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The why and how of the group interview.

The why and how of the group interview

The ultimate test of job-applicant screening techniques is the quality of employee they help bring into the organization. The microbiology division of our 714-bed hospital's clinical laboratories has for several years used a group interview system when filling most positions, and the final choices have generally worked out better than selections based on a single interview.

There's a certain amount of confusion about group interviews. Some people think it means that several persons individually interview the prospective employee at different times. Others think it means that different small groups within the institution interview the prospective employee at different times, or that one group or another conducts job interviews, depending on the day they are scheduled.

A simple definition would be: the process of using a committee to interview all acceptable applicants for a particular position, each committee member asking applicants the same set of questions and serving on the committee until the position is filled.

The committee consists of as many as five individuals. If the open position is supervisory, one member would work for the person to be selected. This member is usually someone who volunteers for the committee. Participation gives him or her a feeling of pride as well as a feeling that the process is fair.

Another committee member is at the level of the open position, while one or more members, including the person who would supervise the new employee, are at a level above the open position. Frequently, two representatives from laboratory administration also sit on the committee.

All must agree to be present when any candidate is interviewed for the open position. Once the group is established, no new members can join until the particular job is filled.

Questions for the interview are prepared in advance, and each member of the group usually takes a particular topic or emphasis. We not only ask technical questions but also explore interpersonal skills, often by asking the candidate to solve a theoretical problem. The questions are asked in the same order in all of the interviews.

Immediately after every interview, the committee reviews the answers, and a general consensus is reached on the candidate's performance. When the interviews are completed, we compare the ratings and make a final choice.

After trying a number of different approaches, we have found that the benefits of group interviews are well worth the time invested in them. Preparatory steps include analysis of the laboratory's needs and revision of the job description if required. Then, when the committee is formed, its questions are reviewed to make sure they cover all aspects of the job description. Through this advance work, members of the group are brought into agreement on what would be best for the laboratory.

It is also extremely valuable for several individuals to hear a candidate's answers. Each may perceive the answer from a different point of view; when the committee discusses these various perceptions, someone may recognize a benefit or problem area that someone else completely missed or interpreted another way.

Those on the committee who are more management-oriented can better assess the candidate's interpersonal skills and ability to work within a group. It is essential to assess such skills before hiring. Many interviews, including ours, have a 50-50 split between technical and interpersonal skill questions.

In short, the assessment of a candidate's capabilities, experience, adaptability, and other qualities is more often correct when derived from a group than from a single interviewer. Furthermore, asking preset questions insures that the interview process is complete, consistent, and fair to all concerned.

Those, briefly, are the benefits. Now let's see how the process works. As we have indicated, one of the first things management must do about an open position is to completely review 1) the job function, 2) the needs of the laboratory, and 3) the need for any changes in the job description before posting and advertising for applicants.

The level of the position should also be assessed. For example, is a licensed individual needed? Are supervisory skills required? Do we want an individual with extensive experience, or are we willing to train someone?

Once these questions are answered and the job description is updated (if necessary), the decision can be made whether or not to conduct group interviews. It is essential, in our view, to have group interviews for the majority of open positions.

The immediate supervisor for the open position screens applications for required training and experience. Individuals who meet this test are notified about the date, location, time, and duration (at least one hour) of their interview. They are given directions to get to the site and a telephone number to call in case of delay. They are also told about any parking fees they may have to pay.

Other information given to candidates: the fact that it will be a group interview and who will be in the group (management, immediate supervisor, a peer, etc.); approximately how many candidates will be interviewed; the possibility that a second interview will be held if two candidates are very closely ranked; approximately when a final decision will be made and how candidates will be notified; and how the salary level is set. On that last point, we cite a salary range and tell candidates that the actual level, to be worked out with the personnel department, will be based on years of experience and applicability of the experience to the job.

We also make sure candidates know that committee note-taking during the interview does not reflect on their performance in answering questions.

We have already discussed the composition of the interview committee. To keep the committee intact until a position is filled, all the interviews should be scheduled close together. This also enables committee members to evaluate applicants while the responses from previously interviewed candidates are still fresh in the members' memory--an important factor even if notes are taken.

Someone in laboratory management usually chairs the committee, but the function can be delegated to any member of the group. At a preliminary meeting, each member chooses a general area for questions. The following day, group members bring in their specific questions to assess whether all of the topics bearing on the particular job description have been adequately covered.

Members of the committee should be aware of the following:

They will receive instruction or review concerning appropriate nondiscriminatory questions that may be asked, either directly or as follow-up to another question.

Each committee member must take notes during the interview or draft notes immediately afterward. A word of caution--don't get so caught up in taking notes that you stop paying attention to a candidate. It is impolite to have someone talk to the tops of heads.

These notes should include a copy of the questions asked by the member. The chairperson should keep copies of all questions asked and copies of members' notes. The chairperson also records the committee's ranking of applicants and the final hire action taken.

There can be requests for clarification of particular questions and answers, but it is the chairperson's responsibility to keep the interview moving.

At the end of the interview, the applicant will have an opportunity to put questions to members.

Probably the most important aspect of any interview is the commitment of time and place accorded the candidate. The interview should be absolutely uninterrupted --no phone calls, messages, or employees seeking help with problems. It should be scheduled at a time when committee members do not feel rushed. Your courtesy and undivided attention will help give the candidate a positive impression of your institution and demonstrate the importance attached to filling the position with the most qualified individual.

Met upon arrival by a committee member, the candidate is escorted to the interview site--a quiet room, preferably without a telephone. There the chairperson introduces everyone. The candidate is seated comfortably in relation to the committee, and they chat for a few moments to establish a more relaxed atmosphere. The process can also be reexplained: Committee members will ask preset questions, they may take notes, and the interview will last one to two hours.

We recommend open-ended questions representing situations or problems that the candidate can expand upon. For a supervisory position, committee members may ask:

"How would you deal with an employee who is beginning to come in late each morning?'

"Say you had to cover at the bench for an ill employee. What would you do if you discovered that the employee had not been following protocol?'

"What steps would you take if two employees have a personality conflict that is starting to affect others in the work group?'

And on the technical side:

"You are reviewing laboratory reports that have gone out, and you discover a serious transcription error. What would you do?'

"A susceptibility result does not match the organism that was identified. How would you proceed?'

"If you were asked to set up a new protocol for a test already performed in the laboratory, what would you have to consider prior to making the change?'

We are also interested in such topics as the candidate's continuing education record, meetings and seminars attended, journals and books read, ideas on what the future holds for the clinical laboratory, the clinical relevance of particular diagnostic tests, troubleshooting methodology, working with one's peers, and being supervised by others. Sometimes our last question is, "What did you do to get ready for this interview?'

After his or her set of questions have been answered, each committee member should thank the candidate.

Then the candidate gets a chance to ask questions about the interview, the job, the institution, benefits, salary, and so on. We again emphasize that we may request a second interview if the top candidates are very closely ranked. This doesn't often happen, however. With questions that are carefully thought out before the interview, candidates usually can be separated in terms of their suitability for the position.

At the conclusion, we thank the candidate, make sure a telephone number is available if there are other questions, and provide a tour of the facility. The chairperson shows the candidate around while the rest of the committee discusses the interview and ranks the individual in different categories. The rankings can be by numbers, letters, or general consensus, but they must be consistent for all who are interviewed. When the chairperson returns and comments on the interview, the rankings are finalized.

A decision may be made immediately after the last interview, provided there is time to contact references. Candidates can be notified by telephone, letter, or both. If only one method is used, a letter is preferred. It should confirm the starting date and salary level.

A correct handling of the interview process will lead to the right hiring decisions and avert any number of future problems with employees. An open position is one of the most valuable resources we have. When we treat it with respect, everyone in the laboratory benefits.
COPYRIGHT 1988 Nelson Publishing
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Author:Garcia, Lynne S.
Publication:Medical Laboratory Observer
Date:Jan 1, 1988
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