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Hiring the Right Person: The Interview


July 10, 2015 by Marci Wright
Category: Recruitment and Hiring , HR Advisor

Hiring the Right Person: The Interview

This post is the fifth in MRSC's series on the hiring process: Hiring the Right Person

You are a busy manager trying to fill an important vacancy. You’ve narrowed the field of applicants to the individuals you want to advance to an onsite hiring process.

There are a myriad of options for an onsite process, ranging from a one-on-one interview to multi-day processes. Which process is best for your organization will vary based on factors such as:

  • The position and its functions;
  • The size of your organization;
  • Whether the position is managerial/supervisory;
  • The level of the position in the organization;
  • Expectations of the position’s key stakeholders;
  • Size and strength of the applicant pool.

For example, for an entry level position in a small organization, a process with one or two interviews may be sufficient. On the other hand, for a director in a larger organization, an elaborate process involving many individuals and a variety of panels or other activities is likely required.

For the purposes of this post, we’ve decided to use a typical onsite process approach—interview panels with key stakeholders of the position. (In future articles, we will explore approaches that involve activities other than standard interviewing.)

Pre-Interview

Number of Interviewers

One place to start in structuring the process is who needs to be included in the interview process. Minimum approach would include an immediate supervisor, a peer/co-worker and if applicable, one or more subordinates. However, you may also want to consider:

  • A key customer.
  • Employee(s) in other departments with important working relationships with the position.
  • An outside expert.
  • Diversity - including gender, age, race, division/department, level within the organization.
  • Anyone whose “buy-in” you need to make the new employee successful.

Number of Panels

Once you know who needs to participate, you can determine the number of panels. Consider:

  • Number of interviewers - This factor alone can dictate one or more panels.
  • Interests involved - The focus or interests of interviewers may differ. Avoid having conflicting interests on the same panel.
  • Accommodating the “boss” - The supervisor(s) may want a frank discussion about style or expectations with candidates not appropriate with potential subordinates in the room.
  • Two (or more) panel interviews provide more time and interaction with the candidates, including the opportunity to glean information about consistency and genuineness.

Scheduling

Once you’ve determined the number of candidates and interviews, you can build the schedules. Ideally each interview would be between 45 minutes and an hour—shorter and there isn’t enough time with the candidate; longer and you will reach a point of diminishing returns with many candidates and panelists. In addition to the interview schedule, you will want to have a schedule for the overall process including times for briefing and debriefing the interview panels.

See our sample candidate interview schedule for a detailed overview.

The Interview

Questions

Each interview panel should have a set of unique, prepared questions for the candidate. With a 45 minute to one hour interview, 12-14 quality questions is usually sufficient. Focus the questions on evaluating the individual’s people skills and to gauge critical thinking. (Generally technical skills can be better evaluated through other means such as skills tests or reference checks.) One way to do this is by using hypothetical questions. A tip for hypotheticals: include a stipulation that the person has only been in this job for a short period of time—this will help direct the candidate to answering based on current information and help them avoid falling back on an answer such as, “Well if I was in the job I’d know the rules/protocol and would follow that.”

I’ve prepared a series of sample interview questions that can help you get started in compiling your question list.

Preparing the Panelists

Typically each panelist receives a packet prior to the interviews. This can include:

  • Interview questions- A set of questions for each candidate, formatted to allow the panelists to take notes.
  • Interview schedule.
  • Candidate information - This may be copies of the candidate’s application/cover letter/resume or a candidate summary or other information specifically prepared for use by the interview panel.
  • Scoring sheet (if using) - Personally I do not recommend using a formal rating process for interviews. But if you are using a scoring system, the information/tools should be provided in the packet.
  • Schedule of the overall process - In a more elaborate process, this information may be helpful to the panelists.

Brief, basic instructions on conducting the interview and clear direction on the feedback sought should be provided to the panel prior to the start of the interviews. Depending on the time needed for this “training”, this may be done immediately before the start of the first interview or in a separate session prior to the interview day.

Conducting the Interview

A typical interview should look like this:

  1. Consistent introductions of the panelists.
  2. Brief overview of the position and process.
  3. Questions by the panelists and answers by the candidate. (This should take up the bulk of the time.)
  4. Opportunity for candidate to ask questions of the panel (as time allows).
  5. Consistent closing remarks including information about next steps in the process.

The most important principle in conducting a panel interview is to make each interview as consistent as possible so that each candidate is presented with the same opportunity and process. Of course each candidate is different so each interview experience will vary, but as much as possible you want this variance to be a direct result of the differences between the candidates. Therefore, it is a best practice to clearly assign roles and questions to each panelist and not vary these from candidate to candidate.

After the Interview

Debriefing the Panel

After the interviews, each panel should provide its feedback on the candidates, ideally directly to the hiring authority. If you have professional HR staff available, it can be helpful to have HR facilitate this discussion.
The session should focus on providing the requested feedback (egs. strengths/ weaknesses; ranked list; hiring recommendation). Usually it is best to solicit individual opinions and not require consensus—it is not unusual for individual panel members to have opposite opinions on a candidate. The most important aspect of the feedback is for the hiring authority to be clear on the basis for each panelist’s conclusions.

Because this step of the process is rarely the last step in the hiring process, the debrief should be primarily a one-way process: the panelists should be doing the talking and the hiring authority should be listening. Conclusions should be deferred to a later, more appropriate time.

Next Steps

Your next steps will depend on which of the following situations applies:

  1. The process has identified a clear top candidate to pursue—you will move to the “closing” phase of the process (background and referencing checking, negotiating). These critical elements of the hiring process will be addressed in a future blog post.
  2. All candidates are eliminated—you will consider whether there are other current applicants to consider or whether you need to start the entire process over.
  3. You have questions about one or more candidate(s) that require answering before deciding whether #1 or #2 applies.  In this case, you need to take additional process steps with the candidate(s) designed to answer the outstanding questions. A common step at this point is follow-up interviews with key decision makers asking targeted questions based on the unresolved concern with the candidates.

As always, in deciding on and pursuing these next steps, keep in mind the long run benefit of taking the time to find the right employee for the job instead of settling for a mediocre one.

Stay tuned for future posts in our Hiring the Right Person which explores the basic components of a recruitment and selection process, including ideas about how to make your processes more successful and more creative. Are there specific questions you’d like answered or topics you’d like to see covered about the hiring process? Let us know in the comments below.


MRSC is a private nonprofit organization serving local governments in Washington State. Eligible government agencies in Washington State may use our free, one-on-one Ask MRSC service to get answers to legal, policy, or financial questions.

About Marci Wright

Marci Wright writes for MRSC as an HR Advisor.

Marci Wright retired in 2014 after over 16 years as the City of Shoreline’s first Human Resources Director. Previously, she worked for Thurston County as Director of Employee and Administrative Services (1987 - 1997) and Deputy Prosecuting Attorney (1980 - 1987). Currently volunteering for MRSC she continues to be interested in the full range of human resource issues, especially training, facilitation and problem resolution.

The views expressed in Advisor columns represent the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of MRSC.

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