September 30, 2022
It’s been over a decade since I was in the hot seat, being interviewed for a job I really wanted. Back then, it was a game of presentations, spin, and theatre. Before that, you could walk into a local shop, ask if they're hiring, and get an interview. If that failed, answering ads in the newspaper was a good option as well. And while job postings in the newspaper still exist, everything else about trying to find a job or hiring the right person for the job has evolved a lot with the advent of virtual interviews, internet job boards, and so much more.
The recruitment and interviewing process is a lot harder today. Candidates have a lot of jobs to pick from. Agencies don’t have as much wiggle room in making long-term investments for training and building talent from the ground up. This is where most agencies go terribly wrong. If you're looking to find that perfect candidate with everything you need in one neat package, you'll never stop looking; it's short-sighted, and if you want to improve your hiring process, you need to be far-sighted.
I have found that what is more important than a candidate starting on day one with everything you were looking for, is finding someone completely different than everyone else on your team and building on what they bring — what makes them truly individual.
The Flip: The Fierce Individual Revealed
It’s been about five years since I decided to flip my interview style — to give up control of the process and let the candidates grab hold of the steering wheel. I set up every interview with a simple intro: I start with a little bit about who I am and my pronouns (he/him), ask what they know about the role, and let them know that I will have very few questions for them because this is their interview of RAPP. The questions they ask give me insight into who they are and what’s important to them. It gives them the opportunity to literally take the meeting any place they want.
Some of the interviews I’ve had have been incredible explorations of the deep pain and mistreatment folks are currently experiencing or have experienced. They ask questions about work/life balance, how we handle micro-aggression, and how we expect people to engage through dress or showing up at work. These questions give me the freedom to talk about my relentless mission to give people the safe space they are looking for to be 100% their full selves.
I’m not interested in some watered-down version of them or the code-switching mask of a person trying to be what others expect them to be. Instead, I want to see the whole being they want, need, and deserve to be. I don't believe "fiercely individual" is some trendy tagline. I believe that it’s the reality of the space I create for my team, and it's what they deserve.
'What Made You Go Back?'
Some interviews have trended into painful topics of past employment. Other interviews are non-stop belly-laughing sessions that spin into a vibrant discussion of life experiences and personal growth. Candidates may inquire about things like: "Tell me a story about the most fun you have ever had working on a project.” “Tell me about what makes you happy at work.” Or, one of the best questions I’ve ever been asked: “On your very worst day, what made you go back for the next one?”
This one question has stuck with me throughout the years since I handed over the reins for my interviews. It's allowed so many candidates to answer honestly and ask the questions they really need to know. It's an openness that builds trust and gives you the chance to transform what you do and why you are where you are.
Not everyone wholeheartedly embraces the opportunity to be in charge of a process where they imagined themselves being grilled about their lives. There is that rare occasion when a candidate is so thrown off that they have no clue what to ask you. Over the last five years of using this format and meeting hundreds of individuals, a few have triggered my "non-leading, question-filled notebook" and became a less personal and more standard experience at the start. After a few sample questions from past interviewees, they usually get their creative questions flowing when they know it's a welcome environment for that attitude.
Prepping to Meet Your Next Hire
So, how do you design a better hiring process with this type of interview? First, you have to love where you work, believe in what you do, and also know how to pitch it. You know what the baseline questions will be: work/life balance, culture, biggest challenges, etc. So, have those answers ready. Remember to be real — your candidates will see through a "canned response."
Let’s use company culture as an example. I could simply say, “We have lots of parties and do neat stuff.” But that’s fluff. Instead, I focus on what the culture at RAPP really means to my team. I would say, “We share an unapologetic attitude for creating the most diverse, open, energetic, fiercely individual agency in the world.” That covers where I work, what I do, and poses it in the passionate way that I believe in it.
Next, I need to add context. That is my lived experience, so I can't assume someone will understand what that means to me. Some people call them "Nic Rants." I like to think that I simply string together the right answers to help guide someone through who we are, what we do, and why we do it — passionately.
My Number One Lesson for You
In order to find the people that matter, the ones that bring that special something — the ones that are willing to give it their all with their full selves every single day — you have to be willing to be vulnerable right out of the gate. From the second you start that interview, you have to be willing to be the one in the hot seat. And if you are true to them and yourself, you will start a relationship with a potential new hire neither of you will ever forget.
Part of me didn’t want to give away my secret sauce, which is so simple but incredibly powerful. But I feel like maybe our industry would be a better place if we all stopped owning interviews, let go of the steering wheel, and let candidates take control. Then, it’s their interview to win or lose.