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Interviewing: Do's & Don'ts
by E. C. Pressler

One of the most daunting tasks managers perform is in the selection of employees.

Always a difficult task, the job of hiring people has been made even more so in recent years by the myriad local, state and federal laws which have added an element of real risk to the process when employment interviews are handled improperly.

First of all, it is difficult to know which of several prospective candidates might perform best in any given job. Anyone in a hiring capacity is aware that people who interview well do not always perform well once they are in the job.

Supervisors are also usually not well enough informed about the laws they may violate, often unintentionally. When interviewing prospective candidates, their focus is usually on their department's immediate internal needs. Supervisors expect themselves to be held primarily accountable for the operations of their department, and employment law is an area where they have no great expertise. Because of this, inadequate attention is sometimes given to this very important area.

The results of this lack of knowledge can be disastrous-for the manager and for his or her company. Legions of attorneys make very nice livings from failures in the interviewing process.

We begin by setting realistic and defensible job requirements. Unless the position you are trying to fill actually requires a college degree, for example, don't ask for it.

Set reasonable objectives for interviewing candidates. These should include an effort to determine whether the candidate has the requisite skills, the interest and motivation to do the job and the ability to learn the duties of the job and accept direction.

Find a quiet place to conduct the interview and give it your full attention. Avoid asking questions or making comments not related to the job. Don't paint any rosy pictures that misrepresent the job or make commitments for the future.

During the interview process, remember Sgt. Friday's line from "Dragnet"-"Just the facts, ma'am". Outline the duties involved in the position-and be specific. Keep the discussion focussed on the job, working conditions, benefits and the company. Discuss how much of the job involves typing, filing, answering the phone, etc., and how the job relates to others in the department or company.

Describe any problems or pressures associated with the job, i.e., overtime required, priorities, deadlines, etc. Talk about what additional training might be required and any other facts which are relevant to the job and to the applicant's future performance.

Here are some "Don't ask" questions which you should keep in mind during an interview:
  • How old are you?
  • Where were you born?
  • Is your name Jewish, Irish…etc?
  • Are you married?
  • Do you plan to have children?
  • Do you have a sitter?
  • What does your husband/wife/mother/father do for a living?
  • What was your maiden name?
  • Do you live alone?
  • Where do you go to church?
  • Do you have a car?
  • What kind of discharge do you have from the military?
  • What made you apply for this position?
  • How did you hear about this job opening?
  • In a brief statement, would you summarize your work history and education for me?
  • Why are you leaving your present (or last) job?
  • What kinds of co-workers do you like best? Why?
  • How does this job fit in with your overall career plan?
  • Can you describe for me one or two of the most important accomplishments (or biggest disappointments) in your career?
  • What might make you leave this job?
  • How do your strong points relate to this job?
  • How many days did you miss during the last year? What were the reasons?
  • How would you describe your relationship with your last (present) supervisor?
Following the interview, consider all of the candidates you have interviewed and base your assessment of them on clearly objective criteria, not on your subjective "seat of the pants" feelings about the individuals you have seen. Select a candidate with the best experience "fit", not one who is over or under qualified.

Before making your final decision on the successful candidate, think again about whether you have made your decision on a sound, logical basis and whether you could defend your choice on strictly objective criteria.

As a final step, it is a good idea to note the reasons for declining each of the unsuccessful candidates, including any disqualifying statements the applicant may make such as, "I don't like that much typing (or whatever)". Keep a copy of that documentation, which could be important later on in the event that a human relations complaint is lodged against you by one of the unsuccessful candidates. This is important when interviewing applicants from outside your company as well as someone from another area who already works for your company and is trying to move up.

Poor hiring decisions can have serious and unexpected consequences; practice defensible interviewing techniques and make sure you don't put yourself or your company at risk.

Copyright © 1991 Bankers' Hotline. Originally appeared in Bankers' Hotline, Vol. 2, No. 9, 11/91

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