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P&S Search Process: Conducting the Interview

Conducting the Interview

The best interviews are conversations, not inquisitions. The guidelines provided below should help facilitate more effective information gathering when conducting the interview:

  1. Keep an open mind. It has been shown that most interviewers make a hiring decision within 14 seconds of meeting the candidate.
  2. Let the applicants do the talking. Refrain from talking in detail about the job or company because the applicants will use this information to answer your questions with what they think you want to hear – instead of what you need to know. A good rule of thumb is to make sure the applicant does at least 75% of the talking. The more applicants talk, the more insight you will gain into the type of employee they are. Also, be careful not to explain the questions you ask as you may unintentionally give away the answer you are looking for. Don't say, We pride ourselves on superior customer service. How did you make the customers feel special in your last job? Rather, stick to short, open-ended questions like, Tell me what you think of the saying: The customer is always right.
  3. Remain attentive. When conducting a series of interviews, it is easy to become distracted by other concerns, fatigued, or bored. If you feel you are losing focus, try paraphrasing what the applicant says. For example, if the applicant says, My last boss left a lot of things up to me, respond by saying, So you had a lot of responsibility? By paraphrasing, the applicant knows you are paying attention and you become involved in the conversation without dominating it.
  4. Observe body language. Besides listening to what applicants say, watch and listen for how they say it. Is there a level of enthusiasm? Does the person ask a lot of questions? Does this person exhibit an interest in the job? Since nonverbal information represents the majority of a communication's meaning, attune yourself to these factors.
  5. Take notes, but never on the application or resume (it's a legal document that must be kept on file). And never make a note while the applicant is telling you something negative. The person will naturally become defensive and less than truthful. Wait until the subject changes to something positive and then write your note.
  6. Maintain control. Do not allow the candidate to take over the interview. Some enthusiastic individuals may attempt to get the better of you by asking lots of questions or offering opinions rather than answering the questions directly and simply. Prevent this from happening by giving the interview structure from the beginning. Tell applicants at the start that you will answer any questions at the end of the interview. Should the applicant interrupt with a question, remind that person of the ground rules. Be careful not to let time get away from you. Stick to the schedule unless there are extraordinary circumstances. The applicant will appreciate this and it will help you be more efficient.
  7. Probe incomplete answers. Sometimes the answer offered does not address the question and you may feel the applicant is hiding something. Probe further by saying something like, I'm not sure I understand. Tell me more.
  8. Close on a positive note without announcing a decision. Keep your reaction to yourself, thank them for their time, and let them know what the next step will be.
  9. Write an interview summary immediately after completing the interview. Waiting even one hour will greatly reduce your recall of the conversation. Record your general impressions, along with any questions or concerns.

A number of factors govern what you can and cannot say and do in the employment interview, including internal policies, external regulations, and the rules of common courtesy. Since the hiring decision you make based on the interview can have wide-ranging and significant ramifications, you must employ your finest skills of listening, assessing, probing, and evaluating, while at the same time remaining within the confines of what is proper, polite, and legal.

Even though certain questions are off limits in a job interview, there will inevitably be times when a candidate will volunteer personal information. In such an event, it is important that you steer the conversation back on course as quickly as possible. Here are a couple of examples of how to address the situation:

  • A candidate starts discussing their union activities or favorite church. Jump in and say, "Getting back to why we're here today, let's talk about your computer programming experience…"
  • A candidate announces their pregnancy and has child care concerns. You can state that the University has a maternity leave policy. Never ask about the applicant's due date. Ultimately, you need to shift gears and get back to the basic requirements. After describing the job duties, you can ask the applicant, "Is there any reason that you cannot meet these arrangements?"

The primary goals of an interview process are to:

  • Gather sufficient information from the interviewee to assess how well they meet the requirements of the position;
  • Create a positive image of the University;
  • Present a realistic description of the position;
  • Ensure that all candidates feel they have been treated fairly; and
  • Some adequate records in the event the hiring decision must be justified at some future date.

Six-Step Process

The six-step process outlined below is recommended for conducting an interview:

Step 1: Put the candidate at ease and establish rapport.

  • Introduce yourself and the co-interviewer(s) and address the candidate by first name.
  • Continue with small talk on a general subject, such as the weather, a seasonal sport, or some other neutral topic, to put the candidate at ease and to allow time for them to adjust to the interview environment.

Step 2: Set the agenda.

  • Tell the candidate:
    • That the purpose of the interview is to determine if they meet the requirements for the position.
    • How the interview will proceed; e.g., who will be asking the questions.
    • That you will be taking notes during the interview.
    • That you will describe the job and answer any questions they may have at the end of the interview.

Step 3: Gather Information.

  • Ask questions which evaluate the candidate's:
    • Job-related work experience, education, skills, knowledge, and abilities;
    • Interest/motivation to perform the job; and
    • Potential or ability to perform the job.
  • Take brief notes of the candidate's responses so that you will later be able to differentiate one candidate from another.
  • Ask questions designed to elicit information regarding the candidate's involvement in past performance-related incidents.
  • If a candidate's response to a question does not provide enough information, ask probing follow-up questions that encourage further conversation, such as:
    • Can you describe further…
    • Can you explain what you mean by…
    • How have you gone about…
    • What did you do…
    • Can you give an example…

Step 4: Describe the job and the department/university.

  • Provide sufficient facts, both favorable and unfavorable, in a straightforward manner so that the candidate can make an intelligent decision about the acceptability of the position.
  • Inform the candidate of the work schedule and working conditions for the job.
  • Confirm that the candidate is able and willing to accept the working conditions.
  • Do not make any commitments or promises to the candidate, such as assuring the candidate that if hired, they can count on a long career, that there are no layoffs, etc. Discussion of salary, promotional opportunities, tenure, or other job security must be carefully worded to avoid possible misinterpretation of information as an implied employment contract.

Step 5: Answer the candidate's questions and allow them to add additional information.

  • The candidate's objectives are: (1) to gather information about the job and university, and (2) to "sell" themselves to you. Provide the candidate the opportunity to accomplish these objectives.

Step 6: Conclude the interview.

  • A comfortable way to conclude the interview is to thank the candidate for their time and to outline what will happen next. Tell the candidate when the hiring decision is expected to be made and how it will be communicated.
  • If conducting interviews for a Professional & Scientific position, provide the candidate with a packet of benefits information provided by HRS, unless a separate benefits briefing meeting has been scheduled with HRS.
  • If conducting interviews for a merit position, provide each external candidate a copy of the handout entitled, "Notice to Applicants." This handout advises applicants of the necessary document(s) they will need to produce if offered employment to show they are properly authorized to work in the United States.

Second Interviews

If appropriate, invite final candidates back for a second interview. Depending upon a number of factors, including the nature of the position and the number of final candidates, you may wish to call your finalist(s) back for a second interview. Additional university representatives are often included in a second interview. The second interview gives you the opportunity to ask questions that are even more specific and penetrating than the first round of questions asked. If not previously done, introducing the candidate to the individuals with whom they would work, if chosen, would be appropriate. You may also want to ask questions based on information that was shared with you by a reference. However, never repeat any information given to you by a reference.