How to Conduct a Job Interview
Conducting the Interview
Approach each interview in a positive frame of mind remembering that, although you are a prospective employer, you are also a salesperson for your agency and the job you want to fill.
As you are evaluating the candidate, the candidate is also evaluating the position and you as a potential Supervisor. Be cognizant of keeping on schedule; leaving a candidate waiting for a long time is very rude and discourteous. Remember your behavior during this interview reflects directly on you and your agency.
The Six-Step Interview Plan
The following is a six-step approach to interviewing that can be modified to fit your own particular needs and circumstances.
- Introduction - Introduce yourself and greet the candidate with a handshake and a friendly smile. The more nervous a candidate is, the more important it is that you make an attempt to put him or her at ease. You should offer the candidate a glass of water before beginning the interview Use "small talk" to break the ice.
- Review the Application - Go over the information supplied on the application and/or resume, and ask the candidate to elaborate on his/her previous job responsibilities or special projects. The nature, direction and enthusiasm of the candidate's responses can provide you with valuable insight into the candidate's communication skills. These responses may also give you an indication about what the candidate finds interesting or challenging, and how he or she is likely to fit into the particular job.
- Describe the Job - Provide a written job description (or class standard) to the
candidate, and summarize or review the major job responsibilities.
Describe the position in terms of the organization's structure,
also mentioning the individuals he/she will be working with,
and a brief description of their positions. You might find it
helpful to work from a checklist of essential job elements, responsibilities
and requirements that you can review with each candidate. The
key consideration is that all candidates are left with basically
the same impression of what the job is and requires.
For example, a certain job might require the employee to travel overnight from time to time. Some candidates may regard this as a hardship while others see it as a benefit. You should describe the requirement as precisely as possible in terms of how often and where the prospective employee is likely to travel. Avoid describing the requirement in subjective terms such as "extensive" or "occasional" or "long distance" and so forth. These are subjective assessments, which, in this case, are best left to the individual to make.
- Candidate Self-Assessment - Encourage the candidate to assess him or herself against the job. In order to obtain as much information as possible regarding the candidate in relation to the job, encourage responses with open-ended questions such as, "How do you see yourself in relation to this job?" or "What contributions do you think you can make to the work of this agency?" Avoid asking a candidate, "Do you think you can do the job?" Encouraging an open-ended assessment of this type will also provide you with feedback on how well you have described the job and its requirements.
- Candidate Clarification - Ask the candidate if he or she has any questions about the job requirements, working conditions, prospective co-workers, supervisors, subordinates or other considerations. Let the candidate know that you and the Personnel Office will be available to answer any questions that might arise after the interview.
- Closing - Finally, close the interview by explaining what happens next
in the hiring process and thank the candidate for his or her
time. If appropriate, explain that once the hiring decision has
been made, job offers may be conditioned on favorable results
of any necessary professional and/or physical examinations or
successful completion of academic requirements.
Avoid stating any type of appointment commitment, even when you are in a position to guarantee it. Beyond the obvious inherent unfairness to other candidates yet to be interviewed, reference checks or agency hiring limitations may cause you to reverse your decision, thereby creating a difficult or embarrassing situation and/or leading to litigation. Typically, the Personnel Office will make the job offer.
If the candidate indicates that he or she has already received another job offer and will be forced to accept that offer unless you make a decision immediately, explain to the candidate that you are unable to make a commitment until all the interviews have been completed. You should inform the candidate when you expect to be making your final decision.
Controlling the Interview
The Six-Step Interview Plan provides a good framework for conducting effective and consistent employment interviews. However, in order for it to help you obtain the information you need to make a sound employment decision, you must have control over the interview. Establishing and maintaining control of the interview requires effective listening combined with good questioning techniques.
The key to effective listening is for you to do minimal talking during the interview. After establishing rapport and describing the job and its requirements to the candidate, let the candidate do most of the talking.
It is important that you pay attention to the candidate. Do not let your mind wander or think ahead to the next question instead of listening to what the candidate is saying. Occasionally, restating a candidate's reply or observation in your own words may be useful.
As noted previously, it is always a good technique to ask questions that require more than a simple "yes" or "no" answer. Your questioning should encourage the candidate to communicate information that will shed light on his or her capability to perform the job effectively. Phrase some of your questions in terms of "who, what, why, when, where and how."
Topics to Cover
Attempt to gain knowledge about the candidate's career growth, stability, achievement, interpersonal skills and interest in the position. Examine the following areas:
- Work Experience--Compare the duties and responsibilities, supervision and the candidate's likes and dislikes of past and present positions with the position you are seeking to fill. Question the candidate on his or her progress and salary increases. Also find out the candidate's reasons for leaving a past or current job.
- Relevance of Education--A person's educational choices can reveal important aspects of his or her personality, motivation, character and interests. Key areas include: subjects studied, academic performance, class offices held, night school attendance and work experience while in school.
- Outside Interests--Because a candidate has the freedom to choose leisure activities, when relevant to the job, outside interests, such as organization and association memberships, and volunteer work, may be revealing.
- Sensitive Topics--There may be situations in which you will have to ask sensitive questions or probe for more factual information, even though this may make the candidate uncomfortable. After reviewing the previous section of this guide, you should have a good idea of what you can and cannot ask the candidate. As long as the topic is job related and within permissible parameters, do not hesitate to try to find out what you need to know to make a hiring decision. If the candidate seems upset by this, explain that a fair evaluation depends on clarification of all issues that have a relationship to the job.
Unobtrusive note taking during the interview is necessary to have a record of the information gathered that you can refer to later. Inform the candidate at the beginning of the interview that you will be taking notes so that he or she does not perceive it as a threat or distraction.
The following techniques will help you conduct a successful interview:
- Pay Attention/Listen - Effective listening cannot be stressed enough. However, be aware that you may be revealing your immediate impression of the candidate through your gestures, expressions and actions. Be certain not to let negative reactions become obvious to the candidate.
- Echoing - Echoing can be used to encourage a candidate to elaborate on a topic. It is useful because you get additional information without asking direct or probing questions. For instance, the candidate has just said, "I didn't like the work." You echo with the words "didn't like the work?" and the candidate knows that you want more information on this matter. The echo technique avoids the appearance of a cross-examination; it prods the candidate into disclosing more specific information without making him or her uncomfortable.
- Level of Language - Use language appropriate for the position for which you are interviewing; don't talk above or below a candidate's comprehension level.
- Handling "Problem" Candidates - Occasionally, a candidate can present problems during the interview. Try to keep the candidate on track. For example, do not let a talkative applicant waste time going off on a tangent. If a candidate evades an important question, be sure to ask the question again to elicit an appropriate response. If a candidate becomes nervous and freezes up, try some "small talk" to put the candidate at ease. Some candidates may be overly prepared or confident and have rehearsed responses to most of your questions. In this case, try direct, probing questions to obtain more information from them.