5 tips for effective interviewing

ImageCareful preparation for candidate interviews can hugely improve your chances of making the right hiring decision and yield significant long–term returns for your business. In fact, a recent study concluded that hiring excellent staff is the single largest factor affecting a company’s fiscal growth. Accordingly, last month’s and this month’s column provide suggestions for conducting effective hiring interviews.

Know the law
In both the U.S. and Canada, it is illegal to question job candidates on their race, national or ethnic origin, religion, age, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, family status, disability, or pardoned convictions. National variations also exist; for instance, American law also prohibits questions on some aspects of military service and discharge. Interviewers therefore need to know their own country’s legal restrictions and how they apply in practice.

For example, while it is illegal throughout North America to ask “Do you plan on having more children?” or other questions related to pregnancy, it is permissible to inquire about anticipated length of stay at a job or ask “Do you foresee any long–term absences in the future?” To be legal, however, these inquiries must be strictly job–related and must also be universally asked of all candidates, males and females of all ages. Similarly, although you can’t ask “Do you have any physical disabilities?”, you can legally ask each candidate “Are you able to lift a 100–pound weight and carry it 50 yards, as that is part of the job?”

Test for skills
For operator positions, you can easily evaluate whether candidates’ skill levels meet your requirements by testing them on your equipment and examples of your typical projects, either during the interview or at a separate time. Such practical tests confirm subjective verbal definitions of skill levels.

Observe non–verbal displays of interest & professionalism
Be aware of candidates’ personal appearance, body language, firmness of handshake, eye contact, and emotional tenor. In most cases, these non–verbal factors demonstrate fairly quickly whether or not a candidate meets your requisite level of professionalism and enthusiasm. Evidence of prior research about your company, the liveliness of candidates’ questions, and their tone all reveal their respective levels of interest in the job.

Adjust depth as you go
Because your first task in interviewing is to get a feel for a candidate’s overall suitability, we recommend sticking to basics at the beginning and reserving more penetrating questions for later. One reason is that both you and the candidate will feel more open and comfortable as the interview progresses. Additionally, if you determine early that a candidate is unsuitable, you can conclude the interview as soon as courtesy permits. Conversely, you’ll want to invest extra time to get better acquainted with desirable prospects and, assuming their skills are in high demand, acquaint them with the advantages of working for your company.

Other helpful measures in the later stages of interviewing include arrangements for promising candidates to talk with more than one company representative. Multiple interviewers provide broader feedback on candidates and help ensure consistency in their answers to vital questions. Letting a candidate chat with the person who may become his manager also helps to uncover philosophical and personality conflicts that could spell disaster down the road.

Letting candidates tour your workplace, when possible, provides a chance for them to evaluate both the environment and the workforce they will be expected to join. Their reactions are a good measure of their potential to fit in.

Additionally, you may choose to hire one of many reputable firms to perform psychological profile testing on promising candidates. Reliable tests can furnish details on candidates’ personal attributes as they relate to the requirements of the position.

Balance instinct with reason
Take sufficient time to make an analytical hiring decision—unlike the 90% of interviewers who decide impulsively whether or not to hire within the first 5 to 9 minutes of an interview, and then use the time remaining to gather information to justify their choice.

Interviewers may also naturally gravitate toward hiring people similar to themselves—perhaps a good idea if the similarities that attract you have proven effective in your marketplace, but a dangerous practice if company goals require broadening your base.

In any hiring scenario, the stakes for your business—the direct and indirect costs of a bad hire—are simply too high to leave the decision up to gut instinct or affinity with candidates alone. So supplement your instincts by taking lots of notes during each interview, then evaluate and compare each set of notes later in order to reach a rational verdict.

Victoria Gaitskell, Placement specialist
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