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Leaders: Here’s The No. 1 Thing You Shouldn’t Do When Interviewing Job Candidates

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A few years ago, an acquaintance approached me about an opportunity to co-found a marketing consulting firm. A large advertising company was financially backing the endeavor. They were actively recruiting two leaders to establish the new firm.

Over the course of 90 days, my friend and I went through several rounds of interviews. As part of this intensive process, we crafted a pitch deck, created financial models, started a potential client roster and met with prospective team members. We were also asked to explore what we would name this firm. 

At the end of the process, we were both extended offers. A few days later, my offer was abruptly rescinded. I was told the advertising company’s board didn’t approve my candidacy. My business acquaintance however went on to accept their offer and start the firm, without me. And with our collective ideas.

I was devastated to have an offer rescinded. And I was even more devastated that my ideas were taken, stolen and used. I was never offered any compensation.

My experience serves as a reminder and a warning for all hiring managers interviewing candidates. Because here’s the one thing you cannot do when interviewing candidates: Ask for their ideas as part of the process and then steal them. Aside from lacking integrity, this is also bad for business.

With the great resignation now here, power dynamics are shifting. Many candidates have the choice of where and how they want to work. Having an interview process that uses candidates for their ideas, and then implements those ideas without hiring them, can have devastating consequences on your employer brand. Glassdoor, LinkedIn and Twitter are all places where candidates can share how they were unfairly treated and used in the process. 

Here are the three ways to ensure you aren’t asking candidates to do the job before they even have it:

1. Adhere to the same process for all candidates

Starting with the job description, outline the interview stages and the process the candidate can anticipate. Select the slate of interviewers, ensuring the same individuals meet the final slate of candidates. Align on questions in advance and remind interviewers of the job description and the skills you are looking for. Ask all of the candidates the same questions.

Watch out for bias if you think someone won’t be a cultural fit. Do not create different processes for different candidates, asking one candidate to meet with three additional leaders because you aren’t sure they will fit in. If you need to ask additional questions or add an additional stage in the process, ensure all candidates are treated equally to minimize bias.

Related: 15 Tips for Improving Your Skills Interviewing Job Candidates

2. Utilize case interview questions from a different industry 

If you would like to use case interview questions as a way to assess a candidate’s ability to think and problem solve, develop case interviews that represent a different industry. If you are marketing beauty products, you don’t need to have a case that involves your current business situation. Here’s an example:

“Our skincare brand has been experiencing a slow decline in sales for the last two years. Market research we recently conducted suggests introducing several new product lines as the solution. How would you determine what products we should launch and why? How do you recommend we land on pricing and product packaging?”

Instead of asking about your skincare brand specifically, consider substituting an adjacent industry like cosmetics. Or you can ground the case question in a different industry like automobiles or sneakers. You can also ask more general questions like how many light bulbs are there in the U.S. or how many coffees are sold in NYC on a day to get an understanding of how they would solve problems.

Related: Ask These 3 Interview Questions to Make a Great Hire Every Time

3. Don’t ask candidates to solve your business problems

Remember that the interview process is not an opportunity to ask candidates to solve your business problems before they have even been offered the job. As a woman of color, it was not lost on me that my ideas were taken by an intensive interview process that involved all white leaders and a potential co-founder who was also white. 

The interview process is not an opportunity to treat candidates as unpaid consultants.  It is however an important opportunity to understand how candidates think and assess what they will contribute to your team. How you treat candidates during the interview process can have a significant impact on how others view your company in the marketplace. Ensure that all candidates, whether they are hired or not, become ambassadors of your company, letting others know how they were treated equitably, and also treated with kindness and respect.

Related: 4 Communication Mistakes Companies Make When Interviewing

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