Interview Process

Enhancing the Candidate Onsite Interview Process

The onsite candidate interview is one of the most important steps in finding the right senior technology leader. Delaying hiring, or hiring the wrong person, can cause many problems for a company including a lack of direction, lowered morale, underperforming financials and missed sales opportunities.

Our data shows many companies are not investing the time necessary to ensure that a thorough, effective and rigorous candidate interviewing process is followed. We believe each hire should be viewed as a formal project and therefore have a project leader to drive the processes necessary to ensure a positive outcome. One critical element of the process is a coordinated candidate interviewing experience.

Here are few tips to help your company improve their onsite candidate interviews.

1.     Clearly define your interviewers’ roles and what questions they will ask

Assign each member of the interview committee a clear and meaningful role. Interviewers should focus on a mission-critical attribute that leverages their area of expertise. In addition, having interviewers ask the same question to each candidate reduces uncertainty and increases objectivity. If we can identify and guide interviewers at the beginning of the process then we can add value by driving successful habits along the way.

2.     Ask strategic questions with no repeats or “dead ends”

Each interviewer should ask materially different questions that help move the committee towards a decision on the candidate. When questions are repeated or do not lead to follow-ups, it sends a message of incompetence to your candidate and makes them doubt the company’s preparation.  

3.     Ensure each Interviewer is spending time selling the position and the company

During the interview process, there is plenty of time for candidate evaluation, however, each interviewer must spend time selling the candidate on the company vision and the high impact of the position within the corporate vision.  Regardless of whether the candidate turns out to be someone the interviewer believes should be hired, it should be the goal of the interviewer to have each candidate walk away from the meeting thinking positive thoughts about the company and culture.

Unfortunately, we typically see the opposite behavior practiced. Often there is only one member of the interview team tasked with selling. Regardless of how strong their brand is, if a company cannot consistently and clearly sell the value of the position during the interview, they will see poor results.  

4.     Constantly calibrate

We have seen clients list a set of ideal / desired requirements on paper that << insert your most successful CEO here >> would not be qualified and certainly not interested at this point in their career.  It’s important to balance optimism as well as pragmatism as it relates to the criteria for each hire.

We suggest investing time each week to create a feedback loop to discuss the interview process, review everyone’s roles and questions being asked, and calibrate on everyone’s desires around skill set requirements versus the candidates that have shown enough interest to come onsite for interviews.

Companies should constantly evaluate the level of candidates that can be attracted versus the desired requirements for the role. It is important to not only provide candidates with rapid interview feedback but also get their input in terms of the process and interest level in the role. As the process goes along, the candidate profile will become more clear and expectations may need to be adjusted.

Running an Effective Discovery Process

A company searching for a CISO/Head of Security must decide not only where the new hire will report, but also what the scope and expectations of the role will be. These complex decisions are crucial to the company’s success. With so much at stake, how does a company ensure that all of their interviewers and influencers are on the same page?

We’ve developed a unique spin on the discovery process called “Interviewing the Interviewers” or ITI. Our team spends a day or two onsite, meeting with the interviewers and influencers and getting a sense of their perceived evaluation criteria and thoughts on the process. We ask a custom set of questions that relate to the originally spec’d position we were offered (if it exists) and/or what we were told by the hiring leader. The entire ITI process is meant to be swift, personal and intrusive.

After the interviews, we present our findings to the executive sponsor of the search with the goal of establishing a common language and understanding. In the security space, we hear a variety of terms that ultimately describe the same concepts. AppSec and Security Operations are two great examples; we’ve seen at least five different definitions of these terms from client to client and function to function. Our findings eventually become the basis of a thoughtfully constructed position description.

We’ve found that the ITI method is an effective way to discover the true meaning of the client’s target and the best cultural match. Here’s why:

  • Face-to-face time with interviewers and influencers helps us become familiar with everyone’s roles, motivations, and styles while allowing the team to get to know us. While many executives have worked with search firms, most have not worked side-by-side with a search partner. Understanding our value improves the search.

  • Interviewers and influencers get a chance to have their voices, thoughts and perspectives heard. We are able to get each individual’s definition of the role and the evaluation criteria/priorities without influence from others. This is the key element to getting buy-in and calibration.

  • We learn about the client’s environment using an internal lens which allows us to see the client in their natural habitat. We are able to observe the office environment and culture and make it part of the story. We ask questions to get a sense of the vibe, employee interaction, client organization, and meeting structure.

  • We hear the company’s pitch from a number of people who will interview our candidates. Since most of our candidates are gainfully employed, our clients need to make their pitch crisp and enticing. If the individual, or company as a whole, is not a strong pitcher than we want to identify this upfront. From there, we evaluate who should be pitching to the candidates and when he or she should appear in the process.

  • Most importantly, the ITI method gives us data to present to the hiring sponsor(s) to determine whether they can overcome obstacles or beliefs that may challenge the success of the search process. In the end, it is all about executive sponsorship. If we do not have the necessary air cover and ability to influence mindset then the search is likely to be unsuccessful. We could run the risk of simply finding and presenting a collection of candidates without much advising. When this (rarely) occurs, as an esteemed search legend says, we “Fetch versus Search”. And the results can be drastically different.

Whether it is the ITI method or something different, a strong discovery process from a search partner or internal recruiting function is an absolute. This process sets the stage for how the company will act when faced with difficult alignment questions, scope definitions, evaluation expectations, and overall qualification priorities and ultimately determines the success of the CISO/Head of Security role.