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July 2012

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Corporate Recruiters Get Inside the Interview

Job interviewers truly are looking for candidates who are a good fit with their companies, but what that really means and how they go about finding it varies substantially with the industry and company. That’s the key message from recruiters who shared their ideas and approaches with business school recruiters at the GMAC Annual Conference recently in Chicago.

The three recruiters, for United Airlines, McKinsey & Co., and Procter & Gamble, are looking for different mixes of experiences and have honed methods and metrics that work specifically for them. Moderator Roxanne Hori, associate dean of corporate partnerships for Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, drew out how they tailor their approaches to interviewing and evaluating candidates:

For United Airlines, soft skills are very important, said Pamm Toner, senior manager, talent acquisition for MBA and campus recruiting. United’s workforce, coming off the United-Continental merger, is largely union, so United wants MBAs who work well with a wide range of people across the company.

United’s behavioral interviewing focuses on three categories: leadership, communication, and results, Toner said. “We’re very clear in the beginning what we’re looking for, but there’s a lot of flexibility in how you ask the question,” she said. “Behavioral interviews are deeply rooted in the philosophy, that past behaviors predict future behaviors.”

For McKinsey, a consulting company that’s highly data-driven, interview teams stick closely to their evaluation criteria and track every interaction with each candidate obsessively, said recruiting expert Amy Ross.  McKinsey relies heavily on the case method to understand how well-suited candidates are.

”We’re not into surprises. Practice cases are online; there are no manhole covers,” Ross said, referring to the “Why are manhole covers round?” question made famous by interviewers for Microsoft.

McKinsey interviewers report their data as quickly as they can, short of typing during the interview. The data are standardized as much as possible, even though the company is looking for qualities that may be hard to quantify. The company wants creativity, but it doesn’t have to be from a business internship, for example. “We’re always looking for distinctiveness, and we don’t care where it is,” Ross said.

For Procter & Gamble, the behavioral, cognitive, and analytical components are distinct and different and weighted equally, said Steve Bean, associate director for North American talent supply. “What we are looking for is power of mind and agility in interactions with other people,” he said. P&G wants people who can lead a group and think on their feet. 

P&G has a fairly rigorous prescreening process to gauge whether candidates have the basic skills, so meetings with candidates focus more on behavioral interviewing. Structured interviews can be robotic, and you have to make sure your interviewers understand what behavioral interviewing is, so they’re not getting only at communication skills, Bean said. “Leadership is a broad category and has to be behavioral.”

“The lesson learned from our corporate colleagues who spend a good deal of time evaluating candidates, is that there isn’t a single way to evaluate someone via an interview,” Hori said after the panel. “Instead, it is important for organizations to identify which characteristics are most important for the school and then determine the best way–questions or case or a combination of both–to assess the applicant’s fit with the institution.  Developing metrics for evaluating people will only help a school to be more successful, with the interview as one of the assessment tools.”

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