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Trojan Today Classic: “The Art of Interviewing” by Rebecca Boartfield and Tim Twigg

Originally published in 2016

No management function is more important than hiring the right people. Without the right people, everything else declines—production, customer relations, profits, happiness. Nothing brings on stress (and drama) quite like having an employee that does not fit.

Did you know the number one reason for turnover is lack of fit, coupled with misunderstandings? You know the reasons: the employee’s not a team player, not motivated, can’t multi-task, doesn’t pay attention to detail, isn’t good with customers, isn’t accountable for his/her actions, etc. The list goes on and on.

Turnover is costly, emotionally and financially. Studies indicate that, at a minimum, the cost is equivalent to the annual salary of the person who is being replaced, but it can be as much as two to three times that amount depending on the position, the applicant pool, the job market, etc. Wouldn’t it be great to reduce that cost and get the right person onboard the first time?

When a bad hire happens, most people wonder how it happened. The person “aced” the interview along with other steps in the recruiting process, so why did s/he turn out to be a nightmare? How does the person end up being nowhere near the person who was presented in the recruiting process, particularly the interview? And more importantly, how do you prevent it?

A lot of reasons account for bad hires, but one primary reason is poor interviewing techniques. When is the last time you actually prepared for an interview? Don’t we normally just “wing it”? We’ve got a handful of questions we love to ask, and we don’t take time to go much beyond that. We then use our “gut instinct” and figure it will be right.

If this is working for you, that’s great. If not, you might want to consider fine-tuning your interviewing techniques, specifically the type and kind of questions you ask. This can help get you closer to seeing the “real person” during interviews.

One major interviewing pitfall is not allowing the applicant to talk very much. If you think your role is to “sell” the interviewee on you and your practice, you are wrong. The interviewee should do about 80% of the talking. Interviewers sometimes get uncomfortable with silence or an applicant who is struggling to answer a question. When this happens, the interviewer will sometimes take over and explain, describe, or provide his/her own opinions to promote more conversation. This can have the effect of leading the applicant into knowing what to say or simply agreeing with the interviewer, which does not serve the purpose of getting to know the applicant. You’ve just confirmed your own thoughts and/or feelings, not the interviewee’s.

Another pitfall is asking too many yes/no questions. Ideally, keep the questions as open-ended as possible to keep the interviewee talking. You want to collect as much data on this person as possible. The best way to do that is through carefully crafted interview questions that go beyond simple yes/no responses.

The art of interviewing means knowing what legally cannot be asked in order to prevent potential liability. Generally speaking, if a question is not related to important or essential job duties, skills, or work behaviors and attributes, it should not be asked. Under multiple federal and state regulations,

it is unlawful to discriminate against applicants based on protected characteristics unrelated to a job. Raising a topic or asking a question pertaining to any of these protected characteristics could be perceived as discriminatory, particularly if the applicant believes s/he was denied employment as a result. Ensure all questions are job-related, and eliminate any that serve no purpose in determining someone’s ability to perform the job duties.

Interview questions typically land in one of five categories:

  1. Credential = Education, certification, licensure
  2. Technical = Knowledge necessary for the job (e.g. computer software)
  3. Experience
  4. Opinion = Self-evaluation; yields the candidate’s opinion about a given situation
  5. Behavioral = Work-related, behavioral responses from the candidate’s past.

Read the rest and see illustrations of the suggested mix of question types in the original newsletter.


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