The Missing Interview Stage

As a candidate leaves your office after the final round of interviews, you can nearly see the glow coming off the hiring team. This guy is awesome. He has the tech chops, the drive, and he’s friendly to boot. You sit down with the CFO, figure out the budget–and get a great offer approved and typed up.

“Thanks for your time, but I decided to go with another offer”


How many times have you made an offer, only to get a polite decline? All those hours of phone screens, interviews, and budgeting suddenly go down the drain. All that emotional investment, gone. A decline is always a morale killer – after all why did he choose somewhere else? Maybe the grass is greener?

Here’s what’s really happening: your hiring process is just that, a process – and nothing more. You are so focused on procedure, on “putting people through the system”, that you forgot entirely that you have to sell them. And when a developer is going to get 4-5 offers, selling is everything.

And no, a steak dinner at the last minute to “seal the deal” doesn’t work.

What is missing is a hidden stage, a stage that is not so much focused on evaluation, but rather one of selling. And since you are selling somebody on spending most of their waking hours in your office, its safe to say that you’ll need to target deep motivations.

What is the purpose?

There are two main reasons why you would want to have this type of conversation with a prospective employee – building empathy and uncovering deeper motivations.

When do you have it?

If you don’t have the data, its a hard question to answer. You obviously don’t want to sit down and do this exercise with candidates who you end up passing on. But at the same time, you can’t have this conversation too late. The window of opportunity closes quickly once the candidate realizes he is going to get an offer.

What you need to figure out is what is the probability of offer at each stage. Say you know that 75% of people who make the 2nd round will ultimately get an offer, but only 35% of first rounders do. Then make sure you have your talk between the 1st and 2nd round. At that point, the candidate is not on the defense yet – but you know that the probability is high that you’ll make an offer.

NB: Do not have this conversation too late. Once a candidate knows he’s at the offer stage, then he will shut down.

What do you need to uncover?

Pain points and “never agains”

Did the candidate join a seed stage startup that imploded while paying him nothing? Is he experiencing an existential crisis after 10 years at Goldman Sachs? You need to identify what has gone wrong in his career and explore those pain points deeper. Find out what his “never agains” are.

Great aspirations – goals, dreams, “what they want to be when they grow up”

Lets be frank. The year is not 1962 yet we conduct interviews as if candidates were going to stay on board forever. That dissonance creates a general air of BS in the conversation, but one you can easily break by simply asking “what do you want to do after you work here?”. Focus on their long term aspirations, their big goals, “what they want to be when they grow up”. If you can get that information, and help them understand how working for you will help them get there – you will have some incredibly powerful cards to play.

Dive deep

Leave the office. Have the conversation in a coffee shop, or better yet – a bar. It will also definitely be easier for somebody with a degree of emotional intelligence to do this sort of work – but that is what a good recruiter is for.

I encourage you to make this stage an integral part of your process. It is so easy to fall into the procedural trap of pushing a candidate through a process and scheduling interviews that we forget that we are in a talent sellers market.