Thursday, September 8, 2011

How Social Media Has Changed the Hiring Process & Other Timeless Hiring Tips

Please welcome Alison Green to my Blog. Allison Green is the talented voice behind the popular “Ask a Manager” Blog, where she dispenses advice on career, job search, and management issues. Also, she writes a weekly column on career and management issues for U.S. News & World Report’s website and is the co-author of “Managing to Change the World: The Nonprofit Leader’s Guide to Getting Results” (second edition to be published by Jossey Bass in the spring of 2012). Alison’s career advice has been featured in The Washington Post, The Wall St. Journal,, Fox Business News, Men’s Health, and on NPR’s Marketplace Money. Check out her Blog, follow on Twitter, and become a fan on Facebook. I had the honor of interviewing Alison recently, and I would like to share the highlights.

How has social media impacted hiring – the good ways and the bad ways?

ALISON GREEN: On the candidate side, due to sites like LinkedIn, it’s easier than ever to figure out who in your network might be connected to an employer or field that you’re interested in – which is a huge benefit that I suspect most people aren’t taking enough advantage of. Twitter and other forms of social media make it really easy to build relationships with people you might want in your network – what used to require going to tons of networking events and conferences (which was sometimes impossible) can now be done from your home office or living room couch. On the employer side, social media has made it easier to get a more complete picture of a candidate: if he/she has a digital footprint/an online presence, what he/she is writing about, how he/she portrays himself/herself online, what is the person interested in, etc. Of course, this can be both good and bad. Employers can now find out less-than-flattering things about candidates that they previously would not have uncovered (and which, frankly, might not actually have any bearing on a person’s ability to do the job).

What are the most important questions an EMPLOYER should ask a candidate during an interview?

ALISON GREEN: Really dig into past experiences. Too many interviewers ask surface-level questions about past jobs and then move right on to the next question on their list. It’s far more useful to focus on a few key pieces from the candidate’s past and really spend quality time probing to get beneath the surface. So instead of just asking about a particular project and then moving on, the interviewer should follow up and follow up and then follow up some more. For example, “What was the biggest challenge there? How did you approach that? What happened? How did you deal with that? Then what happened?” You can learn a great deal of valuable information about how the candidate really operates, and it can separate a good on-paper candidate from a great in-practice candidate. I’m also a huge fan of asking what kind of feedback candidates have received from their previous managers. This can tell a lot in terms of the substance of the response itself and also how candid candidates are when answering. If people have been lucky and received constructive feedback about things they could have done differently, how have they processed the feedback and what improvements/changes did they make?

What are the most important questions a CANDIDATE should ask an employer during an interview?

ALISON GREEN: Ask about what’s going to be most important to achieve in the role during the first year and how the new employee’s performance will be measured. This provides a good picture of what the new employee will be expected to do and what success will look like, but it also shows how clear the employer is on what he/she is looking for. Another great question is, “What obstacles do you think the person in this position will face?” You might hear about the impossible coworker, the difficult bureaucracy, or the uncooperative vendor. Even better, you may hear about an aspect of the position that you might not have otherwise heard about. And conveniently, while these questions are about learning things that will help decide if this is the right fit, they also happen to be great questions that will impress a hiring manager, because they make it clear that you're thinking rigorously about the role.

Since employers are not hiring candidates for their weaknesses, and candidates may not always be honest about this question, what is the value of asking "What are your weaknesses?"

ALISON GREEN: The question itself has become so cliché – as have candidates’ answers to it – that it’s basically useless now. That said, as a hiring manager, I AM interested in figuring out what the candidate’s weaker points are, because I want to make sure that those weaknesses aren’t going to be fatal for this particular position. And I want as full a picture as possible about the person I'm hiring. But, often, you can get to that information by conducting a rigorous interview and a thorough reference check. However, there are creative ways of talking about weaker spots during an interview. For example, the question I mentioned earlier about feedback from previous managers can address this issue, and it’s interesting to see how insightful people are about their own weak spots – as well as how open they are about talking about them. In fact, I’ve always found that the stronger the candidate, the more able he/she is to provide a thoughtful and accurate perspective on his/her own weaker points.

How do you differentiate managers and leaders?

ALISON GREEN: When I was telling someone recently that I consult on management but not leadership, I defined the difference as “I don’t teach anyone how to inspire anyone.” I was half joking, but that’s pretty much it. I think of management as setting goals, monitoring progress against those goals and holding people accountable to them, building a strong team (which means hiring as well as being willing to fire when necessary), building a culture around high performance, etc. It’s the day-to-day business of getting things done. But I think of leadership as creating a vision and motivating other people to work toward that vision.

Since HR and Marketing Departments share a common goal of having successful employees who also need to be brand advocates, how can the two departments work together harmoniously? 

ALISON GREEN: Marketing can teach HR a lot about remembering who their audience is. HR sometimes gets so caught up in internal processes that they forget to assess what they're putting out with the eye of an outsider. So then you get deadly dull job postings that are full of jargon and bureaucratic references, instead of really describing the work and what should attract the ideal candidate to the role. A little bit of marketing’s focus on the audience and the fundamental goal wouldn't hurt!

Image Credit: Thanks to Scott Hampson for use of his comic with this post. Check out his work at

1 comment:

  1. Good interview Debbie.

    I really appreciate and identify with what Alison has stated here. Given what is happening jobs-wise in this country, we now more than ever, need to be smart when we interview regardless of which side of the desk we are sitting. She is spot on about how Marketing and HR need to work together, as I see both departments sharing common ground; however, I have seen turf wars occur when neither is willing to concede on the basis of “what they own.”

    As a volunteer helping job seekers find work and resources to guide them in the search, I hear some pretty scary stories from them about the horrible interview process they were subjected to by the interviewer. Unfortunately, there are many unskilled interviewers who just don’t understand how to present, market and solicit information effectively. I like Alison's suggestion about staying on topic about a candidates former experience and digging into the details about that particular project, rather than just superficially covering an item and moving on to cursorily cover another.

    Talking about weaknesses is a very old and insipid interview technique. Other than detecting certain signs displayed in body language or facial expression, I'm not sure this is a very relevant interview topic, because if the interviewer is not skilled at understanding body language, he/she will miss the true understanding of what he/she is seeing.


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