Face to Face Tandem Interview

Topgrading Tandem Interview.

As I have written previously, when hiring for any role in your company, it is vital that you follow a proven process. That’s where the Topgrading methodology made a huge difference for me. I learned to follow a disciplined hiring methodology to significantly increase my chances of hiring A-Players for every role.

Here is my overview of the 5 step process to Hire an A-Player.

What is an A-Player?

I define an A-Player as a person who consistently:

  1. achieves the agreed standard for RESULTS in their role, and
  2. demonstrates BEHAVIORS aligned to the Core Values.

In essence, there are 2 dimensions to an employee’s performance. RESULTS + BEHAVIORS. Both requirements must be met consistently to be considered an A-Player.

The Face to Face Tandem Interview.

This is a 3 hour interview that is (ideally) conducted face to face. Why 3 hours? Firstly, that’s how long it takes to ask the right questions and thoroughly flesh out the answers. Secondly, it’s hard for a candidate to lie to you for 3 hours. In a 3 hour period you wear down their facade and you start to see the person for what they truly are. By 3 hours you start to get a pretty good handle on the truth.

For senior leadership roles, I would also recommend having other members of your staff or yourself conduct additional shorter interviews with the candidate for 60-90 minutes each. These interviews can be on different dates and at different locations (you might want to meet the candidate for lunch at a cafe etc) to see how the candidate changes their behaviors in different environments where they might be more relaxed and let their guard down.

Make sure you communicate these expectations with the candidate & familiarize them with the process and time commitment upfront.

I recommend you select at least 3, but no more than 3 candidates for Face to Face Tandem Interviews. It’s a big-time commitment for all parties, so only select the top 3 candidates who have indicated their A-Player potential in the earlier stages of the process (Role Scorecard, Career History Form, Phone Screening Interview). Spending time with 3 strong A-Player candidates gives you some basis for comparison.

Tandem Interviewer Roles.

It’s called a tandem interview, so there will be 2 of your staff present. 1 person asking the questions, and 1 person observing the candidate’s body language and taking notes to record their answers.

Both interviewers should meet prior to the interview to review each candidate’s Career History Form and Phone Screening Interview notes to identify issues or concerns you may want to probe the candidate for clarification.

When it comes to assessing a candidate’s ability to perform a role, I’ve developed my own version of a Tandem Interview form. It contains a master list of behavioral competency questions that can be used when recruiting for any role (you can get examples from the Topgrading book). From this master list, I whittle it down to the top 5 behavioral competency questions related to the role in question (as per the Role Scorecard). These are the 5 competencies that “must” be explored in depth in the Tandem Interview. I remove all the other questions.

In addition to these top 5 competencies, every candidate, regardless of role, will be asked for examples of where they have demonstrated behaviors consistent with each of your Core Values in their past roles.

For some roles, you may even include a practical element, where you ask the candidate to demonstrate skills commensurate with the role.

Just like the Career History Form, every candidate undergoing the Face to Face Tandem Interview gets asked the exact same questions in the same order. You must use a consistent, repeatable process in order to compare candidates effectively.

How prepared is the candidate?

Have they researched your company and industry? Have they given the role much thought? Do they seem serious about the role? Are they asking good questions? Or are they asking things they should already know the answer to?

Record the questions they ask verbatim. The questions they ask are important feedback about their priorities and personal values. As always, answer their questions truthfully. You want to know the truth about them, and they want to know the truth about you.

Positioning reference checks.

Do NOT offer the candidate the role in the interview, no matter how much you like them. Many times a thorough Reference Check Interview has saved my team from making a hiring mistake.

Ask the candidate, “If we were to proceed, the next step is to conduct reference checks. I would like your permission and assistance to put us in touch with the following people (list the names of the past supervisors/employees YOU want to speak with, not necessarily the names they provide on their resume). Are you good with this?” 

If there are any past “issues” they might have had with the people you name, they are now likely to surface during the interview, and these issues should be probed so you learn the truth. A clash with a past supervisor doesn’t necessarily disqualify a person, but it is important that you dig into it and learn the facts so you can make your own assessment as to how much weight you place on it.

You ask the candidate to set up the interviews for you. They contact the people you nominate, make the introduction, and give the referee their permission to speak with you. A-Players will have no problem with this. This step also helps to overcome the “my old company doesn’t give references” objection.

Concluding the tandem interview.

Never offer the position to any candidate at the interview. Just give them a firm date by which you will get back to all candidates to advise whether or not you will proceed further with their application, and let them know exactly how they will be contacted. Give yourself more time than you need to conduct reference checks, but make sure you keep this promise. It is disrespectful and unprofessional to keep people waiting beyond the contact date you set.

But there is the last thing I always do. I ask them this one final, telling question:

“Is there anything else you would like to say or ask before we conclude our interview today?

Do not prompt. Just be silent and note down exactly what they say. What they do or don’t say can be very telling.

For example, if the candidate is applying for a sales role (or any role where the ability to persuade and influence is one of the core behavioral competencies), if they do not try to close you and persuade you to offer them the job, they are highly unlikely to be a good salesperson.

A good salesperson will try to close you by saying things like, “I’ve really enjoyed this hiring process, and based on our discussions to date I think I would be a great fit for this role. You won’t find anyone who will work harder than me. I really want this job, and look forward to working with you to make this company succeed.”

If a (sales) candidate says something like, “No, I have nothing else to ask. I really enjoyed meeting with you and look forward to hearing from you soon. Thank you for your time”, I would be very wary of hiring them.

Of course, you never take hiring shortcuts. You always conduct reference checks before making any job offer. But the final impression a candidate makes on you in the Tandem Interview as they respond to this final question is a pretty solid indicator of their true nature in my experience.


Until next time…