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The Interview Process: Selecting the "Right" Person

How do you select the right person for your business? There is no perfect answer, but the interview process can be a tremendous help if you use it effectively. Interviewing candidates for a position within your company is one of the final steps in the hiring process. Before you get to this step, you want to make sure that you've completed all of the preceding steps. Below is a list of the steps involved in the hiring process. See FindLaw's The Hiring Process section for additional articles and resources on this topic.

In order, the key steps to finding the right person to fill a position in your company include:

  1. Determine your need to hire a new employee.
  2. Conduct a thorough job analysis.
  3. Write a job description and job specification for the position based on the job analysis.
  4. Determine the salary for the position, based on internal and external equity.
  5. Decide where and how to find qualified applicants.
  6. Collect and review applications and resumes, and then select the most qualified candidates for further consideration.
  7. Interview the most qualified candidates for the position.
  8. Check references.
  9. Hire the best person for the job.

Now that you know where the interview process fits into the hiring process, let's take a look at the "do's" and "don'ts" of conducting a successful interview. See Best Practices for Employmers in a Hiring Interview for more details.

Conducting a Successful Interview: What to Do

1. Prepare in Advance for the Interview

  • Know what you want in a candidate before you begin the interview.
  • Know the job and its responsibilities.
  • Prepare a list of standard questions concerning the candidate's skills, abilities and past work performance that you want him/her to answer.
  • Prepare a list of prioritized and measurable criteria for analyzing and comparing the candidates.
  • Review the candidate's resume prior to the interview.
  • Set specific appointment times and reasonable time limits.
  • Be prepared to justify the use of any required employment test.

2. Collect Pertinent Information During the Interview

  • Since past behavior predicts future behavior, look for the candidate's behavior "patterns" as you collect information. For example, has the candidate enjoyed "big picture" work or detailed analysis more? Is he/she more of a generalist or more of a specialist?
  • Try not to offer too much detailed information up front so that the candidate will be able to formulate answers that exactly fits your company's needs.
  • Ask questions that focus on the candidate's past performances.
  • Ask specific, structured questions in regards to specific problems that the job holder may face.
  • Notice how well the candidate listens and responds to the questions asked.
  • Note the candidate's choice of words and non-verbal behavior.
  • Listen to the questions the candidate asks. Clarify the reasons why the questions are being asked. Notice which questions he/she asks first as they may be his/her primary concerns.
  • Take detailed hand-written notes concerning job related topics that will help you distinguish the candidates from one another.
  • Record information pertaining to the set criteria that will help in the evaluation of candidates.
  • Organize and analyze the information immediately after the interview when memory is fresh.

3. Look and Act Professionally During the Interview

  • Dress appropriately.
  • Avoid appearing bored and fatigued.
  • Set a businesslike atmosphere.
  • Structure the interview and inform the candidate of the structure. Let the candidate know you will be focusing on past results and that you will be taking a lot of notes.
  • Provide information on the company and the job to each candidate.

4. Treat All Candidates Fairly

  • Use your list of standard questions during each interview so that you treat the applicants the same and so that you can compare apples to apples.
  • Refer to the criteria of the job when analyzing candidates.
  • Keep all questions job-related.
  • Do not ask discriminating questions.
  • Show a genuine interest in every candidate you interview.
  • If possible, have at least one other person meet and/or interview candidates who are "finalists." 

5.  Be Courteous and Respectful

  • Conduct the interview in a private place away from distractions.
  • Begin the interview on schedule.
  • If possible, conduct the interview without interruptions.
  • Allow sufficient time for the interview.
  • Appreciate the candidate's accomplishments.
  • Do not patronize the candidate.
  • Do not argue with the candidate.
  • Thank the candidate for his/her time and interest.

6. Facilitate Open Communication

  • Immediately attempt to establish a rapport with the candidate by breaking the ice.
  • Promote a relaxed environment with free-flowing conversation.
  • Do not dominate the discussion by talking too much.
  • Politely probe the candidate for information by asking open-ended questions that will provide insight into the candidate's values and traits.
  • Ask structured questions that will require some thought on the part of the candidate.
  • Listen carefully to the candidate's answers.
  • Explain the selection process to the candidate.

The Successful Interview: What NOT to Do

The following list is comprised of subject matter that is widely regarded as "off-limits" for discussion in an interview by employment experts. Most of these subjects relate directly to federal and state employment laws.  

In an interview, or on an employment application, do not ask questions...

  • ...concerning the age of the candidate: Be careful using the words "over qualified" with older candidates.
  • ...about their arrest record (this is different from convictions - in most states, it is permissible to ask if the candidate has ever been convicted of a crime).
  • ...about race or ethnicity
  • ...concerning the candidate's citizenship of the U.S. prior to hiring (It is permissible to ask "Will you be able to provide proof of eligibility to work in the U.S. if hired?")
  • ...concerning the candidate's ancestry, birthplace or native language (it is permissible to ask about their ability to speak English or a foreign language if required for the job).
  • ...about religion or religious customs or holidays.
  • ...concerning the candidate's height and weight if it does not affect their ability to perform the job.
  • ...concerning the names and addresses of relatives (only those relatives employed by the organization are permitted).
  • ...about whether or not the candidate owns or rents his/her home and who lives with them. (asking for their address for future contact is acceptable).
  • ...concerning the candidate's credit history or financial situation: In some cases, credit history may be considered job-related, but proceed with extreme caution.
  • ...concerning education or training that is not required to perform the job.
  • ...concerning their sex or gender. Avoid any language or behavior that may be found inappropriate by the candidate. It's his/her standard of conduct that must be met.
  • ...concerning pregnancy or medical history: Attendance records at a previous employer may be discussed in most situations as long as you don't refer to illness or disability.
  • ...concerning the candidate's family or marital status or child-care arrangements (but it is permissible to ask if the candidate will be able to work the required hours for the job).
  • ...concerning the candidate's membership in a non-professional organization or club that is not related to the job.
  • ...concerning physical or mental disabilities (but asking whether the candidate can perform the essential job duties is permitted.) The ADA allows you to ask the applicant to describe or demonstrate how they would perform an essential function (s) when certain specific conditions are met. Check the law or consult with an attorney before moving forward.

As a rule of thumb, don't ask any questions that are not job-related in any way.

Questions About the Interview Process? A Lawyer Can Help

As a business owner, it's important for you to make sure your business is in compliance with employment laws, which includes your interview and hiring practices. If you're in doubt about your company's interview practices or just want to make sure you're in compliance with current employment laws, you may want to contact an experienced employment law attorney in your area.

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