Use the buddy system to create a great interview experience

by Steven Stewart
Vice President at Charles Aris Inc.

In a recent Senior Director search on behalf of a national financial services firm, we had narrowed our slate of formal candidates for final interviews down to three. We debriefed with each candidate the following day and, unfortunately, each had come away from the interviews far less interested in the opportunity than they were going in. Ultimately, all three withdrew from the process.

We were shocked: Our client is an industry leader, the compensation is well above market, and the role offers the type of impact and exposure A-players crave. What gives?

Needless to say, we had more questions than answers.

Each candidate, it turned out, had a bad interview experience. In other words, it wasn’t the role or the title or the compensation which led to these discouraging results. Instead, it was how the candidates felt when they looked back on their day:

  • I spent my entire day in a conference room with no windows; I never even left.
  • I wasn’t sure whom I was meeting with next, or when they would show up.
  • At 5 o’clock, an administrative assistant walked me to the elevator lobby and pressed the down button and told me someone would be in touch. I left never having seen any other part of the campus.
  • I have no idea where my office or cube would be if I joined them; in fact, I don’t even know if I’d have an office or sit in a cube.

The list goes on and on, but thankfully our client’s approach to interviewing didn’t. Leaders in that organization immediately fell on their swords when they heard this feedback, then worked with us to come up with a solution: The Buddy System.

Here’s how it worked from that day forward:

Each candidate was assigned a “buddy” – an ambassador who was on the hiring team but not part of that day’s official interview panel. Essentially, the buddy’s job was to ensure that the candidate enjoyed a great interview experience overall. The buddy reached out to our candidate prior to the interview for a quick introduction, in which he explained the interview process along with an overview of each of the interviewers. He informed the candidate where to show up on the morning of the interview and, upon arrival, was waiting for him in the lobby, where he helped him sign in and get through security. After a cup of coffee and a brief tour of the campus, he made sure the candidate was sitting down for his first interview at 9 a.m. sharp! Then he periodically checked in with the candidate throughout the day, simply to make sure everything was running smoothly. At the end of the interviews, he met the candidate in the lobby to review the day’s events and to answer any outstanding questions.

What a difference this made!

To the surprise of no one, the next slate of candidates we produced yielded a completely different outcome. One person was hired and the other two walked away with nothing but positive things to say about our client, despite the fact that neither was the winning candidate.

This is the kind of world-class interviewing experience that helps ensure that the best talent in the market wants to work for you.