It’s Time to Gut the Interview Process in the Current State of the #MeToo & COVID-19 Era

COVID-19 has propelled us all into a new era virtually overnight, which requires a time of deep reflection and an in-depth look at everything that we do in our organizations. As some hiring teams slow down and others accelerate their efforts, it’s time to reflect on our treatment of every person that interacts with our businesses. 

Hiring teams must realize that it’s a new day, and everything in our world has changed. The traditional hiring process has always been in favor of the employer, but we are now seeing a shift, especially in the tech industry. The command and control way of hiring is backfiring, and candidates are now coming to the table as equals if not with even more leverage than employers in some cases. 

Believe it or not, it’s crucial to create a psychologically safe space even in the interviewing process. Doing so benefits organizations because you reduce the risk of negative feedback in public forums, and play an active role in lowering the chance of workplace violence. 

Those of us with experience in hiring are accustomed to asking a specific set of questions that almost always includes why people have left (or want to leave positions), gaps in work history, length of time spent in each position, and feedback from supervisors. Of course, all of these factors shouldn’t be ignored and could contain potential red flags. Still, we must recognize that questions in these areas could also be potentially triggering to those who have experienced trauma both inside and outside of the workplace. 

What’s the true nature of these questions, and the general rationale behind them? These questions are looking for a specific core value and work ethic in candidates. Why is this flawed, and how can we assess character and competence in a way that abandons a faulty measurement of job success? In the sections to come, I’ll define the origins of what these questions are trying to un-earth and re-architect them so that we can avoid re-calling trauma, and create a safe and trusting space for candidates to share their stories and experiences.  

 Common but Potentially Triggering Questions

  • Why did you choose to leave your position? 
  • What would your boss (in a specific role) say your strengths and weaknesses are?
  • Please explain the gap areas in your resume.
  • Why are you looking to leave your current position?  

The Truth is That Digging Into Prior Work Experiences Could Cause Trauma

Did you know that 81% of women have experienced sexual harassment? Now, if this is true, how many women have left their jobs because of this? Before we move on, I want to note that roughly 87% to 94% of employees experiencing harassment do not file a formal complaint. Now, if this is also true, what is the likelihood that someone would tell you that this is the reason why they left their job? With this in mind, let’s move forward. 

The new conditions in the world today have changed the rules of the game, and we have to be extremely careful in how we view people who haven’t stayed in positions very long. COVID-19 has introduced another potential pain point for employers because people are most likely hesitant to admit that they spent a significant time away recovering from COVID-19 and really a majority of other illnesses and life events.

It’s Time to Let go of the Gap

What are employment gaps and a short amount of time spent in a position really saying? We all learn in HR 101 that a short amount of time spent in positions is BAD and indicates that the candidate is an anti-committal “Job Hopper.” BUT there are many sides to every story such as suffering from abuse, harassment, or mental health issues both inside and outside of the workplace.

The assessment of gap areas is a purely cosmetic function of the interview process that has only to do with perception. Now, of course, if I am looking at a resume, am I curious as to why someone has stepped away from the workforce for months to a year? YES! Do I wonder why they’ve only stayed at a position for three months? Absolutely! But life happens, and as burnout and many other workplace deficiencies continue to rise, the command and control way of hiring will only continue to create chaos. 

The rules and general acceptance of demonizing gap areas also work against women in the workforce that have taken time away to work in the home or become caretakers. Women (44%) are more likely than men (39%) to leave their current job for a new one with a flexible work environment.

Here is some food for thought:

92% of employees said that they would be more likely to stay with their jobs if their bosses showed more empathy.

Generation X (employees born between 1961 and 1981, reported the highest levels of stress at work and have the highest risk of leaving their job.

75% of employees who voluntarily leave jobs quit their bosses, not their jobs.

A survey by Glassdoor found that 43% of US employees have seen or experienced racism at work.

Ways to Create a Psychologically Safe Space for Candidates

  1. Let them know that they don’t have to share anything that they aren’t comfortable sharing. 
  2. Keep in mind that intention is everything.
  3. Reflect on your questions and put yourself in the other person’s shoes.
  4. Let candidates know what you are thinking and find other questions that address concerns about their character and commitment. 
  5. Invite candidates to tell their stories and address any concerns that they had in previous positions. 

Re-Architecting Interview Questions

I recommend dealing with areas of concern specifically versus hanging on to typical hiring stigmas that don’t reflect the current climate of our world today and do more harm in marginalizing certain groups. Some other questions that you use could be as follows. Please be sure to cross-check with your State’s Department of Labor for complete guidelines. 

  • What do you feel like you needed in order to be set up for success in your past roles, and do you think that you were set up for failure at any time? Feel free to share why or why not in accordance with your comfort level. 
  • What are some of the products of success and work ethic that you demonstrate in the workplace? 
  • Tell me your story and feel free to highlight anything that you want me to know and any and all experiences that you are comfortable sharing? 
  • I’m looking to learn more about the transition periods in your work history. If you could walk me through your resume and help me understand your timeline, that would be great. Feel free to share as much or as little as you are comfortable sharing. 
  • How do you deal with conflict? Do you have any specific conflict management or resolution examples or strategies that you would like to share? 
  • How do you want to be managed?
  • What type of company culture do you feel that you would thrive in
  • Tell me about a specific time you were overwhelmed at work?
  • What has been the happiest experience you’ve had professionally? 
  • What’s your dream job? 
  • Where do you see yourself in five years?
  • What types of things have you seen/experienced that are now dealbreakers for you in working for another company?

The interview process can benefit all parties, and candidates that don’t make it into your companies can still be brand ambassadors. Treating everyone that comes in contact with your company with respect has the power to shape the destiny of any organization.

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