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Does the formal interview scenario give you The Fear? We’re trying something different

Does the formal interview scenario give you The Fear? We’re trying something different

Never to be the ones to sit and stagnate, we are constantly striving to renew our practices. Last week, we had our recruitment morning for a new cohort of Heritage Assistants, and we thought that we wouldn’t do things the traditional way.

We looked back on five years of experience in recruitment, researched best practice, and decided that the formal type of interview was hindering our opportunity to recruit inclusively. We invited 10 of our 47 applicants to a group interview, and began with a simple question;

What exhibition or museum object has recently inspired you?

The group interview situation is enough to put The Fear into many people, so we all sat together in a circle and the interviewers started off. This put the interviewees at ease as they then had time to think about their own answers, and know that the interviewers were just people who worked in culture and heritage because they loved it too. This question produced some fantastic answers; we tried to encourage answers that related the exhibition or object back to their own experiences and personal reflections on the subject, rather than technical museum knowledge. Therefore, demonstrating their passion for the subject, but not excluding those who had little museum studies knowledge.

One of our candidates said that she really enjoyed this technique of interviewing as it “allowed her to relax, bringing out the best in her answer”.

We then split the group into three groups, giving them a scenario in which they had to provide some interpretation on a painting, and then a scenario in which they had to move an object from a collection to another room. These questions tested skills such as team working, logical thinking, and communication and listening to others; these are essential skills for our heritage assistants. The more casual situation allowed these types of traits to come to the fore.

I went through the formal interview process with Culture Syndicates as an interviewee. I wasn’t chosen for the role I applied for, yet Jess and Charlie, Directors of the company gave me an opportunity to be a heritage assistant. I believe they saw potential in me that they had picked out of my stumbled interview questions. This potential, as I witnessed from sitting on the other side of the table last week, is better explored and evidenced in the group interview situation, as it gives more of a fairer representation of someone’s skills and personality. Charlie, Director of Culture Syndicates, explains the differences between previous sit down, formal interviews and informal group interviews:

“We found that formal interviews did not get the best from sector entrants. Having strong interview skills was not necessarily reflective of practical skills either. This more inclusive method of recruitment supports a more diverse workforce, allowing a wider range of people to engage with our traineeships and Development Programme.“

And we have the stats to back it up! Of our last recruitment of Heritage Assistants, in which we trialled the group interview 100% went on to get jobs in the heritage sector. This is something that we are incredibly proud of, as the role is designed to be a stepping-stone for emerging sector entrants into the industry. One of our previous assistants commented:

“Culture Syndicates has kick-started my career, and I hope to continue to grow and develop with a new role at the Museum of London.”

In contrast, of our previous Heritage Assistants employed through formal interviewing, 44% went on to have jobs in the sector, whilst most of the others went into further education. Whilst this is still a pleasing statistic, perhaps this type of interviewing has something to do with accurately assessing the suitability and dedication to the role.

We continue to strive to give emerging cultural and heritage professionals the best chance in starting a career in the sector they really love. Only in this way can we build a dedicated and engaged workforce in the sector, and, if a more relaxed interview situation is the way to do it, then its happy days for both the employer and interviewee.

Let us know your thoughts on different types of recruitment in the comments below.

By Lizzie Irving, Marketing and Operations Coordinator

  • Posted at 7:13 pm, 26th February 2018

    The interview approach discussed may be unsuitable for many #neurodivergent people – particularly #autistic people. Hope this helps understanding –

    I work as cultural engagement officer for a local district museum, and am also a freelance artist.

  • Posted at 12:48 pm, 27th February 2018

    Thanks for the link and for your thoughts on MuseumHour, Sonja.

    We have yet to find the panacea – as people are all so different, what works for one person will not work for another. Our friendly, task-based group scenarios have been useful in changing our recruitment mentality towards assessing potential rather than learned skills or interview technique. A critical point is the skill of the assessors – much like a good facilitator, our team have to support quieter or less confident candidates and create an environment where everyone gets a chance to shine. We try to use a mix of techniques, including an individual paper based exercise to then talk through to reveal your logic and an informal interview.

    It’s interesting to hear thoughts on the need for written elements and particularly useful to consider how we can make the process less unknown – giving candidates a clear timetable and outline of what to expect is a great idea so we’ll make sure to improve the information we give out in advance.

    Looking forward to talking more with you to see how else we can make our recruitment processes, and those of our clients, more supportive for better sector diversity.

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