Would you interview a fish on land? 

The answer to that question is, probably not. You want to see the fish in their natural environment. How do they swim, do they interact with other fish, how do they search for food? This isn’t about fish, but the idea of conducting part of the interview within the environment the employee is going to work, is often overlooked by HR and hiring managers.  

I once had a position where I was responsible for hiring custodians to clean dormitories at a residential high school. The custodians would be assigned to one dorm and serve as the point person for the overall day to day operation of the building. The custodians saw the same students, day after day, got to know them, the dorm faculty, and, many became an integral part of the dorm culture.  

Quiz – what’s most important for this hire?
A. Rock star custodian with an eye for detail and solid work ethic
B. Motivated candidate that enjoys being around teenagers and is enthusiastic about being part of a dorm family
If you guessed B – you’re correct! Yes, it would be nice to have a little A in there, too. But, what proved to be successful was the enjoyment of being around youth and being motivated by the day to day operations. My thought was that you can teach someone to clean if they are motivated, but if they don’t like teenagers – forget it. 

Here’s where the environment comes in. I would ask candidates to meet me at the student center, typically during a time when classes were changing. It was chaos in there! Students grabbing coffee, laughing with friends, bustling by you so they got to class on time. Why did this matter? I watched the candidate. I observed how they reacted to the chaos. I paid attention to whether they would hold a door open, look people in the eye and even…smile. Did they seem to enjoy the energy or shrink to the side?  This candidate could have killed it in the interview. They could have answered every single question perfectly and even claimed to love being around teenagers. But until I saw them in a student environment, I couldn’t be sure.

Now, how does this translate to you. We’ve all gone to interviews where we’ve been escorted from the lobby to a windowless conference room, interviewed, then ushered back to the entrance. Great for privacy, quiet and being undisturbed, but you may be short changing yourself and the candidate by not giving them a chance to see the work environment. The above scenario probably doesn’t apply to your business, but you could adopt this universally. Give the candidate a tour through the building, workspace or production floor. If appropriate, have them spend 10-15 minutes with an employee actually seeing the work being performed. Do they ask good questions that suggest they are really thinking about the work, are they politely interacting with those they meet, do they seem engaged and interested in the job?

They key to success in this whole environment thing is for the interviewer (hiring manager or HR) to not talk the person’s ear off. If you’re talking, you can’t listen! Let the candidate absorb the room, allow them time to ask questions, slow down and don’t rush them around the workspace or hallways. Just let the environment sink in. I guarantee that you’ll be more confident with your hiring decisions if you use the work environment as a way to assess their potential.  

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