CIO Best Practices

How CIOs Attract Better Talent Through Reverse Interviews

You are in a battle for talent. Beat the competition by implementing Reverse Interviews. Here is what they are and how to conduct them.

Scott Smeester


February 23, 2022

Photo credit:
GR Stock

I attract great people. 

Just ask my wife.

But I have also attracted great people to work with me, and I’ve attracted great people to volunteer with me. Over the course of the years, I am grateful and amazed at how people have worked with me for less money than I would like to have paid them, or have given countless hours and energy to a great cause with no compensation whatsoever. 

You are in a battle for attraction. Talent is out there, extremely good talent that can make a difference for you. You will not win if you do what everyone else is doing and just try to be more remarkable at it.

You must do something different, and let the difference be remarkable.

You know what everyone else is doing. Pre-screen interviews, 1:1 interviews that are behavioral or situational based, panel interviews, etc. And they do it with two factors in mind: the competence and the fit of the candidate.

Candidates have seen it all before. There is nothing remarkable in the similarities. No wonder a candidate’s decision will often boil down to the money offered. All else feels the same.

What can you do differently?

Reverse The Interview

Competence and fit are still important to discern. But it is so easily discerned. We complicate interviews even though we already know in a short period of time that we want someone.

Instead, the interview needs to be driven with a greater focus on the candidate selecting you over the competition. 

To do that, the Reverse Interview is constructed to find out how much value you bring to the candidate. In this model, the candidate walks away understanding how much you can do for them, not just how much they can do for you. And in addressing what you can do for them, we aren’t talking salary and benefits. We are talking about investment and development.

You are interviewing them to discover their goals, realities, preferred path, and then demonstrating the value you bring to each. 

How To Conduct The Reverse Interview

1. State the difference.

“We only hire people we can be of value to. That’s why we spend a good portion of our interview seeking to understand some of your goals and aspirations.”

2. Identify arenas for goal-setting.

“We all work in professional environments here: technical growth, peer relationship and teamwork, leadership growth, personal development in the work context. Are there any areas important to you that I didn’t mention?”

3. Paint a picture of current reality.

“Let’s look at some of those arenas.”

Take each environment, no more than four, and ask them to define the following:

- What are you already good at in these areas? 

- What are some things you would like to learn or improve in these areas?

- What are the biggest obstacles to overcome in developing in these areas?

4. Get a sense of what they value when it comes to self-development.

“We appreciate how self-aware you are. How have you grown best in the past? Has it been course work or mentoring or apprenticeship or something else? I’m sure there is a combination, but what has been a preference?”

5. Match what you do to what they need. 

Obviously, you can’t make up what doesn’t exist. If they thrive through mentoring and you don’t have a mentoring program, you can’t promise them one. 


You have the essence of what they want. No matter what their preference, it falls into common categories:

- People who can help them succeed (you have that).

- Resources that can help them get ahead (you have that).

- Opportunities that challenge them (you can provide for that).

The goal is to demonstrate that you want to know their points of growth and you want to invest in that growth.

Yes, I hear you. Every company promises that. But few make it the prominent part of their interview, or conduct it in a way in which the person just had a mini-coaching session that raised their sense of need and then promised a path to fulfillment.

That’s different. And that experience can be remarkable.

Studies already show that retention is greatest where investment in employee development is greatest. Not salary. Personal growth. 

If it is true for retention, it is true for attraction.

Great talent already knows the value they bring to you. Surprise them by demonstrating the value you will bring to them.

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