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Sandler Training in Calgary | Calgary, AB

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In a traditional interview setting the interviewer is usually selling (instead of qualifying) their candidate and the candidate is telling the interviewer what they believe the interviewer wants to hear so they select the candidate. This is one of the reasons why the cost of a bad hire is over six figures regardless of role and can reach into seven figures for more senior roles.

Now we might have shifted our interviewing process to be focused on qualifying, dove under the surface of our candidate’s responses and used tools to clarify who our ideal candidate is before getting to the interview stage and still we end up hiring a bad fit who checked enough of our boxes to be offered the role.

A highly effective way to uncover potential false positives is to add an element of role play near the end of our selection process with our final group of candidates. Role play forces our candidates to drop their interviewee veneer that prompts them to say things like “I’m a perfectionist” when asked about weaknesses and show us how they would likely interact with a prospect or client.

We might be uncomfortable to add role play into interviews if we don’t believe we can role play effectively with a candidate. Unlike in a role play with a current team member, in an interview we only play client or prospect, which is the easy part.

We may also avoid adding role play in if we feel that our business is “complex” or “technical.” One best practice in interview role play is to make the scene applicable to any candidate whether they have industry experience or not.

Two other best practices for role play in interview are:

  1. Create a real scenario that our candidate would encounter regularly – this gives us better insight than an esoteric conversation that happens infrequently and ideas on gaps in a candidate’s skill set that we would need to close via coaching should they be selected
  2. Make it brief – just like role play with team members, an interview role play need not take longer than 15 minutes start to finish. Beyond 15 minutes we and our candidate will get tired, and our role play is likely to create diminishing returns.

When we are role play with a candidate, we will make note of changes in body language and tonality in addition to taking notes on how they navigate the role play scene. It’s good to have an observer in interviews with role play so they can take those notes and we can focus on role playing.

We also want to watch for three red flags, each of which are an indication a candidate isn’t a good fit.

  1. Theoretical answers – bad fit candidates will use phrases like “what I would say is…” instead of saying it. This usually means the candidate doesn’t see themselves as an equal to their clients and prospect and is more likely to “quote and hope” than act like a trusted advisor.
  2. Dodging scenario – yes, interviews are stressful for candidates and role play can be stressful too, but if a candidate attempts to duck the role play by trying to shift the pressure back to us (e.g. “how about you show me how you would do it first”) or claiming ignorance (e.g. “I don’t have those conversations in my current role”) that indicates that they feel failing is fatal instead of a learning opportunity and might have challenges implementing after coaching sessions.
  3. Shifting to “pleaser” mode – this could be a sign of anxiety with the interview overall, but more likely its an indication that our candidate does not consider themselves to be equal in stature to their prospect or client, which will cause them to accept “call me sometime” responses or avoid asking enough questions to qualify.

Adding role play to interviews might feel uncomfortable. Balanced against the bigger discomfort of letting go a bad fit team member it’s probably worth integrating it into your hiring process.

Until next time… go lead.

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