There are many pitfalls interviewers can fall into, which can lead them to wrongly assess a candidate's suitability. This often results in staff turnover at the high cost of management time, induction, training costs and disruption. There is a definite structure to follow in holding an interview to attract and recruit the best staff.
Interviewing is a stressful situation for many people. Interviewers have a responsibility to reduce stress in order to benefit from the maximum amount of information to be exchanged. Some people argue that candidates should be put under stress in an interview to see how they perform in a stressful working environment. However this is counterproductive and only serves to reduce the effectiveness of communication in the interview. Always aim to get the best out of a candidate, not see their worst.
Do not keep a candidate waiting longer than 5-10 minutes. If you are delayed at least tell them the situation and ensure they have a drink and something to read - basically that they are settled as opposed to just left.
The interview environment
The ideal environment is a low table with two chairs at right angles to the table. If the interviewer has a large chair and is looking down on the interviewee with lots of files/books etc on the desk, he/she is putting up barriers (both psychological and physical) to effective communication and not getting the best from the candidate. It may be better to sit the candidate at the side of the desk to reduce the barrier. People who feel intimidated are not going to tell you why they really left their company or about any personal/confidential information that should be exchanged. The candidate's attention should not be distracted by lines of sight through windows and doors. Noise is also a distraction and should be kept to a minimum - telephone calls diverted and no interruptions allowed.
Try to read the candidate's CV before he/she arrives in order to assess and prepare any questions that need to be raised - such as employment gaps, travelling distances etc. Reading CVs in a candidate's presence generally serves to annoy. Writing copious notes whilst interviewing will make them suspicious - always ask if you are going to jot down information.
The interview should have a clear beginning, middle and end.
The interviewer should settle the candidate in by asking some easy questions about how they got to the office or commenting on the weather to relax the candidate. A small talk should be given about the format the interview will take - for example, how long it is expected to take, when they can ask questions etc.
Going logically through their CV, use open-ended, closed and probing questions (see below) to discuss, check facts and get to know the skills, experience and personality of the candidate to assess suitability. Start with education and qualifications, moving on to first job held to gradually work up to present job (so that you have a chronological picture of the candidate's career development). Once this has been completed, it is your turn to talk about the company and the job and discuss all the duties required.
Thank the candidate for attending the interview and explain the procedure for considering candidates and when a decision is likely to be made.
Questions to Avoid
There are a few questions that you should never, in any circumstance, ask a candidate. They can lead to you facing a discrimination case. Here are a few examples:
- How old are you?
- Do you have children?
- Do you plan to have any children soon?
- How old are your children?
- If you relocate, won't they miss their grandparents?
Types of candidates
Nervous: candidates who are either too talkative, or difficult to draw out, should initially be asked simple questions (about hobbies or family) to relax them.
Over-confident: dismissive or evasive candidates need specific questioning to pin them down and control the interview.
Flirtatious: candidates should be countered with an objective style of questioning and impartiality. If it continues, address the behaviour specifically.
Negative: and those with low self-esteem need probing style questions to assess reason for negativity and insecurity. Then try encouraging them to talk about positive aspects of their background. If negativity continues, bring the interview to a close.
Controlling the interview
By establishing the format that the interview will take at the outset you will automatically establish control. If you feel that the interview is losing direction, regain control by using statements such as '...anyway back to where we were' or 'briefly can you tell me..'.
Styles of questions
Open ended questions
Questions which you cannot answer yes or no to. These are used to get the candidate talking and for you to understand as much as possible about their experience and gain an insight into how they conduct themselves and come across in general - use of language, voice intonation, tone etc. Questions which start with Who, What, Where, When, Which and How are 'open-ended questions'.
e.g. What happened when...?
How did you feel about...?
Where do you live?
Tell me about your time at your last company
Questions which answer with a yes or no. These questions are used to check facts.
Used to get to the bottom of a particular subject and to check information and details. e.g. Tell me more about...?
Exactly what did you do...?
What did you mean when you said...?
What precisely was the role you had in...?
Can be used as a powerful way of uncovering feelings and of going back to something which needs further probing. 'You say you were pleased with ... what did it mean to you?' 'You said earlier that he reacted to what you said. How did he react?
Evidence or situation based questioning
Used to look back at past behaviour as a predictor of future behaviour. 'Tell me about a time when you persuaded someone to do something. How did you go about it? 'Think about when you have had to deal with someone whose work has been unsatisfactory. 'How did you approach it with them?'
Types of question
Asking about strengths and weaknesses - this can tell you about someone's self esteem especially if automatically they go on to answer about their weaknesses. Theoretical question - Giving hypothetical questions on the whole are unfair and do not give a fair indication of a candidate's reasoning. Ask evidence or situation based questions (as above) instead. Trick questions - Asking trick questions again may give the wrong impression about true behaviour. Firing questions - 'So you think you can sell do you, what makes you so special? This is obviously aggressive and does not indicate how someone behaves under pressure. Selling an object - 'Sell me this pen', for example, can give you an idea of the candidate's spontaneity and creativity.
Subjectivity and objectivity
It is very important throughout the interview to be as impartial and objective as possible. Your own upbringing and influences may subjectively affect the way you view a candidate. For example, if you have a degree education, this may lead you to feel that someone with no GCSE's is not intelligent. If you and the candidate are both tennis players, for example, you may get on very well but don't let this influence you in deciding whether they are right for the job. Look out for:
The candidate identifies your personality and begins to mirror you. You may feel that he/she is therefore just right for the job because you get on so well.
Halo and horns effect
A candidate who is dressed smartly may lead you to expect that his/her work is smart (halo), or a candidate who is scruffy may lead you to expect sloppy work (horns) - but this may not be the case.
Projection and identification
This happens when a candidate says that it was he/she that thought of the wonderful idea which saved the company lots of money, when it was someone else's idea anyway.
Writing Job Descriptions
Job description describes the demands of the job, whereas a person specification states what type of person is needed to fulfill those demands. A job description explains why the position exists and its connection to organisational objectives, its main duties and responsibilities and how the job relates to others in the organisation. The job description specifies the minimum performance standards or results that the job holder will achieve in order to satisfy the jobs existence in the structure of an organisation. The main reason for writing job descriptions is that it gives clear guidelines for the employee with regards to job expectation and fulfillment and therefore minimises the possibility of 'mismatches' and early staff turnover, which are usually the result of poor communication in this area. The three main purposes of the job description are:
- to help the interviewer explain the vacancy and communicate the expectations of the job to the prospective candidate.
- to give the applicant full details of the job - a prospective employee can assess the nature and scope of the job by reading the job description. It helps candidates assess whether or not the job is suitable for them or of interest to them.
- to provide a company record of the different jobs within the organisation - so long as job descriptions are kept up to date, the organisation is able to study individual job descriptions which collectively constitute the workforce and therein gain a good understanding of the organisations activity.
- The job description and its fulfillment is important to the contract of employment and any disciplinary matters that may arise, as it provides full and unambiguous information about the role to the employee.
Writing a job description
The layout of job descriptions vary from organisation to organisation, but mainly they should include the following: Job Title, Department, Purpose of Job, Responsible to, Supervisory responsibilities, Accountabilities, Main Duties, Working Conditions, Qualifications and Experience, Salary and Benefits, Prospects and Other Information.
Job Title - e.g. Reservations Clerk
This should reflect the nature of the job and be brief. It should never be ambiguous or misleading as they lead to confusion with unsuitable candidates attracted to applying for the post.
Department - e.g. 'Far East Division'
Listed to avoid ambiguity and clarify job title if needed
Purpose of Job - e.g. 'To give a high level of customer service through expert destination knowledge, technical efficiency and competence in turning the enquiry into booking requirements to achieve target levels of sales'
This is a summary of the job and is very important in giving the main goal/aim/mission linked to the organisations own goals and objectives. This is a key part of the job description as it gives a clear picture of requirements to be fulfilled and aids communication, motivation and self esteem to the job holder in achieving those objectives.
Responsible to - e.g. 'Branch Manager'
Outlines chain of command and helps place the job in perspective to the organisations management structure.
Accountabilities - e.g. 'to achieve a specified sales target per month'
Incorporates key areas of responsibility such as: Budgetary - responsible for generating a level of income
Internal/External - responsibilities to customers, directors, colleagues etc
Operational - Responsibility for performance standards or key result areas
This is the largest part of the job description and should include a more detailed breakdown of what is required i.e. the key tasks to be performed to ensure the main objective of the position is met.
This section includes: Hours of work, standard of flexitime hours, based at one department or more, travelling, overtime or unsocial hours etc.
Qualifications and Experience
A description of the educational standard required and any professional qualifications, skill level and degree of practical experience required for the job.
Salary and Benefits
This section states the actual salary or salary range which the job falls within. Benefits such as bonuses, commission, season ticket loan, restaurant etc are included.
This section is for general information about the overall prospects for advancement or the possibility of moving into other areas or departments.
This area of job description helps identify the best person for the job. The person specification broadens the picture of the candidate itself. Professor Alec Rodger of the National Institute of Industrial Psychology has put together seven main characteristic traits which help select the best person for the job. These are:
Physical Make Up - Factors such as appearance, speech, health, physical strength/stamina, disposition and deportment
Attainments - Level of education, specific job training, experience
General Intelligence - Practical application of knowledge in a problem solving situation or quickness and accuracy of comprehension. This includes general common sense and the ability to use initiative and analytical skills Special Aptitudes - Consider the mechanical aptitude, manual dexterity e.g. an essential aptitude of marketing might be the ability with work.
Interests - A candidates leisure activities can have a bearing on their effectiveness or suitability for a job e.g. social interests - involving, influencing, persuading others, sporting interests - team orientation etc.
Disposition - Covers personality aspects such as extrovert or introvert tendencies, influential capabilities, dependability, self reliance, stability, team spirit etc.
Circumstances - Relates to background circumstances (upbringing, social sphere) and present circumstance (mobility, domestic situation, financial position). Take care in this category with sex or racial discrimination.