Just saying the phrase aloud can evoke nausea—in candidates and interviewers alike. We’ve all heard the horror stories. If real-life interviews were secretly filmed, there’d no doubt be a YouTube channel awash in interview disasters. Yet many hiring managers don’t know what to do or how to improve the hiring process.

Throughout my career, I’ve witnessed or heard about some really dreadful interviews, though I’m glad to say the truly horrible ones are few and far between. More often, people experience bland, homogeneous, impersonal, unrewarding and uninspiring interviews. Only a rare few could be classified as exemplary, and I’ve come to understand quality interviewing is a craft, a honed skill.

How to Improve The Interview Process

The good news is that like many skills, the practice of conducting interviews can be refined and improved. Last year, our professional services firm undertook the company-wide initiative of identifying, disentangling and carefully defining key characteristics – our “8Cs” – intrinsic to and shared by our most successful salespeople. We also developed Associate personas (similar to marketing’s customer personas) to efficiently target our highest potential new hire candidates.

It’s less about who and more about how.

But we didn’t stop with who we select for an interview, we also studied how we interview. Rather than the typical approach of using interviews to weed out incompatible candidates, we flipped our method to focus on determining whom to select into and through our candidate process. Leveraging a series of interviews with sales managers and high-performing Associates as well as data-driven research, we developed documentation detailing what our diamonds in the rough might look like – not by past experience or education alone, but by their embodiment and expression of our 8Cs.

From the earliest phone screenings through our most detailed and cross-team conversations, we utilize the practice of CIDI, Chronological In-depth Interviewing. We believe the most accurate predictor of future performance is past performance in a similar situation. Not the same situation; a similar one. That slight difference in wording is critical. We don’t blindly pursue people because they’ve sold in our industry. Nor do we simply seek out professionals in the verticals we serve. We look for demonstrated success in analogous situations.

Chronological interviewing via CIDI enables us to evaluate candidates through the lens of real-world experience and avoid the “check the box” tunnel many hiring companies find themselves in. There’s no need to place bets on gut feelings, hunches or hypothetical responses. CIDI helps us examine any career, progression paths or time gaps. Most significantly, the process of chronological, in-depth, structured interviewing encourages candidates to share past major decision details, including reasoning, logic, situational aspects and lessons learned. That insight serves as a sound predictor of a candidate’s future decisions and actions.

CIDI works for us, in part, because we purposefully designed engaging, flexible questions and conversation topics to align with our company’s identified 8Cs (conscientious, compelling, coachable, connectors, communicators, competitive, confident and community/cause oriented). From internal recruiting and HR to hiring managers and peer interviewers, everyone works from a shared interview playbook. CIDI provides a series of question options for each of our 8Cs, and allows the interviewer to pick and choose based on how the conversation is flowing, comfort with topics and lines of common interest. Many of our CIDI questions begin with phrases such as: “Tell me about a time….” and “Share an example when…”.

The interview doesn’t end with the handshake.

There’s another key aspect of efficiently using CIDI as a candidate evaluation approach – the interview doesn’t stop when the conversation concludes. An interesting and insightful discussion is only truly effective if the information gleaned is subsequently collected, analyzed and assessed. Some time and thoughtful effort is required by the interviewer after the candidate leaves the building.

Along with questions and discussion guidelines, our CIDI documentation includes strategies to decipher what an interviewer learns and provides tools to help determine and present sound conclusions. In an upcoming blog, I’ll share more about the post-interview process and how you can create a useful candidate documentation method that enables everyone in the hiring progression to utilize company-wide nomenclature and execute upon common evaluation practices.

While interview disasters make for good movie scenes, they make miserable real-life moments. Keep these time-wasters where they belong, as 5-minute mental breaks on YouTube.