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How to maximize the selection interview.

If you dread interviewing prospective employees, you have plenty of company. Most supervisors would agree that it's a time-consuming and unsettling process, and most wish they had some guarantee of selecting the one person perfect for the job.

But conducting a job interview can be much more than a chore. Handled correctly, it becomes a good occasion to fine-tune the job in question and even to restructure workload coverage.

The hiring process has helped us upgrade job descriptions and develop more specific performance standards and skill requirements in the laboratory of our 700-bed medical center. For positions higher than bench technologist, we also use a multiple-interviewer system that has produced consistently successful choices. Although ours happens to be a large laboratory, the approach is equally workable for small labs.

Hiring a new or replacement employee offers many opportunities, including the chance to review job descriptions and skill levels, examine staffing needs, review priorities for rehires, and polish interviewing and selection techniques. How can we accomplish and this while fulfilling our primary goal--hiring the best candidate for the job?

Of course, each laboratory has its own set of personnel rules and obligations, its paperwork structure and affirmative action targets. But every lab can use certain specific areas in the selection process to advantage. One key recruitment tool is the position description, a document whose importance becomes paramount when you are trying to fit the right person to the job.

The clearer and more detailed the job description, the more likely it is that interested and qualified people will apply. When an applicant knows the laboratory's expectations at the outset, both benefit. The document should indicate specific tasks with their estimated completion times. It should also state just what skills and knowledge are needed and whether they are required at hiring or can be learned on the job. Figure I shows excerpts from a sample job description, including tasks and required skills.

The following system has yielded excellent results for our laboratory:

After receiving a prescreened application from the hospital's personnel office, we send the applicant a copy of the complete job description (or hand it out if the individual stops by the lab). Then an interview period of at least one hour is scheduled for a few days later. This gives the applicant a chance to contemplate the requirements of the job and brush up on technical areas where review might be needed.

We state how long the interview will probably take, how many persons will conduct it, what types of questions will be asked, and approximately when the job will be filled. the applicant is also told that there will be an opportunity to ask us questions and take a tour of the laboratory.

The interview itself reflects our changing priorities in response to today's managerial challenges. In additiont o technical expertise, we now look very closely at interpersonal skills and the ability to work closely within a flexible and cooperative work group. Flexibility has become a key word lately. Laboratories can no longer afford to pigeonhole people in one limited function, and most have begun to seek more versatile personnel to enhance efficiency. New employees must be able to handle a workload that changes from day to day or week to week.

Our interview process insures the assessment of people skills as well as technical ones. It's an especially important area to investigate, we have found, because management skills are far more difficult to teach than technical ones. Since many laboratory professionals still lack formal management training, you must take the time to get a feel for their innate ability.

Before actually meeting with applicants, it is helpful to review some of the basic rules of interviewing. First, prepare your questions in advance, and ask all applicants the same ones. Obviously, questions should adhere to the affirmative action and antidiscriminatory guidelines set by your personnel department. For a good roundup of legal cautions, see the December 1984 MLO Viewpoint column, "Keeping the Lab Out of Court."

If several people are conducting the interview, one may prepare the technical portion and others may develop questions to gauge interpersonal skills. All interviewers should be present for every interview. Write up a summary of each meeting. After seeing four or five applicants, you will find that memory alone is not sufficient to keep track of the answers. If you plan to take notes during the session, inform the applicant beforehand.

Using the job description as a source, include some technical questions that will tip you off as to whether interviewees bothered to review the material. Inability to answer some of the more straightforward questions may indicate a lack of motivation on their part. After all, you gave fair warning of areas in which they might be rusty.

Structure questions that will elicit a response other than yes or no, especially in evaluating interpersonal skills. Laboratorians face many situations that require independent judgment and many others requiring a supervisor's review. Include queries on both types so that you can judge the applicant's ability to recognize when consultation is necessary. You can present these questions as hypothetical situations, such as those shown in Figure II. Allow plenty of time to discuss responses.

After the interview, give applicants another opportunity to ask any questions before you show them out of the building. (Make sure they don't get lost on the way out!) It is also wise to share impressions with your co-interviewers immediately and to weigh that applicant's performance against others.

Base the assessment on previously established priorities. It's only fair to judge all applicants by the same yardstick, so try not to change objectives during the hiring process. You are also likely to find that your first set of priorities is best. In other words, even if an applicant proves very strong in an area that is less important for the lab, keep looking until you fulfill most of your original expectations.

Out of the pack of applicants, two or three may emerge very close together in qualifications and interview performance. No law says you can't bring them back for a second interview with a different set of questions--again, the same questions for all. The cost of employee turnover is far greater than the amount of time invested in a well-conducted hiring process. The second set of questions, like the first, can be structured to cover both technical and interpersonal situations. Figure III sums up these steps.

When the second round is over, one clear winner usually stands out. We have been pleasantly surprised at how well a system of two or more interviewers works and how often all interviewers elect the same candidate. When interviewing to fill a managerial position, we may ask returning candidates to prepare a brief oral presentation on a few essay questions. Supervisors may interview and hire technologists at their own discretion but are required to submit a consistent set of interview questions for approval.

There is an extremely important epilogue to the selection process: the winner's orientation. Often, we expend hours of work and worry on interviewing and hiring and then leave the new employee to flounder when he or she finally starts on the job. Every new staff member needs time and personal interaction with a supervisor to feel like a real part of the team--and that's one of your priorities in developing flexible personnel. Once you have proved your concern in the interview process, make sure you maintain it as the employee becomes integrated into the work group.

Recruiting new talent can be one of the most exciting aspects of supervision. It is a chance to help shape the lab into a more effective and dynamic operation, but you must plan carefully to make the most of that chance.
COPYRIGHT 1985 Nelson Publishing
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Copyright 1985 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Garcia, Lynne S.
Publication:Medical Laboratory Observer
Date:May 1, 1985
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