VII. Structuring the Interview
Plan the structure of the interview to include introductions, interview questions, applicant questions, and a tour of the office. Your objectives in the interview are to assist the applicant in providing you with the best information possible and to leave the applicant with a favorable impression of your department and the University.
Fostering a Good Interview Atmosphere
As hiring mangers prepare for the interview, it is important to remember that the hiring process is not a one-sided decision. The applicants will also be making observations, forming impressions, and making choices. The care taken in planning the interview may affect the applicant's perceptions of your competence and interest, and the quality of the information that is obtained. Here are some recommendations for fostering a good interview atmosphere:
When calling to schedule appointments, introduce yourself, and identify your department and the vacant position. Provide directions to your office and information on parking facilities. Remember that applicants may be applying for other positions on campus.
Select a quiet and private location where visual and auditory distractions are minimized.
Avoid interviewing from behind a desk if possible. A desk may act as a barrier and materials on the desk may distract you or the candidate. The physical setting should be the same for all applicants when possible.
Prepare the department for the interview. Provide an interview schedule to the necessary people (receptionist, other interviewers, etc.).
Keep the appointment time. If you are unavoidably detained, have someone else greet the applicant and explain the delay.
During the interview, there should be no interruptions. If a necessary interruption occurs, make it as brief as possible and apologize.
Put the applicant at ease and attempt to establish rapport. Begin the interview with a description of the interview format. Follow with a relevant but non-threatening question, such as "What prompted your interest in this position?”
It is acceptable to take notes during the interview. Explain that you will be taking notes, however, do not allow your record keeping to dominate the interview. Note taking should include only the applicant’s response to the questions.
Give the applicant your undivided attention. This includes maintaining eye contact, attentive listening, and being responsive to questions or comments.
Avoid being overly positive or negative with the applicant during the interview. You do not want to leave the impression that the applicant is going to be hired or that he/she is not being seriously considered.
Maintain control of the interview. If an applicant begins to wander from the question, tactfully lead him/her back to the subject by re-phrasing the question or asking a follow-up question.
Interview all candidates in the same order and manner.
As a courtesy, it is recommended that internal candidates be informed of the selection decision before making it public knowledge .
Conducting the Interview
It is the responsibility of the hiring manager or search committee chair to use the interview effectively to obtain an accurate and complete picture of the applicant’s skills and abilities. Important attributes of conducting interviews effectively include:
- Be well-prepared and clear about what you are trying to achieve. Know what you are looking for.
- Create a comfortable environment to set applicants at ease. Applicants typically respond best if the interview is conducted in a natural and conversational manner. Every effort should be made to ensure interviews are conducted in a conference room or meeting room away from telephones, cluttered workspace or other interruptions.
- When scheduling, be sure to leave sufficient time between interviews to review and summarize your recollection of the interview.
Ask the question of the applicant, don’t read it. With a little practice, you should be able to glance at the question then look directly at the applicant while you repeat the question. If the question is complex, break it down to ensure the applicant does not become confused or overwhelmed. A good guideline is one thought per question.
Allow silence. After asking a question, resist the temptation to break silence. Don’t interrupt the applicant’s train of thought by shifting to another question. This calculated pause may give the applicant the extra time needed to think of a response to your question.
Restate, rephrase or paraphrase when necessary. If the applicant cannot think of a response or an example, or gives a response that is not what is needed, restate or rephrase the question. Restating the question may give the applicant a better understanding of what is desired and trigger his/her memory. Summarize or paraphrase any information that may be vague, unclear, ambiguous or incomplete to ensure that you understand the meaning intended by the applicant and can clarify or fill in any gaps. Use phrases such as “If I understand you correctly, you’re saying that …”.
Use probing questions to help get an applicant back on track or to clarify or draw out further information about specific points. Focus the applicant on providing more depth, rather than breadth, of information in their responses. Probing questions are useful when the applicant’s response is inadequate or possibly evasive. Probe, don’t prompt. An interview is still a “test” of the assessment component. Don't ask questions that lead or help the applicant figure out the answer. A few examples of probing questions include: “I’m not sure I understand completely. Would you elaborate on that for me please?”; "Could you give me an example of that please?”; or "What specific actions did you take?"
Tip: It's perfectly acceptable if the degree and amount of probing, restating, rephrasing, paraphrasing and revisiting questions varies between applicants. Some applicants may need little or none; others may need more. Be flexible. The key here is to ensure that each applicant has had an equitable and fair opportunity to demonstrate their competencies. That doesn't mean you have to stick to a rigid script and treat every applicant identically.
Listen Actively and Carefully
Good listening skills are an essential part of the interviewing process. Listening well is a matter of paying close attention. Listen carefully and critically to what is being said. Listen for the central ideas not just the facts being presented. Get the main points.
Focus on what the applicant is communicating (not what is going on in your head). Be prepared to be open-minded to what the applicant is saying even though you may disagree with it. Don't argue mentally and suspend judgment while you are listening. Be aware of the emergence of your personal bias or assumptions, cultural differences, or a one-sided picture (positive or negative).
Give the applicant an opportunity to get to their point. The first thing people bring up when they have something to say often isn't the central point they'll eventually make, whether they know it or not. Listening carefully for a while gives both of you a chance to develop understanding. If the applicant speaks too quickly, don't be afraid to ask them to slow down or repeat what they said.
Take Effective Notes
Note taking is essential. It helps you pay attention and organize your thoughts, communicates that what the applicant says is important, and helps you retain important details. Note taking seems simple but involves sometimes simultaneous actions: talking, writing, observing and listening for what is said and for what is not said. Add to this the challenge of gathering notes quickly, clearly and accurately.
Notes taken during an interview must be sufficient enough to be used as a reference when reviewing applicants after the interview and to support your decision-making. Also, remember that you may be providing feedback to an applicant or referring to your notes in the event of a review of your decision. They will need to be clear enough for you to understand them at a later date.
Be brief in your note taking. Don’t try to record everything you hear. Record just enough to stimulate your recall. Your notes are not to be an exact record of every word said. Notes are "memory joggers" only. Get down just the main ideas, facts, key terms and behaviors. Include enough subordinate points or examples to clarify understanding. Listen selectively for information related to the performance to be rated and focus your note taking on this.
Limit your notes to what the applicant said or did. Do not record hunches, evaluations, value judgments or comments. If non-job-related irrelevant information (e.g. personal or off-topic information, anecdotes or asides) comes out in the interview, do not record it.
Be unobtrusive in your note-taking and reassure applicants that you are listening even when you are taking notes. If you are taking notes, look up as frequently as possible. It may be appropriate to arrange for an interview team member who is not involved in asking the questions to take primary responsibility for note-taking.
Manage the Time
Most interviews have a maximum time allotted; however, some may be scheduled with a more open-ended time frame than others. Whichever approach you take, start and finish on time and keep the interview process on track. Move through the questions at a reasonable pace and keep to the time limits set for the interview. If the applicant rambles or gets off track, avoids answering the question, is spending too much time on one question, or is repeating information, politely acknowledge the applicant’s comments, and direct the conversation back to the prepared questions.
Information to Provide the Applicant during the Interview
Remember that the applicant is evaluating you, your vacant job, and your department at the same time that you are evaluating him/her. It is important to give an adequate, realistic picture of the job duties and working conditions.
The following topics should be covered in the interview:
1. Position Description
Describe the job, including physical demands or unusual working conditions. For complex jobs, a written job description may be given to the applicant. Include the importance of the job to the department/University. Provide sufficient information to ensure that the applicant is able to make an intelligent decision about the position.
2. Conditions of Employment
Explain the conditions of employment and ask each applicant if he or she can meet these requirements.
- Hours of Work: Provide information about work hours, breaks, and lunch hours.
- Leave Policies: Provide information on leave benefits.
- Training Period and Critical Work Periods: If applicable, explain the training requirements and ask if there are any conditions or situations that would interfere with attendance during the training period or during critical work periods. (This is the perfect time to discuss black-out periods, too.)
- Attendance expectations and inclement weather policy.
Explain the position’s advertised salary. You should discuss the applicant's salary requirements during the interview . Approval to offer a salary above advertised limits must be obtained from your Vice President/Provost or Dean and Human Resources BEFORE an offer can be made and may result in re-posting the vacancy.
A brief description of benefits (insurance coverage, accrued leave, retirement, employee scholarship, etc.) can be discussed with applicant and can be found on the FAU Benefits and Retirement webpage at http://www.fau.edu/hr/Benefits/index.php.
5. Work Area Location and Schedule
The applicant should generally be shown the work site. Explain to the applicant the standard work hours. The manager’s approval is required to modify the work schedule.
Closing the interview can be as important as how you open it. At the conclusion of every interview it is recommended that the applicant have an opportunity to ask questions regarding the position and employment at the University. Maintain the rapport and leave the applicant with a positive impression. This is the appropriate time to confirm that the applicant is still interested in the position, his/her available start date and willingness to accept a starting salary within the posted range. Let the applicant know what the next steps in the selection process are. Do not make any remarks that could be construed as a decision having already been made – either to hire or not. Finally, let the applicant know that a background check and reference checks will be conducted on the selected applicant. Confirm contact names and telephone numbers to be used for reference checks. Conclude with a friendly close, and thank the applicant for his/her time.
After the Interview
Immediately after each interview, go over your notes while everything is still fresh in your mind. Clear up illegible writing, check for errors and fill in any gaps. The end of the day or 24 hours later may be too late for a complete recollection of the interview.
The selection decision should be based on an objective consideration of the job requirements and the applicants' qualifications. All of the information obtained about each applicant at each stage of the employment process should be evaluated. You are permitted and encouraged to arrange follow-up interviews with your top candidates if additional information is needed.
The applicants' qualifications should be examined and compared in terms of:
- Primary and secondary job requirements (qualifications)
- Short-term and long-term needs of the department.