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Managing the Interview

ImageFor managers with little or no formal training in the subject, interviewing candidates can be a daunting task. In this article, Trainer and HR Consultant Vincent Owen offers some useful tips for the more occasional interviewer.

Whilst many Human Resources professionals are regularly involved in interviewing and receive training on how to interview effectively, interview skills training is not as frequently extended to line managers, putting them at a significant disadvantage on the occasions when they do need to interview, either for new recruits or candidates for internal transfers.

The following tips are offered to help the occasional interviewer.

Be Prepared!

The key to a successful interview is to prepare thoroughly in advance. When interviewing a new recruit you should have at least a CV and probably an application form. These will give you some factual information on which to base your first few questions.

Before the interview it is a good idea to prepare the first few questions you will ask, based on what they have said about themselves and the requirements of the vacancy.  To help you evaluate different candidates, aim to be consistent by using the same questions for all the candidates you interview for the position.

Check the Facts

Take time to read the CV carefully and look out for any potential pitfalls. When reviewing CVs and application forms look for gaps in employment and use the interview to establish the reasons for such gaps. They may or may not be significant but it is important to ask the question. It is also, not surprisingly, a fact of life that people tend to overstate what they have done in their CV, and part of the interviewer’s skill is to verify, wherever possible, that the CV accurately reflects the applicant’s experience.

Finding the Fit

For a new recruit you are essentially looking to find out the answers to two key questions:

  • Is the applicant suitable for the company? i.e. do you think that they will fit in with the corporate culture, would they make a good team member, and do they appear to have the appropriate interpersonal skills?
  • Is the applicant suitable for the job they have applied for or can they be developed into the role?

In certain cases you may establish that the answer to the first question is a “yes” but “no” to the second, in which case you may wish to recommend that the applicant’s details are kept in case of a future vacancy which may better suit their skills set.

Effective Interviewing

For the interview itself there are a number of useful rules of thumb:

  • Ensure that the interview environment is appropriate and that you are not disturbed
  • Make sure that you allocate enough time for the interview
  • Ask the applicant to switch off their mobile phone…and switch yours off as well!
  • Put the applicant at their ease by asking some non-threatening, factual questions at the start
  • Try to let the applicant do most of the talking – ideally at least 80%. Your objective is to find out as much as you can about the applicant and if you are doing too much of the talking, you will restrict the applicant’s ability to give you information
  • Think through the skills and competencies needed for the job and ask questions that invite the candidate to explain how they have used these skills or demonstrated these competencies in the past.
  • Ask open questions i.e. those starting with “How”, “When”, “Which”, “Where” etc., rather than closed questions which only need a yes or no answer.
  • Try to ask only one question at a time, rather than multiple questions. The risk of asking multiple questions is that the applicant may well only answer the last question, with earlier parts of the multiple question remaining unanswered
  • Where you feel that there is more information to be gained from the applicant, or you feel that what you are hearing does not ring true, do not be afraid to probe deeper until you have obtained all the information you need
  • Let the applicant ask you questions
  • Take brief notes to help you later on

Beware of Illegal or Inappropriate Questions

As an interviewer, it is important to bear in mind that that there are certain types of question that you cannot ask by law - depending on the jurisdiction in which you are working – and that you shouldn’t ask as a matter of good practice! These would include any questions that could be construed as being in any way discriminatory i.e. related to age, sex, sexual preference, race, ethnicity or creed.

Record the Outcome

Once the interview is complete, it is good practice to write up brief notes on the interview and the reasons for your conclusions about the candidate’s suitability for the job. This is not only for future reference purposes but also for your own protection in the event that someone interviewed feels that they have been unfairly discriminated against.

Interviewing Internal Candidates

The internal transfer interview largely follows the above pattern but you have additional information to go on. To start with, the interviewee will have demonstrated their suitability for the company already and will have built up a track record of performance as evidenced through appraisal reviews. A perusal of this information in advance of the interview will enable you to target your questions more specifically than with the new recruit. The key answers you are looking for in this type of interview are:

  • Whether the candidate either has the required skill set for the vacancy or whether they can be readily trained into the role
  • How well you feel they will fit into your team in terms of their interpersonal skills
  • Whether they will adapt well to any specific working conditions within your area e.g. long or unsocial hours, frequent travel, etc.

Panel Interviewing

At times managers are called upon to join an interview panel with other managers and/or Human Resources. In such cases, it is crucial that each member of the panel is clear on their role during the interview. One approach would be to split responsibilities and for HR to ask general CV related questions, whilst the line manager focuses on job specific questions.

Successful interviewing only comes with practice but these tips should give you some additional support in the meantime.

Good luck with your interviews!

Vincent Owen is a Senior Consultant with Interims for Development (www.interimsfd.com) the award-winning Human Resources and Training consultancy for Africa.

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