Interviewing Best Practices & Problem Solvers

Would it be surprising to know that in many cases the determination to hire someone happens within five minutes of meeting them? What happens when a charming applicant gives all the right answers? Many times, applicants are hired for their charm instead of their job related knowledge, skills, and abilities. This also happens when the applicant’s personality is similar to that of the interviewer. It is not uncommon that a few months after hiring someone they are left wondering what went wrong. The new hire was not what they expected and didn’t have the skills necessary for the position.

The foremost reason to invest the proper amount of time in hiring the right person – from the start – is simply: cost. Turnover can be expensive. Some report that the cost of hiring a replacement is equal to 500 times the employee’s hourly rate of pay. Numerous studies also suggest that most employee relation problems are a consequence of hiring the wrong person for the job, which can result in poor productivity.

The interviewer should be prepared before the applicant is offered an interview. Was the application/resume reviewed? Are there gaps in employment?  Was the entire application completed? What were the reasons given for leaving prior employers?  It is not recommended to hire an applicant that does not provide phone numbers and contact names for reference checking purposes.

One of the most fruitful suggestions that can be offered is the telephone interview. Once a pool of potential applicants has been selected, a quick telephone interview should be conducted before anyone is brought in house for an interview. This step can help narrow the pool considerably and presents the opportunity to address any resume/application items that may be unclear, such as gaps in employment and duties and responsibilities of their previous positions. The same questions should be asked of all applicants during the telephone interview process.

Steps to a successful interview

  • Be prepared. Review the job description for accuracy.
  • Prepare interview questions in advance and anticipate probable responses to the questions.
  • Provide a comfortable environment for the applicant.
  • Explain the hiring procedure at the start of the interview.
  • Encourage the applicant to open up and talk.
  • Ask the right questions and let the applicant do most of the talking. The applicant should talk 80% of the time and the interviewer only 20% of the time.
  • Close the interview by asking if there are any questions, and thank the applicant for their time.

Common interview mistakes

  • Explaining the job before completing the interview. This gives smart applicants answers to all of the questions and makes it easy for them to match their answers to the job description.
  • Taking notes during the interview can cause the applicant to “freeze up”.
  • Always ask open-ended questions to ensure that the applicant does most of the talking.

How to get applicants to talk

  • Avoid interrupting the candidate.
  • Paraphrase and reflect upon the candidate’s comments.
  • Use silence. It is especially useful for the evasive candidate or one that is holding back information.
  • Communicate on the level of each applicant. Language & terminology used should match the job being filled.

Handling problem applicants

  • The Professional Interviewer is an experienced interviewer who knows all of the “right” answers to most interview questions. Pin the individual down to determine their true qualifications. Ask specific and probing questions about what this applicant has done. Don’t be fooled by buzzwords.
  • The Motor Mouth continually wanders off on different tangents and needs to be led back on track to avoid wasting time. Interrupt this person with key questions.
  • The Perfect Candidate believes they are perfect and will make that belief known, continually emphasizing how they are the right person. This is an applicant that you want to avoid.
  • The Politician never gives a straight answer and will evade an issue and bring up another topic.  They must be forced to be specific by using clear and probing questions.
  • The Questioner will try to turn the tables and ask his or her own questions. The interviewer must assert control over the questioning.

Behavioral Interviewing is another technique which can be very helpful for gauging the candidate’s response to stress in certain situations. Here are some sample questions:

  1. Tell me about a time that you missed an important deadline.
  2. How did you handle missing the deadline?
  3. What steps did you take to inform all interested parties that the deadline would not be met?
  4. What were the consequences of missing the deadline?
  5. Did you receive disciplinary action for missing the deadline?
  6. If yes to the last question, did you agree with the disciplinary action?

Additionally, you may want to schedule interviews during the work shift of the position being filled; this will allow a first hand glimpse of how the applicant will function when they are in their “zone”.  Also, group interviews are a great way to get others’ perspective on a candidate and they may notice things you missed, such as body language or a change in the applicant’s tone of voice.

It is very important to remember that there are federal and state restrictions on what a potential employer is allowed to ask an applicant during an interview. These prohibited questions are designed to protect applicants from potential illegal discrimination. To protect yourself from facing charges of discrimination in the workplace, you need to focus the job interview on job related areas. Ignore references to race, sex, age, religion or national origin. Any question during the interview that could relate to any of the areas mentioned is seen by the courts as “extremely unfavorable.”

(About the Author: Michele O’Donnell joined the team in January 2007 and currently leads MMC’s elite team of HR Consultants. Ms. O’Donnell has been involved in the Human Resources industry for more than 14 years, bringing vast training and management experience to the MMC leadership ranks. Her experience spans the broad scope of labor law, regulatory compliance and HR Best Practices, drawn from her rich experience as Director of HR for several firms throughout her career. She currently works to ensure that MMC’s consultants forge long lasting relationships with our clients, fostered in exceptional service and unsurpassed HR expertise. Ms. O’Donnell earned her baccalaureate degree in Business Administration from Auburn University before receiving her Masters degree in Human Resource Management from Troy State University.)

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