The definitive guide to interview shadowing
1 Sept 2022
If you’re looking to build, expand or improve your in-house interviewing capabilities - shadowing is a must.
You may already be using interview shadowing without knowing it. Whatever your experience level, this guide will help you to understand why shadowing is useful, get the most out of it, and implement it in entirely new ways.
What is interview shadowing?
Interviews conducted by more than one person will normally have a lead interviewer – the person who kicks off the interview and drives the conversation. They’d typically give an overview of the interview format, role and company, ask the majority of questions, and decide when to dig deeper and when to move on.
Shadowing is simply attending an interview where you are not the lead. There are two kinds:
You attend an interview led by a more experienced interviewer in order to learn.
You attend an interview led by a trainee interviewer to support them.
What is shadowing good for?
There are a few common situations where interview shadowing can be employed.
Onboarding new interviewers
Shadowing is the best way to continuously onboard new interviewers. As a new interviewer, a typical onboarding flow might look like this:
You shadow a few interviews led by more experienced interviewers
You lead a few interviews, with more experienced interviewers reverse shadowing you
You start running interviews on your own
A little while after this, you may even then find yourself being shadowed by, or reverse shadowing the next new interviewer in your team to help them onboard quickly.
Once new interviewers are onboarded, reverse shadowing is a great way to ensure they still have a safety net – some interviewers may want or need more shadowed interviews before they feel comfortable going it alone.
Broadening the bandwidth of a talent funnel
Where’s your hiring bottleneck? If you’re sourcing plenty of good candidates, but are struggling to schedule interviews because you only have a handful of busy senior people who can run them, you need to add more interviewers. Shadowing is a great way to do this quickly - with a small amount of time investment, you can upskill existing team members and have them leading interviews in no time.
Having lots of new interviewers on board is great – but they are new after all – so you need to take steps to ensure you maintain a high interview quality bar. If left unchecked, falling interview quality can lead to costly bad hiring decisions, candidates dropping out due to bad interview experiences, and reputational damage.
Spending some time reverse shadowing each of your interviewers from time to time is a great way to keep that bar high. Implementing a round-robin system to pair more experienced interviewers with less can prevent any mistakes and ensure bad habits are picked up before they become a real problem. This could be a good time to try Virtual Shadowing - more on that below.
Continual real-world training opportunities
If you’ve identified any interviewers that need a bit more help to get up to speed, the best way to train them is by reverse shadowing them, or having them shadow you, on real interviews. You can interview together, make notes of areas for improvement or highlights, and talk through them straight after. Compared to ad-hoc, more formal training courses, this kind of learning is much more likely to stick the next time they run an interview solo.
The outcome of an interview does not solely rest with one person
Even the most experienced interviewer won’t be able to make the right hiring decision on their own, every time. Shadowing gives you more opinions on the candidate, making it more likely you’ll come to the right hiring decision for your team.
What are the trade-offs?
Double the time commitment
Having two people on an interview instead of one doubles the amount of time your team is spending – plus any extra time to review, debrief, and coach or train less experienced interviewers. That said, this up-front investment should pay for itself easily in the long run as you increase your interviewing bandwidth, give a better candidate experience, and make the right hiring decision more often.
Even so, if the time investment is a big problem for you or your team right now, this is another area where Virtual Shadowing could help – more on that later in the post.
Additional stress on the candidate
Each additional person attending an interview adds more pressure to an already stressful situation for candidates. You may want to keep certain types of interview, for example an initial screening, lightweight in order for the candidate to get off to a good start, warm to your company and know what to expect going forward. However, if you introduce any shadowers in the right way (see our tips below), you’ll likely find that the investment you’re making into candidate experience overall by coaching less experienced interviewers will outweigh any stress caused by multiple participants.
Effective shadowing in practice
Taking a step back for a second – if the purpose of interview shadowing is to train your interviewers and improve the quality of your interviews, we should first examine what a good interviewer looks like.
Good interview technique deserves its own article, but in brief, good interviewers:
Endear the candidate to the company.
Get the best out of candidates.
Act like detectives, probing a candidate's answers to paint a clear picture of their skills, knowledge or situational behaviour.
Maximise the time available in an interview to ensure the company has enough signal to inform a hiring decision.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at ways to get the most out of the time spent if you put shadowing into practice yourself.
Tips for Shadowing
Introduce yourself and mention that you are shadowing the interview.
For a candidate, a second person in the room is likely going to add some tension. You can diffuse that by making it clear that you’re there to learn.
Practice your note taking and scoring.
When you become an interviewer, you’ll have to do this while holding the conversation at the same time. Hone this skill now in preparation.
Understand the lead interviewer’s thinking.
You can’t communicate with the other interviewer in an interview. They will go off in certain directions, and you may not be clear why. Make note of these moments, so you can ask them after the interview.
If you’re using Evidenced, you can bookmark these moments with a note - and come back to them in the recording later.
Get involved with candidate Q&A.
It’s common (and crucial) for an interview to end by letting the candidate ask questions about the company, and they may be particularly interested in the work you do. The evaluation part of the interview is over, and this is typically informal.
Interviews are as much sales as they are evaluation - you may be able to sell the candidate on the positives you’ve experienced, or just make a connection with a potential future colleague.
Arrive at a decision independently.
It’s tempting to want to know how the lead interviewer rated the interview, but it’s important to arrive at your own decision first to understand where you may differ in opinion.
Tips for Reverse Shadowing
Introduce yourself and mention that you are shadowing, and here to support the interview.
For the same reasons as a shadow, this can diffuse some of the candidate’s tension.
Give the trainee room to learn.
It’s tempting to step in as soon as you think a trainee has missed a crucial detail, but it’s important to let them find their own way. If you feel like there is a missing detail, or unanswered question, step in only once the trainee has seemingly exhausted a line of questioning. Interrupting the trainee abruptly could leave a poor impression on the candidate, and leave the trainee feeling flustered.
Explain your thinking to the trainee after the interview.
They can’t see what’s going on in your head, so explaining why you asked certain questions, or why you offered direction or help, will give them the tools they need to become a skilled interviewer.
As with shadowing, if you’re using Evidenced, you can bookmark these moments with a note - and come back to them in the recording later.
Understand their decision before you share yours.
An inexperienced interviewer will be tempted to follow your lead, so get them to explain their thinking first. They may also have noted something you didn’t – even an experienced interviewer isn’t flawless.
More types of shadowing
With many interviews across the company, it becomes easy for people’s expectations of candidates to drift.
Having qualified interviewers reverse shadow each other can help to ensure interviewers are calibrated, improve interview technique, and agree on what they are looking for in candidates.
It can be tempting to keep interviewers siloed to a department. After all, they are most adept at qualifying skills within their domain.
There are however a number of benefits to allowing cross-department shadowing:
Company-wide standards can be maintained.
Engagement with other departments can endear a person to the company.
Interviewers can make connections across departments, with other interviewers or potential future employees.
Virtual shadowing is utilising a recording of an interview (e.g. from Zoom, Google Meet, or Evidenced of course!) to allow the shadow process to take place asynchronously.
Virtual shadowing has a number of benefits:
You can shadow in your own time, you don’t have to be available for every interview.
It can be quicker - allowing you to skip to key moments or watch back at double speed.
With only one interviewer in the interview, it reduces the pressure on a candidate.
Training can be more effective, replaying teachable moments rather than having to remember what happened when discussing.
For this last benefit, you can of course do both – shadow the interview live, then use the recording to help with debrief and any coaching.
The Bar Raisers concept
As a final note – if you’re part of a large organisation and you’d like to improve your interviews but you’re daunted by the prospect – let’s take a look at where you might start.
One approach to calibration used at Amazon is the concept of a “bar raiser”. You can think of bar raisers as a selection of employees who have conducted a substantial number of interviews and have shown adept skills in doing so. They are well-calibrated, practised in technique and have a deep understanding of what the company is looking for in new talent.
Unless your organisation is substantially large you are unlikely to need bar-raisers, but if you are looking to transform interviewing across a large number of interviewers, focussing your energy by implementing shadowing within a small group of seasoned interviewers can allow for simpler calibration, ahead of utilising this group to further train and calibrate interviews.
Shadowing is an incredibly useful technique for continually training new interviewers. The technique allows for trainee interviewers to get up to speed quickly whilst having the safety net of an experienced interviewer on hand. If you’re looking to upskill new interviewers and grow the bandwidth of your talent funnel, shadowing is key.
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