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Preparations to Make to Effectively Interview Job Applicants

Filed under Hiring Workers. Fact checked on May 24, 2012.

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Interviewing job applicants is a critical part of the employee selection process. Planning for the interview requires choosing a location and an interview format. The next step is then understanding how to conduct the interview to obtain and relay information.

Once you've gathered the information you need from job applicants and you've reviewed it, you're ready to start making some appointments to interview the most promising candidates.

Most people believe that they are good judges of character. Just a short chat with a job applicant and they can tell you whether he or she is hardworking, honest, creative, and loyal. Of course, it's usually not that easy.

However, interviews are an important part of the screening process. Assessing applicants' qualifications by talking to them is a highly subjective method of choosing employees. But used in partnership with other screening methods, such as applications, resumes, and background checks, it can be an extremely useful selection tool. After all, one of the most important qualifications a person must have for any job is the right personality to work well with the supervisor and co-workers, and you can't get that information off a resume or application.

Preparing beforehand is the key to a successful interview. Plan for the interview by deciding where to have the interview and choosing an interview format.

The following are steps to take to prepare for an interview:

  • Narrow your selection to a manageable number of applicants that look promising for an interview. The more you pick, the more time it will take. For most jobs, you should try to interview three to six candidates.
  • Decide where you will hold the interviews.
  • Decide which type of interview you want to conduct and prepare for it appropriately by reviewing the applicant's information.
  • Formulate questions to ask the candidate.
  • Be sure to allot plenty of time for the meeting. It can take anywhere from 15 minutes to two hours or more. You don't want to rush.
  • Turn off your phone or do whatever you have to in order to make sure that you are not interrupted during the interview.
  • Study the job that you need to fill. Use your job description (or create one if you haven't yet done that). Compare each applicant's background with what you need. When the applicant arrives, you should have a feel for his or her background so that you don't have to constantly refer to the application or resume.
  • Practice asking questions until it becomes natural. A nervous interviewer means a bad interview.
  • You don't need to memorize questions or answers. Simply have an outline of questions, on which you can take notes.

Follow this step-by-step process, and you should be ready to conduct the interview.

Choosing the Interview Location and Format

An interview can be successfully conducted in a variety of locations, both formal and informal. The format of the interview can vary as well, ranging from very structured to unstructured, or somewhere in the middle.

Choosing Where to Conduct an Interview

If you have an office, it's probably best to conduct the job interview there so that the applicant can see the working environment.

Tip

However, if you work out of your home, you may want to schedule the interview in a neutral location, such as a local coffee shop or restaurant. You don't want disgruntled applicants knowing where you live.

If you do interview in your office, be sure to arrange the furniture in a comfortable, non-intimidating way.

Let's do lunch. You may find it convenient to interview job applicants over lunch or dinner, especially if you're working out of your home and don't want to do the interview in your office. However, although meeting over coffee is fine, we recommend that you don't use a full meal as a job interview. It's very difficult to control the conversation or cut off a meal if it becomes apparent that the applicant is not right for the job, and a meal tends to set a tone that's more social than may be appropriate for an employee. Reserve meal interviews for people who may become customers, suppliers, investors, or partners.

Phone interviews. If you need to screen a lot of applicants, or if the applicant is from out of town, a phone interview can be a reasonable alternative and can save time. The drawback to phone interviews are obvious — you can't see the person's facial expressions or body language. But, on the bright side, it may help keep your decision focused on the applicant's ability to do the job rather than on other factors.

Choosing an Interview Format

Employment interviews may be highly structured, completely unstructured, or somewhere in between. Whatever form the interview takes, it involves the interaction between you and the applicant to determine whether you are suited to one another.

Structured interviews. In the structured interview, you prepare a list of questions ahead of time. You might use a standardized list for every applicant you talk to, a technique used by some businesses in an attempt to develop a format that does not discriminate. Or you might prepare a particular list of questions for each applicant based on the candidate's application or resume.

Some businesses use checklists or forms for recording applicants' answers to predetermined questions and to record impressions.

Tip

A highly structured interview that requires only short responses gives the applicant no room to explain answers or offer additional information. This approach is likely to frustrate both you and the applicant.

Unstructured interviews. Some interviewers prefer an entirely unstructured "tell me all about yourself" style. This type of interview can bring out a wide variety of information about the applicant. Sometimes, however, it degenerates into a rambling conversation and you get no useful information.

Somewhere in between. Somewhere in between the two extremes is the semi-structured interview, a style likely to work for you. You prepare some questions in advance so you're sure that certain subjects are covered. Then, you leave time for questions that arise during the course of the conversation. Candidates have the opportunity to elaborate where appropriate.

It takes time to plan this type of interview, both in deciding which questions to ask each applicant and in developing skills to "ad lib" between the prepared questions.

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