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Interviewing Tips

Know the job for which you are interviewing: One of the more frequent interviewing errors is to alter the job to fit a candidate. Before interviewing a candidate it is important to know how the job fits in the organization. Be familiar with the appropriate job descriptions. Know what the most immediate priorities are as well as long range plans and identify the issues that are most important to the hiring manager at this point in time.

Prepare your written interview questions to ask of each applicant: All questions should be job related and open-ended to allow the candidate to provide specific situations, tasks, actions and results for experience they bring to demonstrate their qualifications for the job. See our list of sample Behavioral Interview Questions.

Coordinate with others: One of the challenges of most hiring is the number of people who are involved in the process. Effective coordination involves making sure that all the interviewers agree on the critical attributes to be assessed, that they all follow the guidelines for structured interviewing, and that they reach their initial evaluations independently of one another (particularly if the interviewers will subsequently meet to discuss their evaluations and make a hiring decision). In some cases, you may also want to divide up the interview questions among the interviewers so that the applicant doesn't end up being asked the same question by five different interviewers. Another common way to coordinate multiple interviewers is to use a panel interview, in which the whole search committee simultaneously interviews the applicant, for example. Although panel interviews are often no more valid than individual interviews they may offer efficiency advantages.

Practice makes perfect: To become proficient at interviewing you need to practice the key skills and get feedback on how well you're doing. Plan some time for practice and feedback as part of your next round of interviews. Start by working with your colleagues in developing the structured interview for the position. Then, if there will be several people conducting interviews, practice interviewing each other. If you are the only person doing the interviewing, practice interviewing and getting feedback from a current incumbent of the position (or a similar position).

Review the written information presented by the applicant in advance of the interview: Determine if the applicant meets the posted minimum qualifications of the position and if they possess any of the preferred qualifications that are listed. Review and evaluate each candidate's educational and training accomplishments as they relate to the job. Identify the past position(s) most like the position being recruited. Identify any unexplained gaps in the employment history and develop follow up questions for the applicant to clarify these gaps.

Make the interviewee comfortable: Forget anything you may have heard about “stress interviews." Your goal is to create an atmosphere that encourages applicants to be forthcoming and that also makes them want to take the job if you offer it to them. This includes making them feel welcome and at ease during and after the interview and also means giving applicants who are making a campus visit some time to rest, prepare for presentations, and see the campus community.

Give the candidate your undivided attention: Turn off your cell phone or set it to vibrate (but do not answer the phone during your interview). If possible, meet in an office or meeting room with privacy and request that you are not interrupted. You may have water available for interviewees. Take notes of the applicant's responses. Use a set of core questions for all of the candidates. Use follow-up questions effectively, i.e. starting with what, when, where, who, why, and how.

Remember to evaluate the applicant's strengths and weaknesses specific to the job: Use of behavioral interview questions will aid in avoiding bias based on personal traits unrelated to the job requirements and duties.

Allow enough time for the interview: A common mistake is to try to use the interview to assess all the critical attributes, which results in interviews that are rushed, applicants that feel harried, and information that is not valid. Another common mistake is to try to use the interview for too many different purposes; you probably can't assess all the relevant attributes, answer the interviewees' questions, and sell your campus as an ideal employer all in one thirty-minute interview. Build in time for the applicant to ask questions at the end of the interview. You should plan at least an hour or more with each candidate interviewed.

Let the applicant talk: Your primary purpose is to learn more about the applicant, and to do this you must let the applicant do most of the talking. If you ask good questions that get the applicant talking about his or her past work-relevant experience, this should be easy. For many of us, the hard parts are listening carefully to assess the applicant's answer and fighting the temptation to interrupt. Allow comfortable silence while an applicant formulates responses to questions.

Don't make hiring decisions during the interview: Hiring decisions should be based on a thoughtful analysis of all the information about applicants, not just the information from the interview.

Avoid the appearance of any impropriety: For many positions it is customary to conduct initial screening interviews at conferences. Because of a lack of formal interviewing facilities, or in an attempt to save money, these interviews are sometimes conducted in hotel rooms, bars, or other less than ideal locations. At a minimum these contexts can interfere with the professional conduct of the interview; worse, they may also create an atmosphere that suggests or encourages inappropriate conduct. To avoid even the appearance of impropriety, interviews should be conducted in semi-public locations, such as specific areas set aside for job interviews, public hotel areas that provide a business-like context, or offices with open doors.

What Not to Ask: Avoid all questions that could reveal information about an applicant's age, national original, sexual orientation, race, color, arrest record, marital status, birthday, birthplace, children or child care arrangements, height and weight, history of drug or alcohol addiction, history of union membership, personal hobbies and activities, physical or mental disabilities, religion, type of military discharge, or economic status. Remember that all conversations with an applicant, whether they are a current employee or external candidate, may be considered part of an interview. Stay professional. If the candidate reveals information that is personal, steer the conversation back to the relevant question, reframe the issue in terms of job requirements, and suggest that they contact Human Resources for personal matters.

Examples of questions to avoid:

  • Are you married?
  • Do you have children?
  • What is your age?
  • Where is your spouse employed?
  • When did you graduate from high school?
  • Were you in the military?
  • What is your religion?
  • Where were you born?
  • Are you in good health?
  • Have you ever had an injury or physical or mental illness?
  • Are you a citizen of the United States?
  • In what organizations are you a member?

Questions the Candidate Could Ask of You

Be prepared for questions the applicant may pose to you and build time into your interview process to accommodate this. Topics may include:

Culture

  • How would you describe the culture of your organization?
  • What is your organization's management style?
  • Is your company environment formal or informal, structured or flexible?
  • Do you operate in a centralized or decentralized manner?
  • Describe the interdepartmental relationships.
  • What has the turnover rate of the department been?
  • Why is this position open?

Responsibilities

  • What are the major responsibilities of this position?
  • Does a job description exist for this position, and if so, may I see it?
  • Beyond the job description, what are your expectations of me?
  • How long has this position existed in your organization?
  • What would be the opportunities for advancement?
  • What are the main problems that need immediate attention?
  • What qualifications do you expect the successful candidate will have?

Resources

  • Can I meet the people who work in the department?
  • What level of support is available to help accomplish the department's goals?
  • Does your organization have any training programs?

Authority

  • Whom and how many would I supervise in this position?
  • What are the reporting relationships of this position?
  • What are the guidelines and procedures for making decisions in this position?

Performance

  • What are the short and long term goals of the position, and how are they established?
  • Do you have an appraisal system? How does it work?
  • How is performance measured against the goals of the department?
  • What is the most important contribution that you would expect me to make during the first six months in this position?

Portions of this material include reprints from Rosse & Levin (2003), Academic Administrator's Guide to Hiring, 10/04