How to Test If Your Interview Process Is a Nightmare

Perhaps you’ve seen the recent Vox article filled with real-life stories of nightmare hiring processes. The painful stories range from two-month-long interview processes, requiring references to complete a 15-minute questionnaire, six interviews with nine people, and the list goes on. While your company probably doesn’t commit those exact sins, it’s entirely possible that there are other painful aspects of your process.

A recent Leadership IQ study asked leaders and employees, “If you changed your name on your resume and applied for your current job, do you think you would make it through your company’s screening process?” Sadly, only 39% of employees felt they would definitely make it through their company’s current hiring process.

It’s a disturbing finding, but it’s also the key to testing whether your current interview process is a nightmare. To do so, it’s worth using an approach that has been a staple of consumer and marketing research for decades: secret shoppers.

Gather some friends, colleagues, or trusted high-performing employees, change their names, anonymize their resumes as appropriate, and enter them into your hiring process. You may need to create some new emails for them and, if you want to get really intense, maybe even purchase a few pay-as-you-go cell phones. Your secret shopper candidates probably won’t make it through the entire interview process without being discovered, but typically they can progress far enough to reveal serious flaws.

To take this even further, select a few of your most fierce or feared competitors and have your secret shoppers conduct the same exercise with your competition. You’ll not only reveal the flaws in your company’s hiring and interview processes, but you’ll also get a much clearer benchmark against which to measure your comparative strengths and weaknesses.

The flaws you’ll reveal in a process like this range from the mission-critical to the mundane. Perhaps you’ll learn that candidates are being told that they’ll need to present a complete and fully-researched marketing plan to even qualify for an interview. You might discover that it takes  literally 40 to 50 mouse clicks to submit an application through your recruiting website.

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Now, it’s almost certainly the case that most of the flaws you discover aren’t coming from the talent acquisition team but from hiring managers and executives. And that’s why this process is so valuable. A secret-shopper type of approach gives you real-life examples of the flaws in the interview and hiring process. It’s one thing to tell executives that the talent acquisition team feels like the interview process should be streamlined. It’s quite another thing to say, “We require six interviews with nine different hiring managers, while our biggest competitor only requires three interviews. And that’s why they’re winning right now.”

There are inconsistencies and flaws in virtually every piece of the hiring and interview process. For instance, one hiring study discovered that four out of five hiring managers could not pinpoint the flaws in a series of interview questions. And another study shows that 62% of HR executives think that their company’s hiring managers are inconsistent in how they interview candidates.

The key to fixing these issues, whether they’re minor or full-blown nightmares like in the Vox article, is to surface and showcase them. A secret-shopper approach, while a bit of work, is a powerful and visceral way to start the process.

Mark Murphy is the CEO of Leadership IQ and a New York Times bestselling author. His books include Hiring For Attitude, Hundred Percenters, HARD Goals, and Managing Narcissists, Blamers, Dramatics and More. Mark’s groundbreaking leadership studies have appeared in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, Fortune, Forbes, Bloomberg BusinessWeek, and U.S. News & World Report. Mark has also appeared on CNN, NPR, CBS News Sunday Morning, and ABC’s 20/20. He’s trained leaders at the United Nations, Harvard Business School, Microsoft, Mastercard, and hundreds more.

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