The personal interview represents the basic process to use for selecting the best available person for a job. Relying on the interview process for finding the right person demands that the interviewer possesses the necessary expertise for planning and conducting an effective interview.
Great attention must be paid to the selection / interviewing process. By doing so, you will minimize staff problems such as troublesome employees or dissatisfied employees who seek employment elsewhere. While other factors in the working environment have a great influence on the employee’s performance and satisfaction, fewer problems will arise when the selection interview is regarded as the first critical step in hiring and keeping a qualified worker.
Interviewing and selecting employees can become a time-consuming responsibility for the office manager. However, if this process is regarded with high importance, the likelihood of hiring the right person who will enhance the practice increases greatly.
THE INTERVIEWER’S PURPOSE
The office manager must be careful not to enter the interview with any preconceived ideas about the applicant that can compromise an intelligent hiring decision. If, before or during the interview, the interviewer thinks in evaluative terms or reacts to statements from the candidate from a judgmental attitude, several results could negatively affect the hiring decision:
First, an evaluative attitude runs the risk of premature evaluation. If the interviewer reacts negatively to any particular applicant response and thereby decides that the applicant is not suitable, an otherwise valuable employee might be lost.
Second, an evaluative attitude increases the likelihood that important questions might not be asked because the interviewer’s mind is already made up.
While the office manager must maintain judgment concerning the applicant’s “fit” into the organization, the basic purpose guiding the interview must be to get in communication with the applicant and to collect information (facts, explanations, character traits, etc.). That will provide a basis for predicting an applicant’s potential success on the job. The office manager is a data gatherer.
The office manager must use his/her time wisely. Many interviewers tend to waste much and create negative impressions by asking questions about information already explained in a resume or application form. Oftentimes, the interviewer tends to talk too much. The interview should invite the applicant to do the majority of the talking; that is going to be far more revealing to the office manager as to who the applicant really is. The office manager is looking for things that otherwise could not be found on an application or resume such as:
- How the applicant feels about past positions
- How the applicant feels about types of management
- Is the applicant interested in further training and professional growth
- How does the applicant work as part of a team
- How does the applicant appear to handle pressure
The interviewer is not only looking for the qualifications of the applicant, but also:
- Their communication abilities
- Depth regarding goals and motivation
- The ability to think on their feet
- The willingness of the applicant
- The trainability of the applicant
Look for answers and attitudes that demonstrate a sincere interest in contributing, rather than simply what the applicant hopes to get from the business.
Be alert to comments and questions that indicate the applicant’s willingness to learn, to contribute, to be flexible, to take on new duties, and to help out when needed.
COMMON APPLICANT SELECTION CRITERIA
- Communication Skills: Messages are clear, easily understood; candidate listens well, is articulate and concise.
- Self-confidence: Seems poised and relaxed; attitude is not defensive or hostile; demonstrates ability to accept responsibility; seems to understand personal feelings and ideas.
- Sociability: Demonstrates ability to work with others; has pleasant and supportive interpersonal style, able to relate to others with empathy, openness, non-defensive.
- Ambition and Motivation: Shows understanding of personal goals and priorities; understands attraction of profession or job; capable of acting/working with minimal supervision or guidance.
- Perseverance and Responsibility: Shows evidence of ability to start and follow through; can be counted on to produce and get results even under adverse conditions or stress.
- Leadership: Demonstrates ability to influence others toward desired goals and provide appropriate direction and support along the way.
- Adaptability: Demonstrates an ability to interact or communicate with a variety of different personality styles.
- Appearance: Personal grooming and dress habits are adequate to the demands of the position.
- Cooperativeness: Does not appear excessively competitive; possesses give and take attitude.
PLANNING AND PREPARATION
The essence of the hiring decision is to match an applicant’s qualifications with the requirements of the practice as a whole and the requirements of the job. The interviewer must have a thorough knowledge of the job. To evaluate the fit between the job, the practice, and the applicant, the job must be represented in all of its dimensions.
I. Have a thorough knowledge of the job, involving the following:
- Duties and responsibilities
- Competency requirements: What knowledge is needed to perform satisfactorily? What skills are required?
- Enhancement skills: What job-related skills might increase the likelihood of above-average performance?
- Performance standards: How is competency to be measured?
- Selection criteria: What qualities would an acceptable applicant possess?
II. Prepare for the Interview:
- Thoroughly read the resume, cover letter, application and references.
- Prepare the questions you plan to ask, avoiding repetitious questions already answered on the paperwork; ask open-ended questions to get the applicant talking.
- Confirm that none of your questions are illegal or discriminatory.
- Plan the interview so as to avoid wasting valuable time. Failure to plan results in an unstructured interview which is less productive and could appear unprofessional.
FUNCTIONAL OPENING OF THE INTERVIEW:
Opening an interview is functional when it achieves several important purposes:
- Explains what is going to happen.
- Establishes rapport with the applicant in order to facilitate the flow of information during the next stage.
- Actually begins the information-gathering process.
Although it is important to set your applicant at ease when welcoming them to the interview, it is not really necessary to engage in a lot of trivial, “rapport-building” techniques or ice-breakers such as chatting about sports, hobbies, the weather, etc. This can tend to waste valuable time and may even actually create more tension for the applicant who is eager to delve into how they are qualified for the opening.
Remember that this is a professional business meeting, and the beginning of this meeting is more than just to start talking. What is discussed demonstrates how well the interview will proceed later on.
- Greet the applicant cordially and introduce yourself, along with your title, indicating (if appropriate) how you would like to be addressed.
- Explain the purpose of the interview and how it will proceed.
- Indicate why notes will be taken and ensure that the applicant understands that note taking is not indicative of negative impressions.
- If appropriate, ask the applicant how they would prefer to be addressed.
- Begin the “rapport-building” and the data-gathering itself by asking questions that are positive and that provide the applicant with an opportunity to begin letting you know who they are.
“What are some of your most significant accomplishments to date?”
“What personal qualities are represented in those accomplishments?”
The questions that you ask and the manner in which you ask them determine the extent to which otherwise unavailable information about the candidate will be obtained.
There are some underlying categories that will guide the interviewer in planning specific questions to ask during the interview:
- Competency: Is the candidate technically competent to perform the required duties and fulfill the required responsibilities?
- Motivation and Willingness: Given that the candidate is competent, does the person demonstrate the motivation to contribute and the willingness your practice is looking for?
- Adaptability or “Fit”: How well will the candidate interact in the practice’s interpersonal network? Depending on the specific requirements of a job, the fact that a person possesses a high degree of competency does not ensure that he/she will be able to work with others.
- Personal Fulfillment: How well will the company satisfy the needs, goals and ambitions of the candidate? The apparent desirability of the applicant for the company does not insure a constructive fit. Both must be right for each other.
KEY QUESTIONS: DEVELOPING A QUESTIONING STRATEGY
One helpful way to prepare for an interview is the format listed below. For each of the key question areas, develop more specific questions you would ask. List two or three questions you would ask. Try to list two or three questions for each area. While these questions below are themselves not asked, they constitute the background from which the interviewer’s game plan or systematic questioning strategy is constructed.
- Competency: What would you ask to determine the extent to which the applicant is technically qualified to perform the job?
- Motivation: What questions would you ask to determine if the applicant is highly motivated, willing to utilize those skills that are technical in nature?
- Adaptability / Chemistry: How will you determine the extent to which the applicant’s work style, ability to work and cooperate with team members, might justify hiring?
- Satisfaction Potential: Regardless of qualifications, the job must be satisfying to the applicant or you will have a potential problem employee. What will you ask to determine if you are the right organization for the applicant?
Do not ask questions to simply fill time and avoid the discomfort of prolonged silence. To ask the right questions, one must know why the question is being asked and how it relates to hiring criteria. Prior to the interview, make two columns on a piece of paper:
- On the left, list the qualities or criteria needed in a qualified applicant.
- In the column on the right, list those questions which you believe will elicit responses from the applicant or which will provide insight about the candidate’s fit with the respective criteria.
When developing your questions, use those that elicit information – open-ended questions rather than closed “yes” and “no” form of questioning. Open-ended questions minimize the possibility of an interviewer talking too much and dominating the interview. They also provide a basis for observing the applicant’s communication skills and ability to organize thoughts. They also give the applicant a chance to provide a more complete picture of his or her thoughts and feelings.
Closed questions restrict the range of an applicant’s response by calling for a factual or yes/no answer. Closed questions are used to gain a clear position or opinion or to establish a point of fact. By their nature, closed questions do not encourage conversation.
The following examples demonstrate how to get at the same basic information with the two different types of questions. The difference will demonstrate why the open-ended question will keep the applicant talking more as well as call for a statement of position when required:
Closed: Do you mind working overtime?
Open: Since some positions may involve working overtime, could you describe the circumstances when you would or would not agree to work overtime?
How do you feel about working overtime?
Closed: Would this position help you achieve any of your goals and ambitions?
Open: Could you describe the ways in which this position might be related to any of your goals and ambitions?
For the most part, these questions should not be asked. They encourage the applicant to misrepresent true feelings or intentions. The essence of a leading question is its implied pressure for a particular answer. The question implies what an appropriate answer should be.
Example: “Working overtime wouldn’t bother you, would it?”
“You wouldn’t mind transferring to _________, would you?”
As discussed earlier, your interview will be as successful as you are in engaging the applicant in real communication. Be willing to follow up to a previous response. In this way you are asking for clarification or enlargement of a response.
Examples: “Could you please explain what you meant by…”
“Could you tell me more about…”
“How did you feel about that?”
Secondary questions should be used to probe abstract or generalized responses.
Example: When in response to the question, “What is one of your greatest strengths?” an applicant responds by saying, “My ability to get along with people”. You, as the interviewer need to explore that response to achieve any meaningful understanding of what the applicant has said.
Example; In response to the question, “What are the qualities of an effective supervisor?” the applicant mentions “leadership”. You have no real understanding of the applicant’s concept of leadership. You might ask, “What are some of the qualities you believe leadership involves?”
You want to really know what the applicant is saying and get as clear an understanding of who they are as possible. Abstract or generalized answers must be broken down to more behavioral, specific dimensions for clarity.
COMMON AND IMPORTANT QUESTIONS
Listed below are some of the more common, yet important, questions that can provide valuable insight into an applicant’s job qualifications. They aim at technical and motivational data as well as provide a picture of the applicant’s self-knowledge and communication skills. Some questions may be more or less relevant, depending on the job’s scope of responsibility, complexity and difficulty.
- What did you like best about your previous positions? What did you like the least?
- What skills are required for getting along with and working cooperatively with others?
- How do you expect to be treated by a supervisor or a manager?
- Describe the qualities of a good boss.
- Describe the qualities of a good employee.
- What do you find most appealing about this position?
- What are the strengths or assets you would bring to this practice?
- What are your limitations that need further attention and development?
- What is your definition of a “successful” practice?
- What is required to succeed as an effective employee?
- What should happen during an effective performance review?
- We are looking for an employee that is ________________ (list the criteria). Convince me that you are that person.
- What goals do you feel this position will help you attain?
- What does “being motivated” mean to you?
- (Describe a hypothetical pressured scenario, and ask) How would you handle that?
- How would you feel about attending seminars to enhance job training?
- What would you do if you saw another employee violating company policy?
- We are all defensive about some things. What do you get defensive about?
- What is the biggest mistake you have made on the job and what have you done about it?
- We all have difficulty getting along with some types of people. What are the people like with whom you find some difficulty?
- What are some things you have done that demonstrate initiative and creativity?
- What do you know about our practice and what we do?
- What have you learned about yourself from your previous job?
- If we didn’t hire you, what would we be missing?
- What are the greatest reservations you have about taking this position if it is offered to you?
- How do you react to criticism?
- What does an effective communicator do?
- Employment is a mutual relationship. What makes you feel we are right for you?
- In what ways would you be both an easy as well as a difficult person to work with?
- When you have difficulty with someone, how do you handle the situation? How do you handle defensive people?
- What do you hope to accomplish through this position that you were unable to achieve in you last one?
Unfortunately, some applicants who are later rejected are misled into believing that their chances for an offer are high. How an interviewer closes the interview not only generates positive feelings about the practice, but can sometimes prevent the filing of a lawsuit. If, because of an inappropriate closing, an applicant is mistakenly led into believing that the position will be offered and then it is not, the natural feeling of betrayal and hostility could lead to a charge of discrimination. To close on a positive note and minimize the possibility of a lawsuit, the following practices might be followed:
- Indicate that you have pursued all of the issues on your agenda.
- Ask the applicant if they have any questions or if they feel that there are any remaining issues that should be explored.
- Avoid any general comments indicating approval or disapproval of the applicant’s responses; don’t build false hopes or unwarranted discouragement.
- Thank the applicant for providing useful information.
- Indicate what will happen with the information:
a. Who will evaluate it;
b. When the decision will be made;
c. How the applicant will be notified.
Stand first, indicating finality of the interview, and escort the applicant to the appropriate exit.