The Fair Hiring Process: What Matters Most to Job Candidates

More than 200 people responded to a questionnaire about what they think matters most in a job interview, what they consider to be a respectable process, and what should absolutely not be done. Let’s see what there is to learn and implement from these responses.

A new job is fun and exciting. The way there…not so much. We’ve all been there—it takes a ton of strength and persistence to interview at various places, answer endless personal and technical questions, and many times still get ‘no’ for an answer. But, although the job search may not be a great pleasure, the process can still be conducted in a respectful, sensitive manner. While all companies court the best candidates and try to provide the best terms for employees, many things tend to fall through the cracks during the interview process: applicants never being called back, technical interviews demanding way too much work, and inappropriate questions being asked.

Here are the responses and the conclusions. I must admit, many of them surprised me and raised super valid points I hadn’t considered myself.

What matters most to you in the interview process?

Transparency. The subject that came up the most was transparency. Many candidates said they often feel they have no idea where they stand in the process, what the next step is, whether or not they impressed the company, what the interviewing company considers problematic, etc. Even when we asked about the most successful processes, the issue of transparency was repeated over and over again.

Mutual respect. True, we’re talking about a job interview, but no one really wants to feel like they’re taking a test. Another thing many respondents mentioned was that an interview is a two way street—they would like to have a pleasant conversation, rather than being bombarded with questions, and would like to have enough time left to ask questions about the company.

Interviewers who are professional and take the interview seriously. Much of the negative feedback referred to HR departments. Many respondents shared stories about initial interviews conducted by HR where the interviewer could not accurately specify the job or asked too general of questions. One feeling that emerged a number of times was that the interviews lacked professionalism or were not taken seriously enough (e.g. the interviewer was not thorough, questions unrelated to the job were asked), which made candidates wary. This issue also appeared in reference to the interview process itself: each step of the process should be clearly defined, the essence of each interview should be explained, each step should conclude with an explanation of the next step, and, if you commit to a timeline, make sure to meet it.

Initial brief Zoom interview—to the point or kind of insulting?

At Oribi, as with many other companies, the first interview will likely be a brief Zoom interview (in pre-COVID times as well) of 15-30 minutes. We asked whether this is perceived as a practical move to check for a basic fit or if it’s an insulting one that doesn’t allow the applicant to express themselves.

80% think a short interview is great, as it respects the time of both parties and is enough to get a first impression. 20% think it’s degrading and doesn’t leave one sufficient time to present oneself.

Some important highlights that came up regarding the initial interviews:

  • Explain the essence of the interview beforehand. Many respondents were in favor of a brief interview, but emphasized the importance of properly communicating the nature of such a meeting beforehand. They mentioned that if they were to show up to such an interview while anticipating a more comprehensive one, it may feel degrading. As long as they were informed in advance of the nature of the Zoom meeting—that it would be a reciprocal interview for initial introductions and a look into whether the job fits what the candidate is looking for—a short first meeting is excellent.
  • Make sure to leave sufficient time for questions. While the goal of the short interview is to be brief and to the point, the candidates also have the right to use that first interview to decide whether they want to proceed to the next stage or not.
  • Brief interview? Make sure to go over the CV ahead of time. Some respondents mentioned that, despite the fact that the interviewers had had their CVs before the interview, time was still wasted on questions asking them to specify their professional experience. Since this interview is meant to be brief, it’s better to ask more practical questions, rather than having an interviewee read their CV aloud.
  • Zoom rules of conduct. Many anecdotes came up about initial (and even advanced) interviews where basic Zoom etiquette was not upheld. Examples: interviews that didn’t begin on time (if being late is a no-no for the candidate, it should be for the interviewer as well), interviews conducted with the camera turned off, and interviewers texting (or using Whatsapp) while conducting the interview.

How many interviews should a respectful process include overall?
According to the majority of respondents, the ideal number would be 3-4.

A subject related to the number of interviews, and which came up several times, was regarding the amount of time between them. The preference is to have all 3-4 interviews completed in as little time as possible. More than a few respondents described processes in which all the interviews were squeezed into 2-3 days as very positive experiences. On the other hand, some also mentioned that, as they find the interviewing process very stressful in general, it would be difficult to have several interviews conducted one right after the other. Overall, it seems that compressing the interviews into a short amount of time is the best option, but as for holding more than one on the same day—it’s worth asking the candidate whether that will work well for them or not.

How to say ‘no’? How would you prefer to receive a negative response?

Surprisingly (to me, at least), 40% of respondents said they would rather get a phone call, while the other 60% said an email would be better. I usually send out an email since I don’t want to catch someone at a bad time and because I prefer to write down my feedback in an organized manner. It seems that many people feel a phone call is better and more dignified.

Of course, a crucial point mentioned was that it’s best to deliver a negative response as soon as possible. Many respondents shared how some companies they interviewed at never got back to them with any answer at all, while other companies replied weeks after the final interview.

A common request was not to get the negative news from HR. These respondents had been in contact with people from the company and would have liked to get the answer (along with feedback) from them rather than receiving an email from someone they had never spoken to.

The most frequently mentioned subject in regard to receiving a negative response was the importance of detailed feedback. Many candidates view feedback as an important tool for them and a demonstration of respect for their time. Some also wished that generic responses such as “we’ve decided to proceed with other candidates” would be avoided.

I’d like to add my own point of view as an interviewer: I 100% agree that feedback should be granted and be as detailed as possible. However, in many cases, this could also be rough. I often feel that I am highly impressed by some candidates and a good connection is there, but then a slightly more compatible candidate comes along and we decide to proceed with him/her instead. In these cases, there is no actual negative feedback to be given; it was just that a better candidate was out there. In other cases there is feedback that could be difficult to share: a lack of chemistry, a sense that the candidate lacks seriousness, candidates giving long and complicated answers for each question and making it hard to get a concrete answer. So, even though in some cases giving feedback is hard, it’s usually possible and recommended to provide it.

How would you react if you were asked to give feedback about the interviewing process after not getting the position?

70% of respondents considered the request for feedback about the process—even if they didn’t get the job—as a welcome initiative. 30% viewed it as a complete waste of time and even an insult. What was interesting about the replies we got was that each side was very firm regarding their stance on such a request. 70% found it necessary, respectful, and kind, while the other 30% were completely against the idea and couldn’t understand how something more could be demanded from them after they’d been rejected.

Those who were for the feedback stated that they’d expect the form to be short and concise, and that obviously, the candidates should receive feedback in return.

Another subject mentioned was that no one would bother to give feedback to the companies whose interview processes were particularly bad. That’s most likely because they believe the companies with the truly terrible processes won’t use their feedback to improve, anyway.

A practical interview. How long should it last?
A sore subject in the interview process is the technical section or the home assignment/exam. Many interviewees tell us they have been given an assignment that was estimated to take several days—something that’s nearly impossible for those working full time on top of the interviews, and which, of course, only increases the frustration of rejected candidates. We’ve asked how long a respectful home assignment should last. The average reply says about 3 hours. The feedback stated that a practical interview lasting one or more days indicated a company with low focus and quality. That is, a company that’s incapable of constructing a concise exam probably isn’t one you want to work for. Same goes for degree-related questions—some mentioned that an exam which includes basic theoretical questions designed to check what the candidates remember from university would not be well received.

How, if at all, do you limit the time frame? At this time, when most of the interviews are done online rather than at the office, it is unclear how to limit the time candidates take on assignments. A candidate may spend days fulfilling a task the interviewer thinks should take only a few hours. The majority of respondents said they believe the best option is to provide a limited time frame for the task. That is, if a task should take no longer than 3 hours, you should send it to the candidate on a particular day at 10AM and ask that they send it back within the next 3 hours. This method should guarantee equality between the candidates and eliminate the possibility that one candidate takes a few days completing the task while another spends only a few hours on it. Some respondents said they were offered a position after spending A LOT more time than was defined, without even knowing that was the case.

Feedback, feedback, feedback. If I already mentioned the importance of feedback in general—then in regard to the home exam, it is even more important.  Many stated how important it is for them to get concrete feedback as to the reason they didn’t pass the exam.

Respect for one’s time? How about a gift? Some shared that, when they didn’t get the job, certain companies sent them a gift certificate for the time they “wasted” on the home exam. This was highly regarded even though the amount was, of course, minimal—it showed the recognition for the time and work that was put into the exam.

Meaningful Tips
Some more important and practical points that were raised:

  • Don’t turn the interview coordination into a living hell. Many of the candidates work while job hunting, and that significantly limits the amount of free time they have to interview. The feedback we received said that you should allow candidates to schedule the interview using Calendly (for those who aren’t familiar, it’s a sort of calendar that allows users to schedule a meeting from the time frames listed). This is better than engaging in an endless battle of email ping-pong. 
  • The matter of salary should be discussed right from the get-go. People share that, only after a few interviews, did they receive the salary offer, which turned out to be significantly lower than what they had requested. Have you asked what their expectations are and you can’t meet them? Mention it at the beginning of the process and allow the candidates to decide for themselves whether they want to proceed or not. If the requested salary is appropriate, mention that as well. Many candidates do not know what a reasonable salary is for the interviewing company and don’t feel it’s appropriate to ask. You shouldn’t get into detailed salary discussions right from the get-go, but you should make sure both parties are on the same page.
  • No “surprise over-the-phone interviews”. Interested in conducting a short interview over the phone? Make sure to schedule a time for it via email or text. Many of the respondents said they were called at an inconvenient time, or that they hadn’t even realized it would be a phone interview, which made them uncomfortable. Let the candidate schedule a time when they will be in a peaceful and quiet environment.
  • Yeah, COVID, etc.—we still want to see what the office looks like. This was a super valid point I hadn’t considered before. Many said the way the office looks is an important factor in choosing their workplace (how crowded the rooms are, how everyone is seated, where you eat, what the office’s appearance is like). This can reveal a lot about the company and, in normal times, it’s the first thing you see when interviewing. A great suggestion is to send the candidates a video of a virtual tour of the office.
  • 1 vs. 100? Better not. An experience that is conceived to be very unpleasant is an interview with more than two interviewers. More than few respondents described interviews with 3, 4, or even 5 interviewers, as a highly negative experience.
  • Don’t ask me to “tell you more about myself”. A good point I occasionally transgress. Where should I begin? The professional or the personal? In a nutshell, ask exactly what it is you want to know.
  • Don’t be on your cellphone during an interview. Many stories about negative experiences mentioned interviewers that answered a phone call or texted while conducting the interview.
  • Don’t conduct home exams or ask questions that might be perceived as seeking free consultation. One good piece of feedback, especially regarding home exams, is that at times it seemed the company was “using” the candidates to solve actual problems on its behalf. I want to add my personal view as an employer. I actually believe that it’s preferable for the exam to be about the actual product/tech of the company. It allows the candidates to experience something somewhat closer to the actual work. It is hard for me to believe that there are many companies who would abuse candidates so blatantly, or that it is at all possible to get work free of charge through interviews.
  • Many candidates are stressed during the interviews. Allow it, ask about it, refer to it, and give extra time if needed.
  • Most importantly—be humane and conduct a process you would like to go through yourselves.

This post was written as a part of our project at Oribi to define what a ‘fair hiring process’ is, one that makes sure to respect the candidate’s time and takes their feelings into consideration. I will be going further into it later on. You are more than welcome to check out our available positions.