Are formal interviews putting people off your business?

Twice in the last month, I’ve had people walk away from interviews with my clients feeling dejected. The reason? The interviewer was hard to read, overly formal, unfriendly and didn’t show their personality or style.

The impact of overly formal interviews

In both instances, this played a huge role in the decision-making process for the candidates. It made it very difficult for them to know if their values were aligned to the organisation and the leadership style of the person interviewing them. There are two main issues:

Too methodical

Although the interviewers were organised, had good questions and gave the candidates a good overview of the company and the role, they were too methodical. This resulted in the conversation feeling robotic and more like a box ticking exercise rather than an engaging and authentic conversation.


There was no connection and that in turn made the candidate feel like they couldn’t be authentic. They walked out feeling like it didn’t go well and that they didn’t get a sense that there was a good alignment of values.

My clients, on the other hand, felt the candidates interviewed really well. Technical capabilities ticked all the boxes and they were keen to move to a second round, informal interview, clearly unaware of the disconnect.

Both candidates were surprised by the positive impression they left and that the client was keen to proceed to next steps and by that time, it was too late. Although I did everything to reassure them, knowing both clients well, the damage was done and the roles rejected.

Successful interviews 

These examples made me reflect on the research Six Degrees recently commissioned about leadership and what people want from their leaders. The top three leadership traits are:

  • Authenticity and integrity
  • Team building
  • Outstanding communication skills

It dawned on me that these traits must be leveraged from the first interaction, which is often an interview. Yes, technical skills and competencies are important but based on these experiences and the research we have done some businesses may need to re-think their approach and engaging authentically with talent in the first instance.

Practical interviewing solutions

Informal 30-minute catch ups

My recommendation is to introduce an informal 30-minute coffee ‘catch up’ as the initial part of the process.

A large services client that I recently worked with, spent half a day having a series of short ‘catch-ups’ before the first formal interview. This was purely to get to know the candidate and vice versa.

The more casual style meeting gave the candidate a clear insight into their values and style as a leader. The hiring manager really made them feel at ease and allowed them to engage in a transparent and authentic conversation and ask questions, that perhaps in a formal setting they wouldn’t have felt comfortable asking. 

Phone screens by HR and recruiters

If you feel a formal interview is required in the first instance, lean on your internal HR team or recruitment agency to assess technical capability. In both instances, they can do some of the hard work for you leaving you time to have an engaging and authentic conversation which builds trust and a strong relationship.

I am really encouraging my clients to adopt a more progressive approach to interviews to remain competitive. Top talent is in high demand and know what they’re looking for; often alignment in values and leadership style is at the top of their priority list.

For more insights on what people want from their leaders, download The Future of Leadership research report.

Contact Jo Krause to discuss Retail, Marketing and Digital opportunities in Melbourne.