Lessons from Interview Training

How Skill Development Helps Employees Master Complex Organizational Processes


5 minute read


A few months ago, a client asked us to partner with them to develop training to support their newish hiring and selection process. It gave me flashbacks to the interview training I received as a new manager, which consisted of four words:

“Just have a conversation.”

Of course, our client had something a little more substantive in mind—with good reason. Their HR leaders, looking to enable managers to make better hiring decisions, had recently built and launched a rigorous seven-step interview and selection process. The expectation of interviewers was to do much more than “just have a conversation.” Instead, the process was set up for hiring managers to probe for, collect, and analyze information critical to identifying top talent and discerning fit. Rather than making snap decisions, hiring managers could expect to oversee six to eight hours of interview time for candidates who made it deep into the process. Supporting materials included detailed instructions, interview guides, and a helpful FAQ.

Several months after launch, however, feedback on the new process was mixed.

Hiring managers seemed to be following the steps. But had they really upped their interviewing game, or were they merely checking the boxes? Were they owning the responsibility of selecting only “A-players” and letting the process play out, or were they still “going on gut”? The HR leaders were not so sure. Indeed, a little digging revealed that not much had changed. Experienced managers tended to default to their preferred interview approaches, collecting data required of them in the process, but they seemed unable to either capture the most important information or critically analyze it to make a good hiring decision. Newer managers admitted to feeling unprepared to do much more than “just have a conversation.” C-suite leaders expected better results despite the competitive labor market.

This organization is not alone. A study published in the Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology found that 30 percent of managers made a hiring decision within the first five minutes of an interview, and 80 percent within 15 minutes. This runs counter to the meticulous, time-intensive, data-driven approach our client adopted. The study also noted that experienced interviewers took less time to make a hiring decision than less experienced interviewers. Although quick decisions are not necessarily poor ones, the client specifically built its process to deter them—indeed, the study noted that structured interviews like those the client wanted managers to follow (as opposed to more freestyle approaches) appeared to discourage quick decisions. Given these findings and the specific feedback the client had gathered, it was clear that more support was needed.

That’s where we came in. We worked with HR leaders to develop a learning program that captured not just the “how to” of the process—that was important, of course—but the spirit of it as well. Transformation would only happen if hiring managers at all levels understood the “why” behind the “how” and got comfortable with an approach that was different from what they were used to. Senior leaders shared stories of their hiring fails and lessons learned; participants role-played and debriefed interview scenarios, exchanged and debated perspectives, and defended decisions. HR leaders reset expectations and added opportunities for interview shadowing and mentoring to their larger leadership development process. While measurement of results is a long-term prospect, both learners and stakeholders now feel better positioned to move the organization toward the hiring and selection ideals the process was created to achieve.

This collaboration provided some meaningful insights about the importance of training to support critical organizational processes:

  • Detailed documentation may not be enough. It’s important, for sure, but that “push” may also benefit from some “pull” to convey urgency, importance, priority, or expected impact, especially when stakes are high. HR is flush with policies and procedures; if compliance or intended results are an issue, training can make a difference.
  • Sometimes leaders need to unlearn in order to learn. The Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology study mentioned above recommended that organizations provide “refresher training for interviewers that emphasizes the value of gathering information through the entire interview.” In other words, be mindful of learners who may be inclined to take a “been there, done that” approach. Find ways to leverage what they know (or think they know) in the context of a new paradigm and acknowledge when they successfully adapt.
  • A good way to learn to do something right is to hear from people who’ve done it wrong. A senior leader describing the takeaways from a real-life misstep hits home with learners and adds credibility to an initiative that may need an extra push. Let others benefit from their “woulda, coulda, shoulda” reflections.
  • Manage learner expectations. Training is not a presto-chango machine. Becoming a skilled interviewer—or any of the many other hats leaders wear—takes time and practice. Make this clear to learners, and offer support as they develop.

This advanced interview training has provided a new level of focus, understanding, and—most importantly—skill to execute this critical talent assessment process methodically and with the consideration such important decisions deserve. What processes are underachieving their stated goals in your organization? Consider implementing some advanced skill development for leaders at all levels to support any type of organizational process and achieve better results. Dion Leadership is ready to help if you need a thought partner or someone to help you plan or implement the training. Schedule a call so we can discuss how to make sure your organization is providing the training needed to achieve your 2023 goals.

Terri Schell-Practice Leader, Learning & Development -Dion Leadership_

Terri Schell

Practice Leader, Learning & Development

Terri is passionate about leading a team that develops new, engaging learning content. She works with clients to develop large-scale group development programs that combine multi-modality learning. She supports our facilitators and clients as they prepare for and deliver high quality learning events. Terri recently led the development team for a new e-learning course that supports work-life alignment.

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