‘Speed dating’ for talent – 9 lessons learned from an experiential recruitment initiative

‘Speed dating’ for talent – 9 lessons learned from an experiential recruitment initiative

I love the luxury of listening to audio books while I am driving. In Delivering Happiness, I got so drawn in by Tony Hsieh’s passion of building a service culture at Zappos, that I could not “put the book down”.

What grabbed my attention in particular, was his ‘speed-dating’ recruitment drives, because our company had recently embarked on a similar initiative.

In our quest to find a specific type of person for our customer experience interviewing team (normally a very time-consuming process with varied success), we came up with an innovative concept of ‘speed dating’ to quickly assess talent.


The idea was simple: applicants assessed their own and fellow candidates’ skills, guided by our criteria.  Our recruitment ad invited applicants to an ‘experiential day’, and the candidates that made the cut (on paper) received a summary of the qualities and skills we were looking for.

We chose a co-working coffee shop to create a neutral space so everyone could feel relaxed. Once all the candidates had settled in with a steaming cup of coffee, we discussed the skills and the assessment format. Then it was time to interview each other: the pairs chose a spot in the coffee shop, armed with an interview topic (a personal story) and skills assessment sheets.

It was a fresh approach to our selection process; and as it is with all novel ideas, we learnt many lessons.


Lesson#1: Limit distractions

Although the informal setting created a familiar, ‘at home’ feeling that reduced the candidates’ anxiety, the noise level in the coffee shop distracted from the conversations. The sunny winter’s day was also unfortunately exceptionally cold. Most  participants sat outside because the shop was busy, and they felt that their focus often moved away from the interview in an effort to stay warm.


Lesson #2:  Delve deeper into CV content

We provided the list of skills beforehand; however, we found that few candidates understood the level of proficiency required for each skill (sharply contrasting with their CV’s). Only two candidates felt they we proficient (not masterful) in one or two skills of the assessment skills.


Lesson #3: Understand how it’s easier said than done

Showcasing their skills was harder than participants thought – it’s one thing to tell a prospective employer how proficient you are, but its altogether another to demonstrate it.


Lesson #4: Allow for inflated or depreciated egos

We found a significant gap between how candidates saw their own capability and proficiency and how others assessed them. While most believed they we competent themselves, their peers (and our team) did not share their views.


Lesson #5: Keep it close to the real thing

Although pairs assessed each other’s face-to-face interviewing skills, our business’ primary channel of CX interviewing is telephonic.  This was a major shortcoming, because telephonic interviews require additional layers of proficiency, e.g.

  • the ability to hold a conversational space despite the device barrier
  • the ability to ‘read‘ non-verbal cues
  • the ability to connect with credibility very early in the conversation
  • a strong voice and clear questioning techniques.

We realised that the recruitment assessment should mirror on-the-job actions as close as possible.


Lesson #6: Cover your bases

Instead of our random observation approach, we realized we needed at least one of our own team members to observe each pair to gauge every participant’s style and aptitude. Despite being underrepresented, our own team did offer valuable insights and observations about the attitude, energy and character of the candidates and whether they would fit into our ’tribe’.


Lesson #7: Give enough time

We learned that we should have allowed more time for these personal stories, as they provide richer information of the candidates’ context which bolstered our ability to make the right selection. This is particularly important for a virtual office business model such as ours. It is easier to get a sense of what drives them, their experience of working independently and from a home office, their support systems to manage the targets, etc.


Lesson #8 (surprise benefit): It validated our own mastery

Our team left with a renewed appreciation for their mastery of our unique approach to CX interviewing. They felt validated, appreciated and empowered through the honest space to share their observations. We affirmed our group identity and the process elevated our sense of what makes us different. Most agreed on candidates with the base level skills that would fit in as well.


Lesson #9 (surprise benefit): It provided a unique networking opportunity

Despite the inherent competitive nature of being interviewed for a position, there was a certain sense of belonging, i.e. “we are all in the same boat”. The candidates benefitted from new bonds and possible connections outside of the day’s framework.




Although we learned many lessons and know how to improve the process, the results in terms of identifying the right fit was not so encouraging. Our first experiential drive resulted in five appointments, but only one persevered through the training journey and is now a part of our interview team. Another candidate has been appointed in a different role.

We will certainly undertake this approach again for our next recruitment drive. The objective now is to refine our own assessment instruments to improve the conversion rate from recruitment to proficient interviewers.


Ask us at The Consumer Psychology Lab, a customer experience consultancy, to partner with you on your quest to become more customer-centric and design your voice of the customer programme with insights derived from real stories. We are passionate about customer experience, and skilled in CX qualitative reviews.

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