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A Winning Approach to Pre-Employment Interviews

Some of the most important business decisions for any loss prevention program are made during pre-employment interviews. An astounding 81 percent of recruiting teams reported that hiring is more challenging today than a year ago, according to the Employ Quarterly Insights Report. With top talent hard to find and top candidates even more difficult to secure, today, the interview process must go beyond simply finding the best possible candidate for a particular position. We must evaluate talent and potential. We must determine the best fit for our company and LP program. But interviews also serve as an opportunity for hiring managers to showcase the company to candidates. The winning approach to the pre-employment interview process must be seen as more than simply a means of looking at potential job candidates. It is the foundation of building a successful LP program.

In the loss prevention industry, LP practitioners often deal with dishonest employee interviews. But this is a much different type of conversation. What happens when an LP professional enters a management role and has never handled a basic pre-employment interview? What are the qualities that we should be looking for? How do we look beyond experience and see potential? How do we adjust our interview approach to ensure a conversation that best reveals the qualities and characteristics of the candidate? And beyond that, what steps should be followed to recruit and secure the most ideal candidates? How do we facilitate a productive interview that leads to the most successful outcomes?

There are countless ways to navigate pre-employment interviews and hire the most ideal candidate. Opinions on how to do so can vary greatly and narrowing down the most effective methods isn’t necessarily easy. To help gain a clearer understanding and help our readers better navigate the process, we spoke to three industry experts.

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First Things First: Have a Plan

The first step to becoming an effective interviewer is having a firm grasp on what you are looking for in a candidate. Many feel that the best candidates are those that can “hit the ground running,” or those that have significant experience in similar roles and can join the team seamlessly. However, depending on your definition of “significant” experience, this may also indicate that the candidate has reached a plateau in their career development. Others prefer candidates that may not have the same level of experience but show the potential to accomplish higher expectations. By the same respect, this candidate may require more development and attention. Often, we hope to find a balance somewhere in the middle.

Each of these candidate types can add significant value to the team, and having a balance of these different performers is often what departments hope to accomplish. To help determine how they may fit within the team, the approach to the interview can vary somewhat based on where along the experience spectrum the candidate falls. However, there are some constants that should apply to every applicant. Having a clear concept of the ideal characteristics for candidates in any given role paves a clearer path to the right hire.

Gene Smith, LPC 

Former LP Foundation President Gene Smith, LPC, is a subject matter expert on LP talent assessment and acquisition, having previously served as president of the largest search firm in North America specializing in the loss prevention industry. As a career consultant, he has an extensive background helping loss prevention departments across the country identify, recruit, and secure top industry talent.

- Digital Partner -

“Regardless of the role, there are four main characteristics that suit any job and that hiring managers should always be looking for,” he says. “Those features include heart, passion, character, and attitude. These traits are foundational to a well‑rounded individual in any work force.”

“When preparing for the interview, it’s important to ask yourself some critical questions,” says Chris Norris, director of international training and pre-employment interviewing instructor at Wicklander-Zulawski. “What are we looking for in a candidate? What may or may not have happened previously in the job that created this opening? Who will they be interacting with? What personality traits might be considered important?’ Also, take the time to strategize questions based off the candidate’s résumé or previous experience. Look for ways to get a better feel for what the candidate brings to the table and make sure you go into the conversation with specific goals.”

Another critical step early on is to establish clear expectations to help attract the right candidates. For candidates to feel inclined to apply for an open position there must also be a firm understanding of what exactly the role is, along with a description of the responsibilities and expectations of the position. “Writing out a role description that provides a clear picture of these expectations is a critical part of the process,” adds Norris. “Taking the time to provide an appropriate representation of precisely what your company is looking for is key to the recruiting process and attracting the best and most qualified candidates. Writing a more thorough, specific description can help narrow down the applicant pool and channel those with the specific qualities you’re looking for.”

- Digital Partner -

Résumé Review

Once you’ve had a chance to review the applicants and their skill sets, taking a good, hard look at their résumé is imperative. The problem that many managers have is not properly planning, or “winging” pre-employment interviews—which doesn’t set the stage for success. Digesting the applicant’s résumé and having questions prepared beforehand will help the conversation flow more naturally. Candidates typically do thorough research on your company, and it will only benefit you to do the same for them.

When reviewing a résumé, one thing to consider is the length of time the individual was employed at their previous jobs. If a candidate seems to jump from job to job every year or two, it could suggest that they may not be a great investment, depending on the reasons that those employment decisions were made. This is an area that should be explored further.

Establishing why the candidate left their last job can also be valuable. At times, determining the “whys” simply based on the candidate’s résumé may be a difficult task, that’s why a well-planned and prepared interview is necessary. People are not words on paper and their stories usually take some unwinding during this process.

Practice Makes Perfect

Another step is practicing your delivery and taking the steps necessary to improve your interviewing skills. This may involve exercises such as shadowing someone else while they conduct an interview, performing practice interviews with a colleague, and creating a more comfortable interviewing environment. Practice makes perfect—no matter how many interviews you’ve carried out in the past or how successful they’ve been.

Anna Papalia

“You should prepare just as thoroughly as you did when first starting out, regardless of your level of experience. Leaders that are truly good at what they do don’t wing it, they go over the fundamentals each and every time” said Smith. “But they are also willing to learn from others and take the steps necessary to improve. If I wanted to become a better interviewer, I would sit in on an interview with someone who had a strong reputation for interviewing. This was an important part of my preparation. By observing my colleagues and keeping an open mind, I was always able to learn something that helped make me better at the overall process and more effective at developing the conversation. That’s an important part of the formula for a successful interview.”

Interview Style

Everyone has a personalized interview style based on several different factors that make it their own. These can include elements such as their personality, their own professional background, the role they’re looking to fill, and other contributing factors.

Anna Papalia, author of the upcoming book Interviewology: The New Science of Interviewing, was previously a director of talent acquisition in the corporate world. She then moved on to start an HR consulting firm to teach job seekers and hiring managers how to interview. Papalia also taught at Temple University, where she developed a personality assessment to help determine how people interview. Based on her research and experience, she concluded that there are four unique interview styles:

  • The Charmer, who wants to be liked,
  • The Challenger, who thinks ‘I want to be me,’
  • The Examiner, who wants to get things right, and
  • The Harmonizer, who wants to adapt.

While everyone has their own approach, Papalia’s goal is to have people view these interview styles as a baseline of how to conduct the interview.

“Once we acknowledge that not everyone interviews the same way, we can approach the conversation differently,” she says. “For example, Charmers prioritize making a connection and being liked in interviews. They tell a lot of stories—they’re very warm and accepting, and their interview answers change depending on who they’re interviewing with. But if they’re interviewing with their opposite, like an Examiner who’s looking for answers based on their qualifications, there could be a breakdown. The Charmer doesn’t feel like they’re making a connection because the Examiner simply wants to be seen as someone that can do the job with less small talk.”

This is how wires can easily get crossed. Perhaps the Charmer feels they didn’t click, and the Examiner feels the Charmer placed too much value on personality versus technical skill. As a result, this can set people up for different experiences. Understanding your own style going into a conversation and being able to recognize that the ideal candidate might not be the one you “clicked with” most is imperative. You don’t necessarily have to be personally compatible with the candidate that would best suit the role you’re looking to fill.

Avoiding Personal Bias

Personal bias is a significant concern during the hiring process, and arguably the most consequential. Theresa McHenry once said, “The point isn’t to get people to accept that they have biases, but to get them to see [for themselves] that those biases have negative consequences for others.”

There are multiple steps that can be taken to prevent bias throughout the interview process; and that often begins by recognizing our own preconceived opinions and how they can influence our decision-making. For example. Papalia suggests not focusing too much attention on certain aspects of the candidate’s background, such as where they went to college, their race and gender, the candidates’ names, or even where they worked. More importantly, focus on what they did. What did they accomplish? How did they go about accomplishing their goals? How creative were they? How did they go about influencing others?

Smith agrees. “When evaluating whether or not a candidate fits into a particular position, there are many different factors that will come into play,” he says. “Putting all of those pieces together is a learned skill and something that must be practiced as you develop within the profession. Of course, technical competencies are very important. But once those skills are validated, there are other factors that need to be evaluated as well.”

“For example, in loss prevention, where a candidate came from can in fact be very important,” He continued. ‘Who they’ve worked for, the program that they worked in, and the culture of the department will directly influence the way that they approach the position and the responses they provide during the interview. But what we then must look for and measure is their ability and potential beyond that. Are they flexible and open-minded? Can they think outside the box? Are they receptive to the idea that different programs require different approaches and even different mindsets? All of these and more will help determine the success of an individual in a particular role. Learning to identify these qualities is the icing on the cake and will take your abilities and your program to an entirely different level.”

Making Candidates Comfortable

Try to imagine the interview from the candidate’s point of view. There are numerous factors they may be thinking about that can influence their ability to perform well such as “Is the person I am talking to approachable?” “Am I comfortable in my surroundings?” “Am I distracted due to something that happened earlier in the day?” These are just a few of the things that can influence the candidate’s interview performance.

Taking steps to make the candidate feel more comfortable during the interview is vital. The candidate should be comfortable enough to show their true self and the potential value they can bring to the team and program, allowing them to relax into the conversation.

Dragon Images /

Starting the interview with some small talk can be a great way to help the candidate feel more comfortable, and for you to get to know them on a more personal level. This can focus on any number of topics, from their commute to the interview, the weather, or something you have in common, such as hometown sports teams. By creating a more relaxed atmosphere, you set the tone for the candidate to more easily articulate the points they want to get across.

A positive and friendly tone can also make the interviewee more comfortable.

“Your tone and your energy as a hiring manager is so important,” Papalia explained. “Make it clear that you have an open mind and you’re here to understand and learn about them. Being curious brings a great energy to the interview process that also makes people less nervous.”

Smith and Norris also feel that it’s of major importance to make things more conversational and include small talk.

“This is where building rapport is important, helping to establish a better sense of where their passions lie and what their goals truly are,” Norris said. “Frame questions in an open-ended manner, where you’re persuading them to articulate their thoughts.”

“To make the interview feel more like a discussion and less like an interrogation, don’t just check the boxes,” Smith emphasized. “Learn more about the person. Ask them genuine, human questions as well to help them relax and get to the heart of who they are.”

Red Flags Are a Two-Way Street

As the hiring manager, it’s necessary to look for red flags during the interview process to help identify concerns about the candidate that might influence their ultimate success in the role. However, it’s just as vital to understand that the things you say and even the way that you say them can also send red flags up to the candidate that can influence their perception of the position or the company.

A common red flag for hiring managers to look for is a candidate that is simply unprepared for the interview. If you find that the candidate appears to be making up answers on the spot, for example, this can be a sign they aren’t taking things as seriously as they should. This is especially true for simple questions such as “What do you know about our company?” or “What would make you a good fit?”

It’s critical to pay attention and be attentive to the signs of potential and performance while still being alert for flags that might indicate areas of concern, such as inconsistent information on a résumé, an obvious lack of passion during the conversation, unprofessionalism, or no clear intention regarding the opportunity before them. Take the time to explore both the strengths and potential downfalls, to help form an objective conclusion that supports informed hiring decisions.

By the same respect, it’s just as necessary to be alert to the signals you may be sending as the interviewer. For example, it’s not uncommon for those in management roles to have an inaccurate view of the dynamic between themselves and the interviewees—seeing themselves as having the “upper hand” in the conversation. But it’s vital for hiring managers to recognize that the best candidates have options. The best candidates often have a role they are currently comfortable in and are simply looking for the next step in their career. In today’s job market, there are often more open positions than there are talented candidates. Hiring managers need to put their best foot forward. It’s just as important for them to concisely promote the position and be prepared for questions the interviewee might ask.

The interviewer might also take away from the candidate’s opportunity to share more about their capabilities and potential by dominating the conversation. “Some hiring managers talk way too much in interviews,” Papalia said. “And if they’re talking 80 percent of the time, they can miss critical information that can influence hiring decisions.”

Intuition and Objectivity

Objectivity is essential during the hiring process. It’s always fundamental to evaluate skills, experience, past performance, and other related talents and abilities. But hiring decisions are ultimately about finding a match—for the company as well as the candidate. This involves looking at skills and abilities that are more difficult to measure—those that require a more perceptive view of the candidate. Some may call these factors “the intangibles,” but they are qualities that we all see and look for when making hiring decisions.

Chris Norris, CFI

“You also have to rely on your intuition,” said Smith. “You can train skill sets and most technical skills, but you typically cannot teach personality traits such as passion and ambition. The ability to see potential beyond what someone has accomplished in the past is a critical measure of future success. Being able to detect what skills and traits are most crucial for the open role is fundamental.”

Norris agrees. “That intuition—the ability to bring out more in the candidate than what’s measured by the résumé—plays a significant role in the interview process. That must also be reflected in the goals you have going into the interview. Balancing intuition and looking at all your objectives throughout the decision process is key to hiring the best possible candidates.”

It’s essential that your objectives remain clear, and the integrity of the hiring process is maintained at all times. Ambition may not appear on a résumé, but is something one can recognize and identify through a candidate’s words and actions. Potential may not be listed under an individual’s qualifications, but the candidate’s passion, attitude, flexibility, and enthusiasm may reveal their potential and more.

“Instinct and intuition can also be disguised as bias in this process,” Papalia cautioned. “You must be very careful as hiring managers to know the difference between intuition and bias.”

Bringing It All Together

Every organization can benefit from improved pre-employment interview processes, focused on both the hiring manager’s approach to the candidate and the interview process itself. Taking a closer look at your approach and exploring a few simple practices to enhance your interview style, can help lead to more successful hiring outcomes.

  • Know what you are looking for in a candidate.
  • Proper preparation prior to the interview.
  • Taking steps to build rapport with the candidate.
  • Creating a comfortable interview environment for the candidate.
  • Being conscious of any biases you may have.
  • Looking for, exploring, and resolving potential red flags.
  • Having a balanced approach to the interview considering both intuition and objectives.

As a hiring manager, recognizing potential and talent in a candidate always matters. By taking these steps to improve your approach to the interview, you put the candidate in the best possible position to highlight their strengths and weaknesses and communicate their suitability for the position and their fit within your LP program.

Hiring the best employees is the foundation of every business, and developing the skills to make the interview process most effective should be a foundational objective of every leader to pave the way for a solid team, an improved LP program, and a healthier company culture.

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