Conducting a more effective interview

Interviewers’ panel may not have the time or inclination to create structured situational interviews. However, there is still a lot they can do to make interviews more effective. Suggestions include:

Structure your interview: There are several things you can do to increase the standardization of the interview or otherwise assist the interviewer to ask more consistent and job-relevant questions, without actually creating a structured situational interview. They include:

1. Base questions on actual job duties. This will minimize irrelevant questions. It may also reduce the likelihood of bias, because there’s less opportunity to “read” things into the answer.
2. Use job knowledge, situational, or behaviorally oriented questions and objective criteria to evaluate the interviewee’s responses. Questions that simply ask for opinion and attitudes and attitudes, goals and aspirations, and self-descriptions and self-evaluations allow candidates to present themselves in an overly favorable manner or avoid revealing weakness. Structured interview questions can reduce subjectivity and therefore the chance for inaccurate conclusions and bias.
3. Train interviewers: For example, review EEO laws with prospective interviewers and train them to avoid irrelevant or potentially discriminatory questions and to avoid stereotyping minority candidates. Also train them to base their questions on job-related information.
4. Use the same questions with all candidates. When it comes to asking questions, the description seems to be “the more standardized the better. Using the same questions with all candidates can also reduce bias because of the obvious fairness of giving all the candidates the exact same opportunity.

Prepare for the Interview: The interview should take place in a private room where telephone calls are not accepted and you can minimize interruptions. Prior to the interview, review the candidate’s application and resume and note any area that is vague or that may indicate strengths or weaknesses. In one study about 39% of the 191 respondents said interviewers were unprepared or unfocused.

Remember, it’s essential that an interviewer know the duties of the job, and the specific skills and traits he or she should be looking for. Most interviews probably fail to unearth the best candidate because the interviewer is unprepared, or overconfident, or just plain lazy. General questions like, what are your main strengths? Or “Why did you leave your last job? may not be totally useless. But what an interviewer really must do is go into the interview with a set of specific questions that focus on the skills and experiences the ideal candidate for that job needs. At a minimum, review the job specifications. Go into the interview with an accurate picture of the traits of an ideal candidate, know what to ask and keep an open mind about the candidate. Remember that interviewers often make snap judgments based on first impressions. Keep a record of the answers, and review them after the interview. Make a decision then.

Close the Interview: Leave time to answer any questions the candidate may have and, if appropriate, to advocate your firm to the candidate.

Try to end the interview on a positive note. Tell the applicant whether there is any interest and, if so, what the next step will be. Make rejections diplomatically: for instance, “Although your background is impressive, there are other candidates whose experience is closer to our requirements”. If the applicant is still being considered but you can’t reach a decision now, say so. If your policy is to inform candidates of their status in writing, do so within a few days of the interview.

In rejecting a candidate, one perennial question is, should you provide an explanation or not? In one study, rejected candidates who received an explanation detailing why the employer rejected them felt that the rejection process was fairer. These people were also more likely to give the employer a better recommendation and to apply again for jobs with the firm. Unfortunately, providing detailed explanations may not be practical. As the researchers put it, ‘we were unsuccessful in a number of attempts to secure a site for our applied study. Of three organizations that expressed interest in our research, all eventually declined to participate in the study’ because they were afraid that any additional information in the rejection letters might increase legal problems. They were reluctant to give rejected applicants information that can be used to dispute the decision.

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