By Kristen Rider Legge and Donald G. Rider
Kristen Rider Legge has worked in Human Resources and Employee Relations at a number of federal agencies. She holds a Masters Degree in Human Resources Development from McDaniel College and is currently an HR Specialist in the private sector. She can be reached at [email protected] Kristen’s father, Donald G. Rider, is Collegiate Professor of Human Resources Management at the University of Maryland University College. He is a practicing attorney as well as an active consultant and trainer. Don’s federal career included stints at the NLRB, the FLRA and the FDIC. His email address is [email protected]
The expression “hire hard, manage easy” means that the time, effort and expense devoted to screening job candidates pays big dividends down the road. The psychic and economic costs of a poor hiring decision are not something any of us want to contemplate. We have all experienced the frustration involved in making a poor hiring decision and then trying to “fix” it. In addition, it is estimated that the cost of locating, screening and training someone to replace the sub-par employee ranges from $10,000 to $60,000.
One area where we can do a better job of screening candidates is during the job interview.
Americans have a love affair with the interview. It is by far, the most widely used means of screening job candidates in use today. However, a number of academic studies have suggested that the face-to-face interview is one of the least reliable means of distinguishing good candidates from bad. Nevertheless, we’re addicted to the interview process and convinced that we can establish a “connection” of some kind with the top candidate. Surely, our perceptive nature and shrewd judgments about people will enable us to get a “feel” for the right candidate. Even better, maybe one of the candidates will think, act or look like us.
This may also raise our comfort level with that special candidate.
Un-scientific? You bet it is. There is absolutely no evidence that intuition or “gut feelings” produce better performers on the job. But there are some straightforward steps each of us can take to increase the effectiveness of interviews. Like many endeavors – – both on the job and in your personal life – -a strong dose of organization and advance planning will help. The next time you are preparing to interview candidates for a job, remember that an effective interview has three components:
1. An advance plan for the interview2. Prepared questions that probe for the skill sets you need3. A feel for the types of questions that may be considered discriminatory
Planning The Interview
As part of your advance planning, you will want to review the position description and qualification requirements of the position for which you are conducting interviews. What are the “critical elements” of the position (as opposed to optional or “nice to have” skills)? Have you thought about the specific abilities that the candidate must have in order to succeed in the position? Believe it or not, one of your best sources of information is your colleagues at work. Solicit their feedback about the qualities they view as critical for success.
Take some time to closely review the candidate’s application package. As you review each application, ask yourself:
– What are the strengths of this candidate?– What is his or her relevant experience?– Does the candidate’s education level fit the job requirements?
Think about the physical area where you plan to conduct the interview. It’s more important than you might think Choose a location that is somewhat removed from your regular work area. This will reduce the likelihood of disruptions such as ringing telephones or visitors to your office.
You will also need to develop interview questions in advance. You should not be sitting in an interview making up questions “on the fly.” Perhaps the single most important thing to keep in mind is that each question you ask must be job-related. You are trying to elicit information from the candidate that reveals whether or not he or she is able to do the job – – and do it well. The candidate’s responses will also help you determine if he or she will be a good match for your organization. This is not to say that you can’t ask “ice breaker” questions at the outset of the interview (“How do you like living in Arlington?”). However, the formal interview should closely link the questions to the skills, abilities or attitudes you value.
Customizing Questions to Gather Important Information
If you need someone who is detail oriented you might ask the candidate to describe a project or task that required close attention to small points and issues in order to keep the project on track. How did these matters come to your attention? How did you handle them? If the position you are trying to fill has to cope with constant change, you might ask a question concerning a specific situation where the candidate felt they were especially effective in adapting to an unexpected change. Then there are the more traditional skills. For an administrative or support position, you can develop a question probing the office routine which the candidate followed previously. What volume of paperwork have they been responsible for? Do they have any exposure to handling confidential records? Does the job require customer care skills? A job related question might be: “Describe a difficult customer relations problem you encountered and how you resolved it.”
Avoid Prohibited Questions or Practices
Always ask questions that are related to the job. Most of us are well aware by this point that we should never ask questions violating civil rights or other discrimination laws. A clear example would be the question, “How old are you?” But some of the other prohibited areas are more subtle. A seemingly innocent question such as “what kinds of organizations do you belong to?” should be avoided. The candidate’s response might lead to topics involving religious or ethnic affiliations. The same is true of questions concerning marital status, the specific holidays which the applicant might celebrate or the language spoken at home. At their best, such questions open up topics not directly related to the job. At their worst, they may smack of discrimination.
Summing Up: An Effective Interview is Critical to “Hiring Hard and Managing Easy.”
The face-to-face job interview is just one of many techniques used to screen job candidates. While the value of interviews as a predictor of ultimate success on the job is debatable, interviews remain the most widely accepted means of assessing job applicants. Despite our best efforts, we sometimes make a poor hiring decision. The costs of “undoing” that decision – -or simply living with it – -are high indeed. Many of these problems can be avoided by paying close attention to the interview process. This includes adequate advance planning, developing interview questions that make sense, and a commitment to avoid illegal or discriminatory questions.