It is said that nothing can replace experience. Experience, after all, is supposed to bring in more expertise, maturity, and understanding. Thus, it is no surprise that organizations are willing to pay much more for experienced candidates for a role.
An experienced candidate can add a lot of value to the organization by being more effective and efficient. They can perform everyday tasks in a shorter time. They may also be able to handle complex tasks in a relatively effortless way. Experienced employees are expected to handle stressful and conflicting situations sensibly. They are also expected to coach and mentor junior employees.
Interviewing experienced candidates is a tricky task for recruiters, especially if the candidate is senior, highly qualified, accomplished, and/or an aspirant for a role in management.
Why is it tricky?
Experienced candidates have the necessary skills and expertise, which makes them more confident than others. Candidates in a leadership role have experience in not only attending interviews but also interviewing others. Therefore, run-of-the-mill questions do not work with them. Asking them the usual questions may be a put-off for them.
Interviewing experienced candidates can pose many challenges for recruiters. Some of them are:
- They have high expectations concerning salary, benefits, and flexibility. The higher the qualification and skill, the higher the expectation of the candidate. Often organizations have to let go of experienced candidates due to budget constraints.
- They expect clarity in the specificity of the role. This is especially true for technical roles. Many experienced candidates who aspire to grow technically expect their role to be related to their field of interest.
- They expect higher levels of positive employee experience. Considering they have been associated with several organizations (or a few), they expect their journey to be more fruitful than their previous experiences. With the increased benchmark, it may be tricky for organizations to meet their expectations.
So, what must a recruiter keep in mind while interviewing experienced candidates?
#1 Prepare well for the interview
As ironic as it may sound, researching the employee and their field well will help you save time in asking questions about their background. Apart from their resume, you could check their LinkedIn profile for references, participation in communities, and areas of interest.
You can now plan the questions you want to ask the candidate – about their interest in the position and how they can contribute to the organization. Your questions must be aimed at discovering something ‘more’ about the candidate rather than what can be found by research.
#2 Keep it conversational
Instead of making the interview sound like a question-and-answer round, try to make it conversational. You will discover much more information that way.
Instead of being too formal, ask open-ended questions that make the candidate talk and express their opinions. Allow them to explain aspects of their achievements and contributions. You could even pose a real situation and ask them for their opinion or their approach to solving a challenge.
Be mindful to not interrupt them too often and listen to their point of view. Even if you don’t hire the candidate, you will surely learn something new and get insights into your current organizational challenges. If you end up hiring them, you have a problem-solver!
#3 Try to understand the candidate’s personality
Of late, there are many psychometric tools available to get a glimpse of a candidate’s personality. These can be used before a personal interview as a pre-employment assessment. The assessments contain questions that gauge the candidate’s perceptions, values, motivators, and reactions to workplace scenarios and team dynamics.
In a face-to-face interview, you can use methods such as Behavioral Event Interviews (BEI) that reflect a person’s behavior or reactions in stressful, conflicting, or challenging events. A similar test is called Situational Judgment Test (SJT), which also checks a person’s response to common scenarios.
Interviewing for leadership and management roles will need you to be more prepared and versatile with your evaluation techniques.
Of course, a recruiter needs to be well-versed in these tools and use them appropriately to make effective hiring decisions.
#4 If you can’t evaluate for technical skills, check for a “good fit”
Since the candidate already meets the basic criteria of the job role, you will now have to figure out how this person will ‘fit in’ the role and the organization. Keep in mind the qualities of an excellent performer and see if the candidate can match up to those or even complement those skills.
If you don’t feel skilled or prepared enough to interview the candidate for technical knowledge and skills, you can include someone more knowledgeable for such evaluation. Alternatively, you can also use pre-employment assessment to evaluate technical expertise.
Share the organization’s vision, future goals and what talent it needs right now, and what it can offer the candidate. This is when you can ask the candidate how they think they can contribute to the growth of the company.
You can also share your experience of working with the organization, which will help the candidates understand your company better.
#5 Hire for potential, not experience
One of the common correlations is that experience means expertise and high potential. However, it is possible that someone has a lot of experience but may not have gained expertise in any area. There are also many scenarios where candidates take professional help in creating amazing resumes and may not be as impressive in person. What truly matters is to evaluate the candidate for the potential to fit into your organization and contribute to it.
#6 Follow through, regardless of the outcome
This, of course, is a best practice to be followed by recruiters with all candidates. However, it is important that whether the candidate is hired or not, follow up with them and let them know of the outcome.
Remember, the world is a small place and you may end up crossing paths with them. It is good to keep relationships cordial and create a positive candidate experience to maintain goodwill for yourself and the organization.
After making sure you are ready to interview an experienced candidate, let us look at some questions that you can pose to experienced candidates (apart from the evaluation of technical skills).
10 important interview questions for experienced candidates
#1 How has your experience helped you improve as a professional?
This question has a double benefit in finding out how the candidate’s work experience and qualifications meet the job criteria and how much improvement the candidate has made in his tenure.
You can use the STAR interview method to ask the candidate to cite specific examples of their improvements and achievements. You can also gauge which aspects of work or personality the candidate has focused on. This can be followed up with questions about their motivators or their ability to learn.
#2 What would have made you stay back at your previous jobs?
This is an indirect way of asking the candidate why they are leaving (or have left) their current (or previous) job. The way the candidate phrases their response is a way of evaluating their maturity and their needs and expectations.
A mature candidate will stick with the facts without too much exaggeration and be focused on the future. They may not go into gruesome details even if their exit was under unfavorable circumstances.
Sometimes, an employee’s needs and the organization’s offering may not align at a given time – not due to intent but due to constraints. For example, a high-performing employee who wishes to buy a house may expect a raise or bonus. However, the organization may not be equipped to provide the raise in the immediate future due to budget constraints.
#3 How would your boss or peers describe you?
Although this seems like a usual question, the response that experienced candidates give will reveal a lot about the candidate’s confidence, honesty, and humility.
Many experienced candidates hesitate in presenting themselves with the apprehension of sounding pompous. This question allows enough ‘depersonalization’ for the candidate to speak about their strengths and qualities more openly.
#4 How do you handle office gossip or politics?
This question is especially apt for candidates applying for senior positions, leadership, and people-centric roles. Many candidates may give an ideal response that they will not get involved in politics. However, follow-up questions with specific instances of how they were impacted by office politics will help you understand the candidate’s views.
If you are interviewing a leader, you can ask them to share specifics of how they will control these in their team.
#5 How did you handle differences of opinion with your seniors or peers? Can you share some examples?
This question will indicate many aspects of the candidate’s personality like emotional intelligence, assertiveness, and work ethic. To openly express differences of opinions with one’s authority figures requires a great deal of courage to look beyond the possible adverse consequences.
Also, the ability to put one’s point across with data and logic can be evaluated through this question. A Situational Judgement Test (SJT) or role-play can also help you measure this attribute.
#6 Did you coach or mentor anyone? Can you share the experience?
Coaching or mentoring another person needs knowledge, patience, empathy, clarity of thought, and good communication. A good coach or mentor also takes ownership of how their mentee performs.
Many organizations officially designate senior employees as mentors. However, many employees perform this role informally, which is probably more commendable as a trait.
#7 Did you ever get negative feedback? What was it about and what did you do about it? / How do you handle criticism?
Negative feedback is difficult to digest for anyone. Experienced employees or leaders are subject to it more often since expectations from them are quite high.
This, in turn, causes more stress on them to perform better and sometimes even ‘be perfect’. To handle criticism, especially unwarranted ones, can challenge the emotional threshold of a person.
#8 How do you manage your work-life balance? If you are a leader, how do you help your team strike a work-life balance?
Response to this question indicates the ability of a candidate to manage time, prioritize, be planned and organized, be efficient (which is possible only with enough knowledge and skills) and have empathy (for their team).
If your candidate belongs to the millennial generation, this will probably be one of the top needs of your candidate. This will help you to understand how important this is for the candidate as well as to know how the organization can support the employee.
#9 Have you ever been assigned a task or project that you had no experience with or were not familiar with?
Many senior employees are given new and challenging tasks due to their skills and their ability to manage stress in unfamiliar conditions. This question assesses problem-solving abilities and openness to ask for advice.
#10 Tell me about a time you predicted a problem with a stakeholder. How did you prevent it from escalating?
Stakeholders can be external customers or internal employees. Anticipating and fixing problems, finding solutions, and communicating the resolution to the stakeholders are expected out of experienced employees. Response to this question reflects problem-solving abilities and creativity to improve existing processes or workflows.
Interviewing and hiring experienced candidates has high payoffs but it needs a great deal of preparation. By hiring the right candidate, you will add value to the talent of the organization as well as the top line.
Whether or not you hire an experienced candidate, you will surely gain a lot of experience in understanding talent!
FAQs on Interviewing Experienced Candidates
How should a recruiter handle a negotiation meeting with an experienced candidate, after they have been offered a role?
What is the difference between interviewing a fresh graduate and an experienced candidate?
What questions must not be asked in an interview?
– Gender, sex, or sexual orientation
– Marital status, family, or pregnancy
– Race, religion, or ethnicity