
Assess both hard and soft skills, as these both play into a candidate’s fit for a role. Consider using skills assessments to supplement your interview questions and more accurately judge a candidate’s abilities.
Relevance of background
Look at the positions the candidate has held prior to this one. Did they employ similar skill sets? Do they serve as a strong foundation for the candidate to build upon? What were they able to achieve in these roles?
Examine their background from a holistic view, not just the most recent one to two jobs, to understand how their total experience might serve them in this new position.
Education and training
For some jobs, like positions in finance or healthcare, specialized training may be a minimum requirement to complete the duties of the job. Other positions may be more flexible with the type and level of education that’s acceptable.
Look at their education basics, like degree completion and major, as well as details like specific coursework and additional technical credentials.
While this criterion isn’t typically specified in the job description, it can play a big role in a candidate’s success or failure in a position. Do their professional goals align with your organizational mission? Are they on a path that sets them up for a successful future at your company?
For example, let’s say a software QA candidate comes in with all the right technical qualifications. When asked about their career goals, they say they want to someday move into a leadership role in CX management. If your company is a third-party QA vendor, however, customer experience roles probably aren’t available, which could mean the candidate will be dissatisfied with their advancement opportunities.
While this alone isn’t a reason to disqualify a candidate, it does merit further consideration, so it’s a topic worth covering in the evaluation process.
Culture fit is notoriously one of the most difficult hiring criteria to uncover. It’s also frequently mischaracterized as an evaluation of the candidate’s personality–i.e. whether or not they’re similar to other members of the team–but this isn’t an accurate predictor of new hire success.
Instead, culture fit criteria should be based on whether the candidate is in alignment with how your company operates. Ask questions that will shed light on their values, work style, and communication preferences. Do they prefer to work alone or on a team? Do they prefer to address problems head-on, or handle them with a softer touch?
Though these criteria have nothing to do with skills, they can make or break whether a candidate is a right fit to succeed on a particular team.
While it’s important to weed out personal bias from the evaluation process, there’s still a place for the interviewer’s general impressions of a candidate as it can help you draw conclusions about their broader fit for the role.
Take the candidate’s attitude, for example. Did they come in with a warm smile and a strong handshake, or did they seem indifferent and cold? If they’re interviewing for a customer-facing role, the latter probably isn’t a good sign.
How the candidate presents themself, like whether they seem prepared for the interview, whether they came dressed in appropriate attire, and their body language can also serve as useful data points in your evaluation.
Asking about salary expectations is necessary to determine whether you can afford a candidate. If you’ll need to expand your budget to acquire a top pick, this is good information to know during the evaluation process.
You’re not just assessing candidates on the skills they possess; it’s also important to ascertain which criteria they lack. Allocate space in your assessment metric to note areas of weakness, like a lack of leadership experience or a missing technical credential, that could tip the scales in who you hire.
Get a Second Opinion
For many roles, two (or more) heads are better than one in evaluating interview candidates. Consider using interview techniques like panels and job auditions to bring more decision-makers into the hiring process and sharpen your evaluations.