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Becoming a better interviewer.

Becoming a Better Interviewer

Have you ever hired someone you thought would be great for your company, only to find out that you had made a terrible mistake? According to the U.S. Department of Labor, each wrong hire could be costing your company 33 percent above the mis-hire's annual salary in lost productivity and replacement expenses. So the question remains, what can you do to avoid this costly error?

Maybe you never realized that you could improve your interviewing skills. It could be that your approach to interviewing and hiring is not focused correctly. The trouble may also lie with the questions you ask, the way you ask them, or the order in which they are asked.

Whatever the problem, there are ways to guard against such costly mistakes. By testing a candidate, it is easy to discover what he or she can do. But during an interview, it is often hard to determine the all-important intangibles - whether or not a candidate will do what is asked, and if he or she will fit into your company.

Communispond, a national consulting firm for business communications, is one of many companies that teaches a seminar on interviewing skills. This "Interviewing Skills Program" offers a methodology to help managers and recruiters identify the best qualified candidates for specific needs and environments through pre-selected, probing questions. The program also offers guidance on how to be a good-will ambassador for your company, even when you have to reject a candidate.

Video Arts Training Programs of Niles, Illinois, features members of the cast of Monty Python's Flying Circus with its selection techniques tape entitled When Can You Start? This film, which adds levity to the interviewing learning process, follows a methodology based on four steps:

1 Define the job. Should you fill the vacancy at all? Create a new job? Reallocate the workload?

2 Profile the person. List the skills, qualifications, and personality type you are looking for - both to fit the job and the team.

3 Communicate the requirements. Whether advertising internally, externally, or through an agency, be precise. Do not measure success by the volume of responses - a good ad should "weed out" as many applicants as possible.

4 Choose methodically. Design an application form around what you want to know. Measure your applicants against the job, not each other.

Organize the interview

Structure the interview for yourself and for the people you are interviewing. Explain at the outset the various topics that will be covered during the interview. This will alleviate some of the candidate's anxiety. If you tell the applicants what will be discussed, in what order, give an approximate timeframe, and the names of other people who will be interviewing them, they will feel less nervous and anxious.

After the initial introductions and overview, begin to ask your questions. Questions should not be multiple, nor should they allow the candidate to only answer "yes" or "no." Asking one question at a time forces the interviewee to answer all questions. If you ask two questions at once, the candidate will focus on the question with which he or she feels most comfortable, ignoring the other.

When a close-ended question is asked, a short answer may be the candidate's only reply. Questions that probe for the information you need are always the most telling and informative.

During an interview, one of the most important things to do is listen. Concentrate on what the candidate is saying, instead of the questions you are going to ask. The candidate's answers should spur on new questions, so that you will not have to rely solely on the ones you have chosen prior to the interview.

Start the discussion concentrating on educational background, move on to work history, and follow with outside work-related activities. Then ask about, strengths and weaknesses, cover what will be expected in the job, answer any questions the candidate may have, explain the decision-making process, and finally close the interview.

When covering all facets of the interviewee's educational and work backgrounds, Communispond suggests starting with the earliest experiences and working up to the most recent. When you look at a resume, everything is backwards. If you ask questions in chronological order, you can locate gaps, see patterns in how the career has developed, and ensure that you will not miss anything.

Start at the point with which you are interested. If the candidate has recently graduated from college, concentrate on aspects and accomplishments of high school, then move on to college. If the candidate has been out of school for many years, the focus will be on past work history. Use your judgment, but leave no gaps. If there is something missing on the resume, ask about it. "What were you doing between [year] and [year], it's not on your resume?"

Never start out an interview by giving an overview of the job. If candidates know what is expected of them, they will structure their answers accordingly. Wait until the end of the interview to explain what the job will entail. Also, ask that all questions be saved for that time. You are there to ask questions of the candidate and gain information about them. The candidate should be doing most of the talking throughout the interview.

Can-do/will-do criteria

There is a grave difference between what a person can do and what they will do on a job.

It is easy to test someone for "can-do" skills. Can they type? - give a typing test; can they write? - have them write a short paragraph about themselves. Accounting, bookkeeping, public speaking, word processing - whatever the can-do skill, there is some kind of test for it. It is the "will-do" performance, the intangible side of the job, that is harder to detect.

When hiring a leasing agent, you want to make sure the person is enthusiastic, friendly, innovative, organized, responsible, self-confident, resourceful, thorough, and so forth. Unless you ask the right questions, it will be hard to uncover these will-do qualities during the span of an interview.

Focus on the will-do

What questions will help you obtain the needed information? Communispond suggests focusing on what they term "will-do" and "fit" criteria. Their 12 examples of will-do criteria include initiative, flexibility, judgment, career orientation, organizational skills, leadership, communications ability, responsibility, interpersonal skills, detail orientation, innovativeness, and being a team player. Four to five sample questions are supplied with each criterion. This helps the interviewer extract the information required in a direct method.

Decide on which will-do criteria you are interested in by brainstorming for ideas with your colleagues. Once you have a list begin to prioritize the criteria. Pick the top five, and then rate them in order of importance. If there is more than one person interviewing the candidates, parcel the ideas out among the interviewers. That way all criteria will be covered adequately.

When searching for an on-site manager, it is important to find out how responsible the applicant is. Communispond has four responsibility sample questions for this criterion. They include:

* What were your responsibilities in your previous job?

* What was your attendance record like?

* Describe a time when you were criticized for the way you handled a job.

* What do you consider to be your chief professional virtue?

Once a question is asked, the interviewer must probe until the needed information is provided. If short answers are given, ask the candidate to elaborate and give examples. Whether the outcome is positive or negative, you must keep delving for information until you feel satisfied with the answers.

To find out how candidates will deal with challenges that may crop up in your company, you must reveal how they handled such situations on their previous jobs. Ask for examples. If the candidate professes to be a great team player, ask for an example of when he or she worked in a group; find out what role this person played in the group and how successful the outcome was.

Questions of legality

During an interview, you must avoid asking questions that could lead you to disqualify a candidate based on discriminatory factors. According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, you cannot not hire someone based on race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, or handicap. You should ask only questions that are directly related to job performance.

The way a question is phrased could dictate whether or not it is legal. If the position you are trying to fill requires a great deal of overtime and you are worried about candidates with children not being able to fill your requirements, you must explain what is expected on the job. You cannot ask about child care arrangements or if the person even has children. You must state what is required, and ask if the candidate can comply. "We often have to work late on projects, would this be a problem for you?"

Note taking

Before you start an interview, write down the questions you want to cover. Be prepared. Take notes during the interview. You do not want to come away with superficial impressions of the candidates. Have something in writing so that you can compare qualifications of candidates. A written record will also help in your defense if you are ever taken to court for a discrimination suit.

After the interview, go over what information you were trying to obtain. See if the candidate fulfilled your expectations. Write down significant achievements and results. Would this person fit in with your working environment? Would he or she get along with co-workers?

To hire or not to hire

If you decide not to hire a candidate and you are the one that has to convey the bad news, Communispond suggests that you base your explanation of the decision on the job requirements. Do not compare the applicant to others. Do not discuss EEO quotas that you may be trying to fill. Reverse discrimination is also something to consider.

Other helpful products

There are many other books, tapes, videos, and seminars on the market that can give you insight into being a better interviewer and selecting the right candidate.

Whatever the method you choose, be consistent. It is important to base your decision on standards that have been determined by you and your company. If you keep to a consistent methodology that has worked in the past you should feel much more comfortable about future interviews and selections.

Bridget Gorman is the assistant editor of the Journal of Property Management. With a degree in English from Loyola University of Chicago, she has edited and authored articles for real estate publications.

PHOTO : Learning to be a better interviewer will help you feel more confident about your selections, as well as allow you to project a professional image of yourself and your company.

PHOTO : After taking the "Interviewing Skills" program with Communispond, Susan Glenn, CPM, uses her newly acquired knowledge during an employment interview.
COPYRIGHT 1989 National Association of Realtors
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Copyright 1989 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:includes related article on an interviewing case study
Author:Gorman, Bridget
Publication:Journal of Property Management
Date:Jan 1, 1989
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