Mystery Solved: How to Conduct Successful (and Legal) Job Interviews

by Ashley Horne | June 4, 2017

Conduct Job Interview

Nearly every business has the need to hire new team members at some point in time. Whether you’ve conducted hundreds of interviews or today is your first, there are a few basic steps to keep in mind to ensure you make the most of your time with each of your candidates.

Be Prepared

Preparation before the interview is key to ensuring you have the right candidate, the right questions, and that you can gather the information you need during your interview.

1) Take a look at the job description. If you know what the person will be doing, you will know in just minutes whether the description is complete and accurate. Make changes. Ensure what you posted for applicants to review is what you’ll discuss during the interview.

2) Be sure to review the candidate’s resume. This is especially important if someone else scheduled the interview for you. Ask yourself some or all of the following questions and be prepared to probe for answers:

  • Does the candidate meet the basic position requirements?
  • Does the candidate meet none, some, or all of the preferred requirements?
  • Are there gaps in employment history that you find concerning?
  • What experience seems to be missing?

3) Create a roadmap for the interview. You may find that having a basic structure for the interview helps ensure you maximize time and both give and receive information that will help you determine if you are an employer/employee match. Such a structure may include the following components: introduction including your role, company structure, and information about company culture; description of job duties including the worst parts of the job; review of the candidate’s resume ensuring a thorough understanding of background is achieved; interviewer questions; open discussion; and discussion regarding the interview process and expected follow up.

4) Develop an interview guide that will ask relevant and compliant questions (more on this to come).

Taking just a little bit of time to prepare prior to an interview will maximize time and keep your efforts consistent.

It’s All in the Handshake

The most successful interviewers have a way about them that instantly sets a candidate at ease. This starts with your greeting. A warm and welcoming handshake will do the trick. 

Although every interviewer has their own style, setting an informal or conversational tone will allow candidates to relax, be comfortable, and open up to you. You will find that candidates who feel welcome will share the good, the bad, and the ugly with little coxing.

Keeping It Legal

Many HR professionals struggle with getting hiring managers to ask questions that are legal. Often, companies will conduct training surrounding the topic to ensure all interviewers understand what they can and cannot ask. This training must be consistent and memorable. That’s a challenge for even the best HR managers.

Organizations may find that having a standard interview guide helps keep interviewers on track and compliant. Even still, there are a few off-limit topics every good interviewer should keep in mind: nationality, age, race, religion, marital/family status, health and physical abilities, gender and/or sexuality. Keep in mind that all questions must be relevant to a candidate’s ability to get the job done. If it’s not imperative, it should not be asked.

An interviewer should also be mindful of small talk. Often, this is when illegal discussion occurs. For instance, an interviewer may think nothing of asking what vacation plans a candidate and their family has for the summer, but this can be construed as a request for familial information. All good interviewers must learn to be extra cautious (and train others to be aware) of off-topic conversation. If you feel the need to gather sensitive information, do some research and gain an understanding of how to legally ask questions that are on your mind. Below are a few examples:

  • Illegal Question: Are you a U.S. citizen?
  • Legal Question: Are you authorized to work in the U.S.?

~   ~   ~

  • Illegal Question: Do you go to church on Sundays?
  • Legal Question: We are open for business on Sunday.  Are you available for work?

~   ~   ~

  • Illegal Question: How old are you?
  • Legal Question: Are you over 18 years of age?

It’s important to ensure your organization remains legally defensible throughout the interview process. Being mindful of these topics, using a planned interview guide, and limiting small talk will reduce the potential for trouble.

Tapping the Tree of Knowledge

Everyone who has been on an interview has, at one time or another, walked away scratching their head. It may be that they felt the interview was so informal that they left without a working knowledge of the position or that they couldn’t get a pulse on how well they answered the interviewer’s questions. If you are an interviewer who asks questions on the fly, this description may fit your candidates’ experiences.

The sole purpose of conducting an interview is to discuss a vacancy and see if a candidate’s experience will meet the needs of the opening. In the limited time together, an interviewer is charged with assessing that experience and making a decision. Having the right questions to ask will help you tap into a candidate’s skill set quickly and efficiently. Though there are many different types of interview questions (i.e. behavioral, opinion, etc.), it is essential to ask questions that will drill down to one thing:

Can you perform the functions of this job?

If you are hiring a typist, you would not primarily ask questions about customer service skills, but you would ask questions about how fast they can type or how accurately. Similarly, if you are looking for a cashier, you would not focus on computer skills, but you would ask about previous register or customer service experience. The more targeted the questions are to the job functions, the more the interviewer will have the ability to make the correct hiring decision.

As a rule of thumb, a good interviewer will ask the same questions of each interviewee to ensure that a comparison of candidates can be conducted. Without keeping questions consistent, the interviewer misses the opportunity to do so.

Open the Door to Discussion

A great strategy for an interviewer to keep in mind is to make time for open discussion. A candidate who is truly interested in the position and organization will likely come prepared with questions. They will want to share with you tidbits of research they’ve done about the organization and will make mention of this during open discussion. If a candidate has nothing to share, make a mental note. Engaged, enthusiastic, and interested candidates often set themselves apart at this time.

Interview Follow Up

As mentioned previously, it is important to tell a candidate what the next steps in the interview process with your organization will be. More importantly, follow through on what you mentioned. If you tell a candidate you will be back in touch within the next two weeks, be sure you are… even if that is to tell them you have yet to make a decision. Your interactions during the interview process set the tone for how candidates perceive your organization. It is possible to lose a great candidate through poor communication.

Becoming a skilled interviewer takes time and lots of practice but is achievable through preparation and training. It’s important to talk to others and integrate their tips and tricks when warranted. Doing so will ensure successful interviews are conducted each and every time.

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