Job Interview Best Practices

Job interviews are obviously critical to getting talented new employees on the team, but they are also potential landmines. Both legal and tactical errors can easily be made during the process. By Bridget Miller, Thursday, January 15th, 2015.

What guidance do you give to your hiring managers before conducting interviews? Does your organization have written documentation for handling the recruiting process from start to finish? How do you ensure that your hiring team stays on the right side of the legal issues attached to the interviewing process?

Tips for Success

To address a few of these questions, we’ve put together a list of some best practices for interviewing. Many of the items on this list are meant to keep the hiring team on the right side of the law and avoid situations in which an applicant could assume any type of discrimination or bias. Other tips are meant to ensure the hiring team is effective and consistent in order to find the best applicant for the role.

Here are the tips:

  • Be sure that anyone involved in the hiring process is trained in and fully understands the laws that relate to hiring and the implications for each step of the process.
  • Avoid behaviors that could imply a discriminatory bias. For example:
    • Do not ask about disabilities. Focus on the ability to do the job.
    • Treat all applicants the same. in other words, don’t require some groups to meet higher criteria than others for consideration.
    • Don’t ask about medical issues or other personal information.
    • Don’t ask any questions that could serve to gather information about:
      • Marital status;
      • Whether the applicant has children;
      • Race;
      • National origin;
      • Age (besides confirming the applicant is over 18, if necessary);
      • Religion;
      • Sexual orientation (in many states it is illegal to discriminate on this basis); or
      • Protected activities, such as past filings of workers’ compensation claims.
    • Don’t imply there is any type of problem or bias related to the applicant (e.g., “Our customers may react negatively to a woman in charge”).
  • Be consistent in how applicants are assessed. For example:
    • If an applicant must prove his or her ability to perform the job (such as via a performance test), this should be required of all applicants, not just a few. Requiring it of some but not others can appear discriminatory.
    • Stick to enforcing minimum education and experience requirements that are truly consistent with job needs, and do not vary this assessment for certain individuals. If the minimums are realistic, it won’t be necessary to make exceptions.
    • Be consistent with the questions you ask to avoid the appearance of biases. It can seem biased if some interviewees are required to pass a higher threshold than others.
  • Be well-prepared.Before interviewing a candidate, you should:
    • Have questions ready, and know what you’re trying to learn from each of the questions you choose to ask. The questions should be related to the job or the person’s ability to perform the job.
    • Know what the next steps in the hiring process are and advise the applicant of such either during or at the conclusion of the interview.
    • Review all of the information available about the applicant, including the details of how previous interviews went (if applicable).
    • Plan to be in a space that is appropriate for the interview, free from distractions, noise, and interruptions.
  • Be aware of subconscious biases. We all have biases that cloud our judgment, but it can help to simply be aware of this in order to take steps to ensure it doesn’t affect the interview process. For example, how an individual dresses or styles his or her hair may create an instant assumption, but it does not necessarily mean that person is not a good job candidate.
  • Allow silences. Sometimes interviewees need time to formulate an answer. By filling in silences too quickly, you may lose the opportunity to hear what the applicant has to say. Always give the applicant time to talk—in fact, he or she should do the majority of the talking—so that you can get a clear understanding about the applicant and how he or she will fit with the organization.
  • Ensure everyone involved in interviewing and hiring knows the next steps, knows who is authorized to make an offer to an applicant, and what processes must be completed before an offer is made (such as conducting background checks, reference checks, and so on). Know what applicable conditions the offer is subject to, such as passing drug screening.
  • Remain objective in your assessments.
  • Remember to assess soft skills as well as specific skills required to perform the job tasks. The issue of cultural fit is often just as (or even more) important as skills that can be trained.
  • Be sure that the interviewing team, especially the person making the offer, knows to avoid making any kind of reference to a contract in terms that could be construed as an implied employment contract. (Unless, of course, you’re offering an actual employment contract, but this is the exception rather than the norm in the United States.) This might mean avoiding phrases like “permanent position” or “long-term role” or anything that implies that the applicant cannot be fired without cause.
  • Give the applicant the opportunity to ask questions.
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