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Tips for Improving Employee Interviews

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Interviews are an integral part of the hiring process for just about every job. An effective interview can help you to select the right person for the position you're trying to fill. An ineffective interview is a waste of your and your prospective employee's time. This chapter offers some tips to help you improve the quality of your interviews.

Few, if any, people are hired without an interview. It's the single most widely used device for screening job candidates. And not only is the interview widely used, it also typically carries a great deal of weight. That is, the results tend to have a disproportionate amount of influence on the decision of who is hired and who isn't.

Effective interviewing skills aren't just for company recruiters or those people who work in an organization's human resources department. Every manager is involved in the hiring process for his or her department. So every manager needs to be capable of conducting effective interviews.

What can you do to be a more effective interviewer? Based on an extensive body of research, here are some helpful hints for improving employee interviews.

First, before meeting an applicant, review his or her application form and résumé. Also review the job description of the position for which the applicant is interviewing. Next, structure the agenda for the interview. Specifically, use a set of standardized questions. That is, you should ask every applicant for a job the same set of questions. Select questions that can't be answered with a simple "yes" or "no." Also avoid leading questions that telegraph the desired response (such as, "Would you say you have good interpersonal skills?"). In most cases, questions relating to marital and family status, age, race, religion, sex, ethnic background, credit rating, and arrest record are prohibited by law in the United States unless you can demonstrate that they are in some way related to job performance. So avoid them. In place of asking, "Are you married?" or "Do you have children?" you might ask, "Are there any reasons why you might not be able to work overtime several times a month?"

When you actually meet the applicant, assume that he or she is nervous and anxious. So put the applicant at ease. Introduce yourself. Be friendly. Begin with a few simple questions or statements that can break the ice. Then preview what topics you plan to discuss, how long the interview will take, and encourage the applicant to ask questions.

Every manager needs to be capable of conducting effective interviews.

The actual interview will be a give-and-take of questions and discussion. The questions you developed during preparation will provide a general road map to guide you. Make sure you cover them all. Follow-up questions should arise from the answers to the standardized questions. These follow-up questions should seek to probe more deeply into what the applicant says. If you feel that the applicant's response is superficial or inadequate, seek elaboration. For instance, to encourage greater response you can say, "Tell me more about that issue." To clarify information, you might say, "You said working overtime was OK, sometimes. Can you tell me specifically when you'd be willing to work overtime?" If the applicant doesn't directly answer your question, follow up by repeating the question or paraphrasing it. Importantly, never underestimate the power of silence in an interview. Pause for at least a few seconds after the applicant appears to have finished an answer. Your silence encourages the applicant to continue talking.

Once you're through with the questions and discussions, wrap up the interview. Let the applicant know this fact with a statement such as, "Well, that covers all the questions I have. Is there anything about the job or our organization that I haven't answered for you?" Then let the applicant know what's going to happen next. When can he or she expect to hear from you? Will you write, e-mail, or phone? Are there likely to be more follow-up interviews?

Before you consider the interview complete, write your evaluation while the candidate's comments are fresh in your mind. Now that the applicant is gone, take the time to review your notes and assess the applicant's responses.

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