Reducing staff turnover and building sustainable teams starts with the interview

High turnover impacts the sustainable longterm growth of a business and its people. Especially small organisations suffer when employees only stay for a short term, then leave and potentially take knowledge with them. Not to speak of disgruntled team members who have to pick up the pieces. Employers often claim that the majority of staff leaves because they are offered better financial packages elsewhere. However, the picture is somewhat different. Many leavers mention that they were either underutilised or overstretched with no support, employed under different premises, assigned to projects that did not match their skill set or interests, suffered poor leadership and/or an intoxicated work atmosphere, had little room to grow or that promised development opportunities were non existent.

Employers, on the other side, still fail to realize that high staff turnover often directly derives from poor recruitment processes and deficient interview techniques.

The type of interview I have most often witnessed throughout my career with small business clients, is that where an unprepared interviewer, short on time and with little information about the specifics of the position, starts reading the cv while the candidate is present, then most likely talks at the candidate rather than listening to them, gets impressed by stuff the candidate did but unnecessary for the post and usually ends the interview by asking questions which are likely to be irrelevant to the job. The pool of candidates in a small business context is often limited to cvs obtained by personal recommendations or family members which leaves little scope for diversity and innovation.

Most interviewers in small organizations and family businesses have never been trained in interviewing techniques and therefore neither have an idea about the legal implications of how interviews are conducted, nor about how various questioning styles can help establish evidence of the candidate’s skills – or obscure it. Recently a client still wanted to advertise for a “young” candidate and another one asked a female applicant whether she could manage with a little child at home. The latter a question that constitutes direct sex discrimination and one a male candidate would not have been asked.

Consequently, interviewers hear what they want to hear and fail to ask questions which help collecting the right evidence to determine whether the candidate can successfully perform the job. Interviewers tend to lack constructive listening skills, while their questioning techniques are usually limited to “closed” or “leading” questions which, when used incorrectly can have a considerable impact on the candidate’s fit and length of service.

Closed questions are those where a candidate can only respond “yes” or “no”. I recently witnessed an interview for an administrative post where a candidate was asked: ‘Do you like analytical work?’ It is unlikely, that the interviewer was able to gauge valid evidence for analytical skills with this question. Would the candidate have dared to respond with ‘no’? A better way of asking could have been: ‘ Can you give me an example where you have been involved in analytical work?’ Followed by: ‘Which was the specific task or project, what was the scope of the work and which methods did you apply to establish results?’ ‘Which were your sources of reference?’ ‘Which difficulties did you encounter?’ ‘Have you done similar work in other projects? Please explain.’

‘Do you enjoy working in a team?’ is also frequently asked in interviews but equally irrelevant if not followed up with further probing questions such as: ‘How big was the team you worked in?’ ‘What was your particular role?’ ‘Who did you report to?’ and ‘How would you describe your contribution to the achievements of the team on the whole?’

Leading questions are those where the interviewer already implies the answer he or she wants to hear within the question. If you ask for example: ‘I am looking for someone who is pro-active. Do you think you can work with little guidance?’ it will be less likely that the candidate would tell you that he or she actually needs quite a structured programme to perform best. ‘Can you describe a project you were solely responsible for from initiation to completion?’ or ‘What was the most challenging part of the process?’ could have been alternatives.

The “halo effect” is another trap to watch out for. It simply means that one strength or skill “brightens” your perception about the candidate. This skill however, might be completely irrelevant for the job you have on offer or potentially defers you from probing other skills that are necessary for the job. For example if the candidate has a strong record from a good school or a list of top employers on their cv, the candidate may appear a little brighter with smarter answers and greater potential for success in your eyes than someone who comes from a less recognised school. An impressive  portfolio of graphic design presentations might lead you to appointing someone for a marketing position even though once employed the candidate will never be involved in producing visuals and should have rather been probed on copy writing skills and storytelling. Exploring facts, gauging skill levels, being honest about the job as well as managing your own and the candidate’s expectations from the start are crucial in managing your staff turnover.