Project Management Institute

Candid Candidate

Organizations are Rethinking How They Size up Applicants; Here's How to be Ready for the New Interview Norm

BY JEN THOMAS

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Not so long ago, job interviews were fairly predictable processes.

If a candidate’s CV or resume seemed like a fit for an open project management position, the prospect could likely expect an in-person interview in a familiar setting where an interviewer would ask questions like, “What’s your greatest weakness?” and, “Do you enjoy risk management?” The candidate would then respond with familiar replies such as, “I am far too much of a perfectionist” and, “I could talk risk register for days.”

But canned responses to canned questions are no longer the norm. Many companies are using psychometric people-skills tests or job auditions to get better insights into a potential hire’s qualifications. “In a traditional interview with standardized questions, we often hear rehearsed answers,” says Mariana Ladeira de Azevedo, PMP, senior partner and human resources project manager, Sinergia Gestao de Pessoas, Florianopolis, Brazil. “These newer interview formats can help us understand what the candidate isn’t telling us.”

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—Mariana Ladeira de Azevedo, PMP, Sinergia Gestao de Pessoas, Florianopolis, Brazil

Companies are incorporating new job interview techniques to make the hiring process more effective and less costly and time-consuming. According to a 2018 LinkedIn report, a majority of recruiters still consider traditional interview practices important but also feel they fall short—particularly when it comes to assessing people skills like creativity, adaptability and leadership.

More than half of hiring professionals already have adopted one or more of four increasingly popular interview methods: people-skills assessments, job auditions, virtual reality (VR) simulations and holding interviews in more informal settings (a restaurant, say, instead of an office). For project professionals looking for a new opportunity, that means being prepared to face the new formats.

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Digital Assessments

Global financial firm Citi is one highprofile adopter of digital skills assessments. In the past, Citi primarily recruited high-GPA students from elite schools. It had no other efficient way to compare those applicants or to tap talent outside of elite schools. So, it turned to predictive hiring software firm Koru and piloted a project with a 20-minute online survey that evaluates seven key “impact skills” of applicants, including grit, curiosity, polish, rigor and initiative. Rather than ranking on gut, recruiters now can review hard data when assessing candidates. And the tool also shows how individuals in the applicant pool stack up to the company’s current top performers.

Citi is hardly alone in developing more quantitative skills assessments. Nearly 20 percent of organizations have incorporated people-skills assessment tests into their recruiting and hiring process, according to LinkedIn. There are advantages on all fronts, says Ms. Ladeira de Azevedo: Companies can quickly and efficiently evaluate a large number of candidates. The digital tools can minimize interviewer bias. And candidates sometimes are able to take the assessments in the convenience of their own homes.

Prep talk: Many different psychometric tests exist, so it’s hard to cram for an exact format or question set. But it might help to know that all tests work the same way, using neuroscience exercises to assess skills in areas such as teamwork, conflict resolution and leadership.

“For many positions, it’s searching for soft skills, not technical skills, that makes finding the best fit a challenge,” says Ms. Ladeira de Azevedo. Trying to discern which quality the test is looking at is a distracting exercise that actually can impact the assessment. Instead, answer from a place of authenticity, she says. Remember, this is about finding the right fit—for both sides.

—Mariana Ladeira de Azevedo, PMP

Auditions

There’s no better way to know if job candidates can do the work than to actually have them do the work, right? LinkedIn found that more than half of companies have asked candidates to perform some sort of job audition—whether that’s as straightforward as mapping out a work-breakdown structure or as involved as managing a test project.

“It’s a technique that is gaining momentum because the interviewer is able to assess how the candidate prepared, plus his or her presentation and critical-thinking skills,” says Cristine Kane, vice president of implementation and change management at global recruiting firm Hudson RPO, Miami, Florida, USA. “Plus, it gives the candidate a better idea of what the job would be like and some control over the interview process.”

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—Cristine Kane, Hudson RPO Miami, Florida, USA

Prep talk: Auditions can be good opportunities for candidates to show what they can do, especially if their project portfolio or résumé doesn’t represent the full breadth of their skills. Don’t assume that any mention of an audition means an hours-or days-long commitment, says Ms. Kane. “In my experience, many auditions can be conducted within an hour.”

Know that the hiring manager will be assessing both the audition’s deliverables and how that work was accomplished. For instance, what was the candidate’s style for leading and engaging a team? How did he or she handle information gaps that might impede project progress? Did creativity play a part? Candidates who spend too much time thinking about the audience as the audition unfolds will risk underperforming. Candidates who try to stay in the moment are more likely to approach the audition as they would a real job.

Virtual Reality

Though enterprises have embraced VR only in recent years, 28 percent of organizations have moved it into the HR function—integrating VR simulations into their hiring processes.

For example, executives at German railway company Deutsche Bahn realized that the company’s hiring needs would increase dramatically, in part because large numbers of employees were approaching retirement age. They began searching for ways to better recruit talent, both young and senior. The HR team settled on VR just as it was becoming popular in gaming circles.

After producing a small number of immersive videos, recruiters began taking the technology to job fairs. “We were looking for a new, modern and cool way to bring candidates closer to very specific, mostly unknown railway jobs,” says Kerstin Wagner, head of talent acquisition, Deutsche Bahn, Berlin, Germany. “Within a matter of seconds, candidates can experience a job in very real-life atmosphere.”

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—Kerstin Wagner, Deutsche Bahn, Berlin, Germany

The simulations were immediately successful: Instead of the usual 10 or so potential candidates, the company began attracting 50 or 100 high-quality applicants per job fair.

Prep talk: So far, companies tend to use VR two ways. It is deployed as a recruiting tool at job fairs to give prospective project talent an immersive virtual experience of what a job, or the company itself, is really like. Toyota, for instance, encourages candidates to experience its immersive VR simulations at job fairs in order to show off what its campus and culture are like—even far from the company’s headquarters.

VR is also incorporated into the traditional interviewing process as a means of assessing a candidate’s skills. At Lloyds Banking Group, hiring managers looking to fill roles on the digital implementation team used VR to assess the teamwork and leadership style of 400 hopeful candidates.

When it comes to preparing for virtual reality skills assessments, the prevailing wisdom is similar to the advice for online people-skills tests. In other words: Be honest and perform tasks in an authentic way. Recruiters won’t expect candidates to have deep experience with this new technology, says Ms. Wagner. And it might help to know that, according to LinkedIn, 96 percent of candidates who have used VR as part of the recruitment process rated it as enjoyable and impressive. And 100 percent felt the simulations added value to the hiring process.

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Going Casual

Nothing sparks lively, candid conversations like a sterile meeting space … said no project manager ever. More organizations are realizing that meeting candidates outside the office is a low-cost way to spark better interactions and gain a truer sense of engagement.

At Charles Schwab, for instance, executives go so far as to invite applicants to breakfast, instruct servers to get their order wrong—and then observe how job candidates handle the disruption. At Daimler AG, the R&D team created a program in which top candidates take a car ride with their would-be bosses—an approach that’s designed to put candidates at ease and stimulate conversation.

Prep talk: Candidates might feel more comfortable in relaxed settings, but it’s important not to get too comfortable, says Vassilis Papaspirou, a freelance project manager in Athens, Greece who has been on both sides of informal interviews. “These interviews are almost always to see if you fit the culture of the company—which is often just as important as hard skills and experience,” he says.

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—Vassilis Papaspirou, Athens, Greece

There is a common misperception that a casual interview is an opportunity to chat like friends, but in reality, he warns, candidates need to walk a line between friendliness and professionalism “without letting your guard down too much.”

When interviewing candidates, Mr. Papaspirou likes to see how they react to surprises, like changing the location of the meeting at the last moment or changing the time to after hours. But, no matter the interview setting, he still looks for signs of professionalism, such as dressing professionally, bringing a copy of the résumé and demonstrating good active listening skills. PM

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Before the Interview

The rules are changing, even before recruiters and hiring managers welcome project talent through the interview door, according to LinkedIn’s 2018 Global Recruiting Trends.

Where AI is most helpful in the hiring process:

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This material has been reproduced with the permission of the copyright owner. Unauthorized reproduction of this material is strictly prohibited. For permission to reproduce this material, please contact PMI.

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