SF in job interviews
A practical approach to interviewing and offering feedback
Feb 1, 2020
Introduced by John Brooker
Leah Davcheva, from Bulgaria, provides another insight into how leaders and SF practitioners might use the Solution-Focused approach. In this case she introduces her use in job interviews, where she is an independent interviewer working on behalf of the company. She offers a very practical approach and discusses how the use of SF helped her overcome her initial reservations about giving feedback on a candidate to her clients.
A novel practice
Using Solution-Focused conversations in job interviews was until recently a new territory for me. The need to make a step in that direction arose a couple of years ago with a phone call. The owner of a business company, a long-term client of mine, asked whether I would be willing to meet a prospective employee who had already been interviewеd by several managers of the company.
By way of completing the process, they wanted me to meet her and see what the prospects might be for her settling down comfortably in her new work place and what potential she was going to demonstrate to “contribute to the constantly improving interactions in the company.”
Here I need to say that the company, since 2011, has been on a journey towards functioning as a solution-focused company.
I did think twice before responding. I knew the company and its people well, was familiar with the challenges they were facing, and with their alignment on the need to make progress in the solution-focused way. In that respect, there was no hesitation. There was no hesitation either about the possibility of the encounter adding value to the candidate’s improved understanding of the difference that becoming a member of this company was going to make for her. The issue which bothered me was the evaluative component of the task, i.e. how I was going to handle our post-interview conversation with the company owner. At the time, I was not too sure about the ethical aspects of giving feedback to a third party and whether it was not a breach-of-confidence case between the interviewee and myself.
In the end, I decided to give it a go because I knew I would be of help to the company and, also, there was a good chance that the candidate would become clearer about her development in that particular workplace. I was prepared to make this small step and see what transpired.
Since then, I have conducted over twelve final – stage job interviews for different companies. Every time the conversation flows differently but I inevitably get a sense of the conversations being of benefit for both the interviewees and the respective company.
I see this short reflective article as a necessary part of an ongoing exploratory process for me and my best hopes also are that it grabs the interest of leaders and fellow SF practitioners.
Firstly, I describe the simple and loose frame of the interview session and then, I proceed to give an account of how the post-interview meeting with the company owner and the management team goes.
On the day of the interview, I go to the company’s office well ahead of time and make a point of welcoming the candidate as they enter the room.
Rather than a rigid scenario, in my mind I have a rough idea of the stages we are going to follow in our conversation which often takes unpredictable turns. I have come to see my role during the interview as leading from behind and always ready to respond to the flow.
After introducing myself as a member of the company’s interviewing team, and saying that within the next 30 mins or so we are going to have a rather informal conversation, I invite the interviewee to answer a couple of small talk opening questions:
- What interesting thing did you notice on your way to here?
- Where would you be today if you were not here, interviewing for a job?
The purpose here is to have a light warm-up and make a link between the interview space and the outside world.
My next move is to encourage the interviewees to show the best of themselves and their interactions. As for me, I aim to spot, based on what they are telling me, their useful strengths and qualities. I choose to do this by eliciting stories through a couple of Solution-Focused questions. These work well, drawing out the candidates’ experiences and relating them to the company’s organisational dynamics.
- Can you describe a ‘sparkling moment’ at work, in your last job perhaps, during the past few weeks or months – when you felt good about being in that job and were really getting what you wanted.
- How come that moment was sparkling?
- What else?
I find stories an important part of how people communicate and connect with each other.
In the interview situation, sharing a story or two avoids the trap of orchestrated phrases and rehearsed clichés. From being abstract and often impersonal, interviewees open themselves up, establish a connection and build a basis for developing our conversation.
In each individual case, the conversation flows differently. Sometimes more stories would spontaneously come, in other cases there would be just one. In any case, they offer me, the facilitator, more than one option to continue the conversation, providing me at the same time with rich points to discuss with the company owner in terms of what the candidate does well, what she values, what her interactions look like.
Typically, this final stage of the interview goes in two steps.
- I first use the solutions tool of scaling and ask the job candidates to rate, on a scale from 1 to 10, their confidence that they are making a good decision applying for the job. When they place themselves at a certain step on the scale, I invite them to elaborate on what has raised them as high as that particular point, thus encouraging them to review their resources and strengths.
- The next step, flexibly performed in terms of timing and wording, is to invite the interviewees to describe their desired future when they get the job they are applying for.
The questions which lead to this kind of description are:
- Suppose you get the job, what will your first workdays here look like? What will you see and hear? What will you be doing?
- What will you notice first about yourself and about the people around you?
- What will your dearest and closest notice about you?
- Who has helped you achieve this? How? What else?
There are benefits in this step for both the candidate and interviewer. The candidate clarifies for themselves how they want it to be in the new job and “pitch themselves into the future in concrete terms” (Jackson and McKergow, 2007: 32). For me, as interviewer, I get an even better sense of the candidates’ vision, their imaginative power and the details on the level of behaviour.
By the time the third stage draws to an end, I already have sufficient material for the post-interview conversation with the company director and their management team.
We build the feedback conversation around the resources and expertise of the candidates. I highlight the moments when they are at their best and what they appreciate most in their work life. We talk about their capacity to pay attention to detail and speak in concrete and specific terms. There is a special focus on what inspires them, their working style and how they can contribute to growing the company’s Solution- Focused environment.
The issue which prior to the first interview had bothered me about the ethical aspect of holding a post-interview conversation with the company’s management has dissolved.
Since my encounter with the candidates is just one component of the interview process, I leave it to the company management to make the decision on hiring them.
Jackson, P.G. & McKergow, M. (2007). The Solutions Focus. London: Nicholas Brealey International)
McKergow, M. (2008). Sparkling moments. In: Röhrig, P. & Clarke, J. (Eds.). 57 SF activities for facilitators and consultants. (Cheltenham, UK: Solutions books)
Schmitz, L. (2008). The solution onion. In: Röhrig, P. & Clarke, J. (Eds.). 57 SF activities for facilitators and consultants. (Cheltenham, UK: Solutions books)
 I am grateful to John Brooker for encouraging me to share my experience and my thoughts.