Interviewing - Successful Selection

by Jane Tredgett

In a nutshell

1. Why interviewing is important

Most companies use interviewing as part of their selection process. Unfortunately, interviews have a poor success rate when assessed against whether the candidate selected is still in the position six months after the interview.

Getting it wrong can have dire consequences, including high costs in terms of money spent on advertising and time wasted, loss of credibility for the manager or the company, and putting off potentially good candidates.

There are many reasons why the interviewing process can go wrong:

  • Poor training
  • Too few guidelines from the organisation
  • No assessment of key candidate qualities required
  • Inaccurate advertising

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2. The overall recruitment process

Interviewing is just one aspect of recruiting. The overall recruiting process involves

  • Defining candidate qualities
  • Sorting the applications
  • Informing the candidates
  • Organising/running the interviews
  • Following up.

As the manager who will be working with person selected, you should aim to get involved in drawing up the list of qualities the person you are looking for should have. A good advert is essential for selecting the right person, and if you are drawing up the advert you should

  • Check HR guidelines on what to say
  • Make sure the advert is a true reflection of the job
  • Make the advert interesting
  • Look for other ways to get the word out

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3. Screening applications

Screening applications is an important part of interviewing. The key aim here is to select the best candidates to interview. Hence it is important to

  • Give applications more than a cursory glance
  • Judge them on more than neatness and layout
  • Have a checklist of what you are looking for so you can see how closely each application matches
  • Go through all applications at the same time so you can be consistent
  • Look for experience of a similar job
  • Notice gaps in job history or missing periods of time unaccounted for
  • Ideally take a break and return to the forms with fresh eyes for a quick check before making your final decisions

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4. Informing (all) applicants

Once you have screened the applications, you need to let candidates know if they have been successful or not. If you are inviting the candidate for interview, the letter needs to be quite explicit with information on

  • What the next step will entail
  • Logistical details
  • Request for confirmation and information on special needs.

If the person has been unsuccessful, it is important to think carefully about how you word a letter to leave a positive impression and avoid the candidate later challenging you on the grounds of discrimination.

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5. The qualities of a good interviewer

An interview is only as good as the person running it. Key qualities to be a really good interviewer include being

  • Well prepared/well organised
  • Confident
  • Positive about the company and role
  • A ‘role model’ for the prospective candidate in terms of dress/approach and so on
  • Good at asking searching, relevant and non-discriminatory questions
  • Good at listening to what is being said and what is not being said
  • Observant
  • Polite
  • An accurate note taker
  • A good time keeper
  • Consistent

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6. The interview

Both parties should have the chance to ask questions to ensure there is a good fit. As interviewer, you should expand on information in the advertising to give a clear picture of the responsibilities and tasks the job involves. You should also aim to

  • Uncover relevant qualities/experience
  • Address any queries raised when reading the application
  • Benchmark the applicant against other candidates to get a clear view of who has which skills.

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7. Preparation

Many interviews fall down because the vital underpinning preparation has not been done. Preparation includes

  • A well-structured invitation letter
  • Selecting an appropriate venue
  • Booking car park spaces
  • Informing reception
  • Making security arrangements
  • Planning timings
  • Paperwork and documentation
  • Planning how you will work with co-interviewers
  • Working out what questions you will ask
  • Being prepared for questions the candidates might ask

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8. Making a positive impression

It is important to remember that a good candidate is weighing you and the organisation up. The first impression you make on the candidate will be an essential ingredient in the mix that will help them decide whether or not they want to work for you! There are a number of things you can do to make a positive impression. Here are just three from the list:

  • Collect the candidate from reception personally
  • Thank them for attending
  • Be punctual

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9. Interview introduction

At the start of the interview it is important to set the tone for the rest of the interview. Make sure you

  • Put the candidate at ease
  • Explain the format the interview will take
  • Give additional information about the job (if appropriate)
  • Do not oversell the job, leading to disappointment later – for both sides.

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10. Asking effective questions

Questions are the basis of a good interview. Here are some tips of effective questioning:

  • Your core questions should be the same for all candidates (to help you avoid bias and discrimination and to ensure consistency)
  • Core questions should have been prepared in advance; good questions will explore the candidate’s ability to do the job, their motivation and how well they will fit in
  • Questions should be on specific areas critical to the role
  • Try to link your questions, to keep a logical flow to the session and demonstrate you are listening actively
  • In the main, use open questions and questions to identify the candidate’s match to the job profile.

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11. Questions to avoid

Some questions are best left unasked! These include

  • Leading questions, which tell you the answer they are looking for
  • Hypothetical questions
  • Why questions
  • Discriminatory questions.

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12. Making observations – what to look for

Critical factors will vary, depending on the role for which you are interviewing people. In general, a good candidate will show several common traits:

  • Being prepared
  • Listening actively and patiently
  • Making good eye contact
  • Showing interest
  • Asking intelligent questions.

It is important to observe body language as well as listening closely to the answers given, as the body language may tell you what is not being said! It may also give you an indication as to whether the person is lying or uncomfortable.

  • Instinct may play a part in your decision-making process, but should not be left unchallenged.
  • Following up on references may also provide vital clues to the candidate’s real abilities and to how they are likely to perform in the role.

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13. Taking notes

It is important to keep accurate legible notes to refer back to. These notes should be factual and non-judgmental – you should always be happy for others to see what you have written. This helps you to

  • Make better decisions
  • Explain to others how you came to your conclusions
  • Show that you did not discriminate, if challenged at a later date.

You may also wish to use rating scales to help you make more analytical comparisons between the candidates you interview.

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14. Avoiding bias

Even well-structured interviews can still be biased – we are swayed by our own likes and dislikes; certain factors trigger us positively or negatively, and we often base our decisions on subjective rather than objective approaches. To help us stay as unbiased as possible, we can do several things. Here are just three from the list:

  • Adopt a consistent format, using the role profile
  • Let each candidate settle down and relax before posing challenging questions
  • Put key questions to all candidates in the same way.

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15. Asking the candidate for questions

Always allow time for the candidates to ask questions – remember they are ‘interviewing’ you as well!

  • Their questions will reveal how much they have researched the company and their role.
  • Answer questions thoroughly.
  • Don’t oversell the post – talk about some of the demands of the job.

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16. Closing the interview

There is a certain amount of etiquette required at the end of the interview, just as there is at the start. This includes

  • Advising candidates what happens next
  • Not offering them a job there and then
  • Thanking them for their time
  • Showing them back to reception personally.

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17. Reviewing interviews

If not reviewed immediately after each interview, candidate answers can merge into one blur and it can be hard to remember who said what. Ideally, you should review each interview before the next and then conduct a full review once you have interviewed everyone. Look for

  • Factual evidence
  • Strengths/weaknesses compared to other candidates

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18. Advising candidates

Always advise candidates, whether they were successful or not.

  • Make sure your letters are short, factual and non-judgmental.
  • Aim to leave a positive impression.

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19. Common pitfalls

The most common pitfalls into which interviewers fall are

  • Lack of preparation
  • Inappropriate environment
  • Lack of structure
  • Missing visual (body language) clues
  • Not taking notes
  • Inappropriate questions – discriminatory or leading
  • Selecting the best from a poor bunch just to fill the vacancy
  • Succumbing to the halo effect
  • Selecting people who are like themselves!

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