Interviewing and hiring a new employee can be a daunting process. As the interviewer or hiring manager, you are responsible for finding and hiring an individual who will be a productive member of the team.
A bad hire can negatively affect his or her team and the overall company. Not only is there a financial cost to the hiring process, but a bad hire can also contribute to a dip in staff morale and productivity. From a financial perspective, a bad hire can cost, on average, at least one-third of that position’s first-year wages, increasing for positions higher in the company, such as a vice president or CEO, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.
In addition to the responsibility of choosing the right candidate, many hiring managers are stressed by the actual process of chatting with strangers to evaluate their skills and abilities. If you’re new to the interviewer’s side of the table or have had prior bad experiences, the interview process may seem like a complicated and difficult maze to navigate. This toolkit is designed to guide you step by step through the interview process and help you find the right people for your organization.
General Overview of the Interview Process
The interview process is not the same for every company or even for every position within a given company. However, following a general, overarching timeline will streamline the hiring and interviewing process.
The steps listed below are a basic outline of the hiring process and show where interviews fall within that timeline. Steps may overlap in actual implementation, or you may need to add or skip steps as you see fit. Information on these steps will be covered in greater detail throughout this toolkit.
• Define the role. The job opening may be a new position, or you may have to adjust a role thatwas vacated; either way, do not assume that the role needs to look exactly like it did with aprevious employee. Define the role for what your current business needs are.
• Write (or revise) a job description.
• Determine salary range and the basic benefits package.
• Choose who will be part of the hiring team. Likely HR, the hiring manager and possibly othermembers of the team, department or board will need to be involved. Decide who has the hiring decision responsibility—will it be a group consensus, or will HR or the hiring manager have the final say?
• Post the job opening to job boards or otherwise announce that it is open. Clearly state where(and to whom) resumes should be sent and any other information about how applications should be received or what should be included.
• Accept resumes and job applications. Decide who will review resumes to choose candidates for interviews.
• Determine who will conduct the interview(s). You will likely involve more people for jobs with more responsibility (e.g., someone applying for a position on the executive team would likely have more interviews than someone applying for an entry-level position).
• Draft a list of questions for the interview(s).
• Decide if you will use any type of pre-interview testing to help screen candidates.
• Choose your top candidates for initial screening interviews. As you eliminate candidates, let them know that they are no longer in consideration. This can be as simple as adding their names to a form email. For candidates that have interviewed, you should send a more personalized rejection notice. However, make sure you do not send rejection notices too early in the process—if your top choice does not accept an offer, it might be difficult to try to reach out to an already rejected candidate.
• Bring in your top few candidates for interviews.
• Decide which candidate will be offered the position. Have a consistent evaluation process, and include all individuals who interviewed the candidates in the discussion, as appropriate.
• Complete any pre-employment testing or reference checks.
• Extend the offer. If accepted, begin the onboarding process for your new employee. If your offer is rejected, stay in contact with your second and third choices so you don’t have to start the process completely over.
Before you actually sit down for an interview, you need to prepare. This includes writing a solid job description and communicating clearly with applicants.
Have a solid job description written before posting a job ad or recruiting for an opening. Here are a few things to keep in mind while writing the job description:
• BFOQs (bona fide occupational qualifications) – Make sure that you can justify your job qualifications, especially when they address otherwise-protected classes, such as age, sex or problems under the ADA.
• Accurate – If you want to attract the right candidates and assess candidates according to the appropriate standards, you need to have an accurate job description. Focus on the key
• Detailed – Vague, jargon-laden descriptions don’t help potential candidates, and they are fits the job opening.
After receiving an application or resume, you should respond promptly to the candidate, indicating that it was received and that you will contact him or her about the possibility of an interview. At this point, an auto-response is acceptable. Acknowledging receipt of the application and the intention to follow up reduces the number of follow-up calls and emails you might otherwise receive from candidates.
After scheduling an interview, tell the interviewee what to expect, including important but easily overlooked details:
• Where to go
• Where to park
• Who to ask for
• How long the interview will last
• How many interviews (if meeting with multiple interviewers)
• Whether he or she will have to fill out an application or take a test on-site
• Level of dress, if your company deviates from the industry standard for apparel (e.g., casual dress when the norm is business or business casual)
Following each interview, tell the interviewee when he or she will hear from you next. Indicate what the next step will be (e.g., another interview, a decision to hire or not).
Interview Best Practices
Many factors influence what your hiring and interview process will look like, including your company type and size, your personal interviewing style and the position in question. Regardless, there are some best practices that generally apply to most interviews. Below are suggestions to help facilitate an efficient interview process.
Before the Interview
Preparation is key:
• Review the job description and the candidate’s resume, application and any other pertinent information before the interview.
• Have a standard list of questions and method of evaluation.
• If you’re the hiring manager but don’t work closely with the job or aren’t familiar with the skills required for the open position, talk to others on the team who understand the day-to-day process and needs for the role to gain better insight before interviewing.
During the Interview
Don’t let nerves take over the interview; plan how you will conduct the interview and be aware of your own role in the interview conversation:
• Start with small talk, but don’t let chattiness (especially nervous chatter) distract from the goal of the interview.
• Have an awareness of your own body language. If you’re new to interviewing, you’re probably
nervous about the interview, too. Make sure you don’t inadvertently send nonverbal messages
that you’re angry or closed down during the interview conversation.
• Take notes; writing notes verbatim can help you remember better later. However, do not mark
down the race, gender, etc., of a candidate, as these notes could be used against you in the event that you don’t hire a candidate and are later charged with discrimination.
• Make sure to listen to the interviewee’s full answer, without interrupting. Use follow-up questions and silence to get more information from candidates.
• Consider touring the work area with the candidate. You can observe the interviewee’s reaction to the workplace (e.g., a disappointed look at your open office space), and a tour helps the candidate assess how well he or she sees himself working for your company.
• Close the interview by asking for questions, then asking the candidate if he or she is interested in the position now that he or she has learned more about the job and company during the interview. You may learn even more about a candidate and his or her fit for the role based on the questions he or she asks of you.
After the Interview
You likely won’t have an instant answer—and certainly shouldn’t give one—when you part ways with the interviewee. Good follow-up practices will help you make the best hiring decision and keep the candidate informed of what is happening:
• Ask the receptionist and others who interacted with the candidate “unofficially” for their opinions—some individuals act very differently when they don’t think they’re being watched or evaluated.
• Follow up with your top candidates by conducting reference checks. Although references will often only confirm employment or the completion of a degree, sometimes you can gain good insight about a candidate.
• Follow up with the candidate, whether or not you decide to hire him or her.
Pre-interview or pre-employment testing is used to help narrow a field of candidates. These assessments can take many forms and have various purposes, but they are typically implemented to help quantifiably determine candidate qualifications and “fit.” Tests may be designed to assess skills, knowledge, cognitive and physical abilities, personality and emotional intelligence, language proficiency and even characteristics such as integrity. Tests can be administered in many ways, such as in person, on paper, online or over the phone or video communication.
Before adopting pre-employment testing, you need to consider exactly what you want to test, how you will carry out the testing, and whether the tests you use have reasonable validity and comply with applicable legal regulations.
When creating or choosing a pre-employment test, whether for skills or for personality traits, ensure that it meets the following characteristics:
• Validity – A test should measure what it says it measures.
• Reliability – A test should produce consistent results (i.e., a candidate who took the same test a few days apart would produce the same, or very similar, results).
• Relevant – A test should specifically test something directly related to job duties.
• Compliant – Federal, state and local equal employment opportunity (EEO) laws may apply to
Making sure that your testing is valid, reliable and legally compliant can be difficult, but the time it takes to ensure the test is helpful will be worthwhile. Well-constructed tests will help you accurately assess candidates and avoid lawsuits that could result from dubious testing practices. Before implementing any type of pre-employment test, do the research to make sure it will be a helpful tool and not a liability.
Types of Interviews
No two interview processes will look exactly alike. You can use different interview types, channels and structures to achieve the results you want. Once you decide the type of interview you will use, be consistent with each candidate for the same position.
Depending on how large your company is and how it is structured, the screening interview may be conducted by HR, an internal recruiter, a third-party recruiter or, if you are a small company, the hiring manager. The purpose of the screening interview is to narrow down your field of candidates to those who have the basic skills and qualifications you are looking for. When conducting a screening interview, focus on facts, such as, “Does the candidate have X skill?”
Performing screening interviews over the phone with candidates can save a lot of time because you can quickly weed out candidates who do not have the necessary qualifications before you bring them in for face-to-face interviews. Also, if the position requires phone skills or good verbal communication skills, a screening interview via the phone can be an easy way to determine whether the candidate has those skills.
Preparing properly for a phone interview will ensure that it is a helpful tool rather than something you just check off your to-do list.
• Prepare before the interview by reviewing the candidate’s resume, cover letter and other your desk or pulled up on your computer screen.
• Find a quiet place so that you can avoid distractions and minimize noise that might make it difficult for the interviewee to hear or understand you.
• Don’t talk too much. You should be asking questions and then listening to the candidate’s answers.
• Have a list of questions prepared. In this initial screening interview, you will likely want to stick with questions that verify that the candidate meets basic qualifications. For example:
o “Do you know how to use/have you used ____ software product?”
o “How many years of experience in this field do you have?”
o “From your resume, I see _____. Tell me more.”
After reviewing resumes and written applications and conducting screening interviews, you will be ready to bring in your top candidates for selection interviews.
Each interview should be a conversation, guided by a list of questions that are intended to help you gather the information you need to make a hiring decision. You may have one selection interview per candidate, or you may have multiple interviews for each candidate; this will likely depend on the type of position and how many people are involved in the hiring decision. An entry-level position is more likely to have a single interview, whereas a potential vice president will probably go through multiple rounds of interviews with different people before a hiring decision is made.
While selection interviews typically occur face to face, one on one in the office, there are other options:
• Phone – Although a screening interview was likely conducted over the phone, a hiring manager may choose to conduct another phone interview for long-distance candidates, or if phone skills are a crucial job requirement.
• Video/Skype – A video interview may replace or follow a phone interview, and video interviews are a good way to interview long-distance or remote candidates if the position doesn’t warrant paying for the candidate’s travel expenses.
• Lunch interviews – Some interviewers like to take a job candidate to lunch for the interview. This is most often used for executive-level positions or for positions where “wining and dining” clients is part of the job. You can assess how the candidate handles him- or herself outside an office environment, and you can easily observe how he or she conducts him- or herself with restaurant staff, etc. You can pick up on many personality cues in addition to the information you gather from interview questions and a more casual conversation.
• Group interviews – A group interview can be conducted with either a group of interviewers or
candidates, or both.
o Group of candidates – This can be used for efficiency or to assess how candidates interact in a group setting.
o Panel of interviewers – You can use time more effectively by having multiple decisionmakers in on the same interview, and you can gain multiple perspectives by having the interviewers who are not currently asking a question observe and take notes.
As you prepare for a selection interview, you should already know from the resume, cover letter, application and/or phone screening interview whether the candidate has the basic background qualifications and skills for the job. Then, in the selection interview(s), you are seeking information regarding the candidate’s abilities and capabilities, personality, motivation, etc., to determine how well he or she would contribute to the team or company and how well he or she would “fit” with your organizational culture and work processes.
You can structure your interview in several different ways. Remember that how you interview will not only influence the information you gather from the candidate, but the type of interview you conduct will be one of the candidate’s only impressions of your company.
• Structured – You prepare a list of questions in the order you will ask them of each candidate. You stick to your list, possibly with follow-up questions, and you take notes. This enables you to make a very specific, point-by-point comparison between candidates since you have gathered the same information in the same way from each individual.
• Unstructured – You will have a list of questions but do not feel obliged to ask them in a given
manner or order. This turns into more of a relaxed conversation, but you still get through your list of questions, one way or another.
• Informal – You have a general idea of the questions and information you need, but you allow this interview to turn into a wandering conversation. It is easy to get side-tracked with this type of interview and not gain the necessary information to make a good decision. You may also be more likely to make a hiring decision based on whether or not you personally liked the person, rather than whether he or she is actually qualified and a good fit for the team. These interviews can be useful, but be careful that personal impressions don’t overshadow qualifications.
How you structure an interview will likely be affected by the type of interview. For example, anunstructured or informal interview will pair well with a lunch interview, whereas a group or panel interview will benefit from a structured interview.
Interview Format and Organization
Generally, there are several parts to an interview, regardless of the type or structure. With some interviews, these will be clearly defined; in others, they will flow more naturally or even overlap.
1. An interview will begin with an introduction in which you introduce yourselves, and you will typically give an overview of the company, position and any other relevant introductory information you wish to share.
2. The second section of an interview is the heart of the interview in which you ask questions and engage in conversation to gather the information you know you need.
3. Near the end, you should give the interviewee a formal opportunity to ask any questions of you. A candidate may have prepared questions for you prior to the interview, or he or she may have questions based on the information that has been exchanged during the interview thus far. This is also the time for the candidate to interview you to some degree so that he or she can determine whether the job will be a good fit.
4. Close the interview by telling the candidate what the next step(s) of the hiring process will be and when he or she can expect to hear from you. Even if you will not be moving forward in the hiring process, let the candidate know, either at this point or in a follow-up call or email.
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