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Interviewing is your business.

Prepare for the best interview you've ever conducted.

Hour for hour, the most valuable work an association manager does is interviewing. In the hiring process, an organization "perpetuates, repairs, rejuvenates, and sometimes revolutionizes itself," writes Arthur H. Bell in The Complete Manager's Guide to Interviewing: How to Hire the Best.

Is it expensive? You bet. Just counting hours of managerial time, it took an average of 43 days to fill an exempt-level position and 29 days to fill a nonexempt position in 1990, according to an annual study by the Saratoga Institute, Saratoga, California, and the Society for Human Resource Management, Alexandria, Virginia. In the same study, the average cost per hire ranged from $6,572 for exempt positions to $1,148 for nonexempt positions. How many candidates do you need to interview for a specific job to hire someone? William S. Swann, in How to Pick the Right People, says, "On average, only 10-20 percent of all candidates interviewed end up working for you."

Hiring costs in other ways, too. While supervisors and managers conduct interviews, other projects sit on hold. Generally unbudgeted, turnover costs include lost productivity, classified advertising and recruitment fees, training, and possibly severance pay, outplacement, and unemployment insurance. And the hidden costs of lost time, low employee morale, and high stress are all evident when the wrong person is in the job. The rule of thumb is that each hiring error costs the organization at least twice the individual's annual salary.

In the struggle for economic survival, we can't afford to make those mistakes.

The basics

Richard H. Beatty, in The Five-Minute Interview, describes the employment interview as "a two-way conversation intended to provide a maximum flow of information in both directions so that both parties have sufficient information on which to base a well-founded employment decision." From the employer's perspective, it is important to gain information about such things as a candidate's background qualifications and experience, motivation, and behavioral style. Candidates, on the other hand, need to know about the organization, job, working environment, promotional opportunities, and compensation.

As a rule, the employer controls the interview, though you should be sensitive to the candidate's need for information. How you prepare to interview for a position depends on your role. The job's supervisor will already be intimate with its requirements, while a human resources director may need to interview the supervisor first. Regardless, there are four steps to preparing for the interview.

Gather information and analyze the job

To conduct an effective interview, be thoroughly knowledgeable about the job's requirements and environment. Review the existing job descriptions, interview the hiring manager, and consider speaking to others with whom the person in this position interacts, both inside and outside your association.

What should the job be? Instead of looking at the job as it currently exists, envision it in the ideal. What changes would you make in the basic position responsibilities? Consider technical, communication, and management skills. Also, don't leave those exit interviews crumbling in the file: Review them to identify difficulties in the job or working environment. That's how I once discovered a staffer had been spending an inordinate amount of time handling a procedure someone else could have done or we could have dropped.

How will the job change? What problems, challenges, or pressures have others faced in the position? Do those obstacles still exist? If they do, can you expect a new person to overcome them? Does the association have ample resources--people, equipment, money--to do the job effectively? If not, what adjustments do you anticipate?

What do you need? If the former employee merely maintained the post, maybe now you need an entrepreneur. Or do you need less personality and more productivity?

Management questions. What are the age and experience levels of any people who will report to the new hire? Does the position operate independently, or is it heavily supervised? What is the management style of this position's supervisor? Does that person delegate responsibility and authority, or prefer to maintain control? Each of these variations requires different skills.

Based on your analysis, develop a list of job skills, desired education, and background qualifications. Swann calls these the can-do factors. Each candidate must pass the can-do test first.

Can do versus will do

Qualities like motivation, leadership, vision, energy, and creativity have different meanings to different interviewers. Before you try to assess these traits in your candidates, Swann advises identifying in job-specific, behavioral terms what each quality means for this job. For a supervisor who will usually work with young, entry-level staff, for example, you need a leader more like a counselor: flexible, patient, and hands-on. For a department of more experienced staff, you'd look for a manager who delegates well.

In interviews, you'll also pursue questions about the candidate's career interests and professional goals. You need to decide if your organization can meet those expectations, because as Swann notes, these job behaviors and personal ambitions are the will-do factors.

I've had firsthand experience selecting someone for a position based on the can-do factors alone. The candidate's resume reflected all the right background and we developed a comfortable chemistry during the interview. A few short weeks later I realized I'd made a terrible mistake. Why? Unfortunately, being technically competent to perform the job as defined doesn't mean a person necessarily will do the job the way you need it done.

As an employer, you need to know if the candidate will come through on the will-do factors to suit the job and organization. An exhibits manager who consistently makes high marks for booth sales and a successful trade show, for example, but endures a 50 percent staff turnover each year, may have the right business skills but sorely lack managerial and interpersonal abilities.

Assess the environment

You've nailed down the required job skills and behaviors. Now you need to know how to tell if a candidate fits into your organization's environment. Issues to consider here include

* the association's basic culture and management style;

* how information is shared;

* what attracts people to work at your association; and

* whether the salary and benefits are competitive.

Most interviewers focus on the can-do factors because they can be tested and measured. We tend to overlook behavioral and environmental factors because they are difficult to define, let alone identify in a stranger. In the final analysis, you are looking for someone who is capable of handling the job, willing to do the job as described, and likely to succeed in your organization.

Develop a recruitment strategy

Place advertising. Before you spend valuable recruitment dollars running a series of tombstone ads, take a hint from advertisers: The most successful marketing campaigns focus on a target audience. Generic messages appeal to no one or deliver quantity but little quality. Think about what your job and association have to offer potential candidates, then talk about those features in recruitment ads.

Every recruitment message should show applicants what's in it for them. If you can offer financial rewards and great benefits, you're looking for people motivated by those prospects. Or maybe your organization's strong suit is its exciting staff and creative potential. Use the right bait or you'll get the wrong fish.

Plan the interview process. Who will conduct the interviews? How many candidates would you like to interview for the position? What type of interview will you conduct--one-on-one, group, or sequential? Fortunately no longer in vogue, the stress test interview was a regular practice of James C. Penney. As the story goes, Penney first met candidates at breakfast and always served them eggs. If a person salted or peppered the eggs before tasting them, Penney judged that the candidate was prone to making decisions without sufficient information--a definite no-hire.

What measures will you use to test and/or evaluate candidates? It is extremely important to develop a formal method for comparing and assessing candidate strengths and weaknesses. (Examples follow later.)

How many interviews with each candidate are necessary? The research here indicates it's much better for two interviewers to see a candidate for 40-45 minutes each than for one interviewer to spend 90 minutes with the candidate. Behavioral studies show that candidates who survive multiple hurdles in a selection process are more predisposed to like and identify with the organization right away than those who are offered a job preceded by fewer interview stages and less inconvenience.

Set a decision time line. Consider your schedule and that of others involved in the process, and target a finish date. The experts I've read say to allow 30 minutes to an hour or more for each interview, depending on the level of the job. You'll want to interview all candidates applying for a particular job within a reasonably short time frame so that you can make the hiring decision while your evaluations and perceptions of each candidate are still fresh. After more than two weeks, my impressions of the first interviews are too dim to be fair.

Develop the interview questions

Plan your questions ahead of the interview. Develop one set that relates to the specific job, required job behaviors, and working environment, and another customized set based on each candidate's qualifications. Ask the more general questions of all candidates as a basis for final assessment. Legally, your interview questions must relate to the job requirements.

Design questions to gain specific knowledge that will help you make the right hiring decision. With prospective supervisors, for instance, I ask each to tell me about experiences with employees at the last job--some positive and some not so positive. How did he or she handle problems? I ask the same about the position before that, looking for patterns of behavior. Would the candidate do anything different today, based on those experiences? Make sure questions are focused, not all over the map.

Gear your questions to the applicant's level of experience. One periodical on supervisory management recommends these for applicants just out of college: "What have you learned from your summer jobs? What have you done that shows your ability to get along with others, meet the unexpected, or be persuasive? What would you expect to do on your first day of work?"

For more experienced applicants, you might use these: "What evidence can you provide of your success in managing a staff and budget? Of establishing a new program or department? What obstacles have you had to overcome in your current job? How did you go about it?"

I've used a variety of questioning techniques you may adapt.

* Open-ended questions. Like a journalist gathering information for a news story, ask questions that require more than a yes or no answer. Those begin with who, what, when, where, why, and how, in addition to please describe, tell me about, and please explain.

* Comparisons. Ask candidates to compare or contrast issues or events. "How would you compare your current position as a legislative affairs analyst with your previous job as an administrative assistant in the state legislature?" "Contrast your own management style with that of your current boss."

* Hypothetical questions. I find it effective in interviews to ask candidates to solve problems or describe how to handle a situation. For example: "Let's say you were the supervisor of a department in which two of your employees cannot get along with each other. Assume this conflict has been going on for quite some time and has been noticed by others, including your boss. What would you do?"

* Ask for examples. When you ask for general statements of a candidate's accomplishments, also ask for examples. A common interview question is, "What are your greatest strengths?" After the candidate has responded, follow up with, "What are specific examples that demonstrate each of your strengths?"

* Use the resume. The resume is a great source of interview questions for your customized set of queries. Often resumes begin with a preamble that describes the job seeker as a "creative problem solver" or "solid executive," and so forth. You might say to this candidate, "You describe yourself in your resume as a creative problem solver. Can you give me examples of some of the problems you've solved creatively?" Or, "What makes you--in your words--a solid executive?"

* Other resources. Hundreds of suggested interview questions are listed in almost as many publications. In The Five-Minute Interview, Richard H. Beatty devotes some 25 pages to common interview questions. College and university placement centers provide lists of often-asked interview questions. Robert Half, one of the most widely recognized employment consultants and authors, has written numerous books and articles on the subject.

Whatever the source, an interviewer's ingenuity can amaze. I've heard suggested questions from the predictable queries about career interests and developmental needs to the ineffective, "Quick, how much change is in your pocket?" to the ridiculous, "Do something that will infuriate me," a reputed favorite of Admiral George Hyman Rickover.

Conducting the interview

I begin most interviews with a little small talk to welcome the candidate and put him or her at ease. I describe what the interview will cover: Over about an hour, I'll ask some questions, give the candidate a chance to ask questions, and cover details about salary and benefits. Most candidates visibly relax when they learn up front what to expect.

In the next stage, the interviewer poses questions, actively listens, and probes the candidate for facts. Unobtrusive note-taking during the interview is essential.

As you'll see in "Getting the Job," a well-prepared candidate, given enough advance notice, will already have asked for and reviewed a job description and organizational chart. If not, offer them during the interview. As you conclude, you might ask the candidate to summarize his or her qualifications and understanding of the job.

Certainly, solicit questions from the applicant, express appreciation, and inform the candidate of the next steps in the process, such as a test or follow-up interview, and when you expect to make a final decision. It is unfortunate that many candidates leave an interview without a clue as to what will follow. It also reflects poorly on you and your association when you neglect to notify those who were not chosen for a position.

Document and evaluate

Keep records of your interviews. Legal guidelines require employers to base hiring, performance appraisal, discipline, and termination decisions on objective, recordable data, not subjective opinion. If necessary, these records can demonstrate that you evaluated each candidate by the same standards.

These records also help interviewers make better decisions among competing applicants. Too often the final selection of a candidate is based on intuitive feel instead of a careful review of qualifications. Hires based on intuition alone have a notoriously poor success rate.

Record-keeping and interview evaluations can take many forms. When you define the can-do, will-do, and fit factors, create a brief score sheet. List each set of factors in a column, leaving space beside each factor for your notes. From the same list of essential job factors you can develop interview questions that will be asked of each candidate, leaving space to record answers.

If, for example, the position requires someone to create a department, you might ask, "How do you motivate people to produce quality work?" With an organized record of each applicant's response, you can compare candidates' management styles with your association's philosophy and culture.

Another form of evaluation is to place a numerical value or weight on each of the job factors. The point totals in each category produce a final score.

A final method of evaluation is testing. From entry-level to senior management, a variety of tests can help determine the strength and validity of each candidate's credentials.

Equal Employment Opportunity Commission testing guidelines suggest that each test element be relevant to job performance and appropriate for the level of the job's difficulty. You might ask applicants for finance director to review and analyze your financial statements with an eye toward efficiency and cost-saving measures. Tests should require problem-solving abilities and critical thinking rather than memorization.

Whatever the format, the time you spend preparing for the interview and considering every candidate will be repaid many times over by better hires.

When You're Short on Time

ASAE is one of the most active executive recruiters in the industry, completing more than two dozen search assignments annually. In addition, ASAE provides consulting or short-term services for interviewing, hiring, outplacement, salary administration, and other human resource management issues. For more information about any of these services, contact Bob MacDicken, CAE, vice president of Human Resources and Executive Employment, (202) 626-2790; TDD/TT (202) 626-2803.

Pamela A. Kaul is director and founder of Personnel Advisory Group, Alexandria, Virginia.
COPYRIGHT 1992 American Society of Association Executives
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1992, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Author:Kaul, Pamela A.
Publication:Association Management
Date:Nov 1, 1992
Previous Article:Technology for technology's sake.
Next Article:Getting the job.

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