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5.3: Interviewing

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  • Learning Objectives

    1. Explain the various types of interviews and interview questions.
    2. Discuss interview methods and potential mistakes in interviewing candidates.
    3. Explain the interview process.

    Interviewing people costs money. As a result, after candidates are selected, good use of time is critical to making sure the interview process allows for selection of the right candidate. In an unstructured interview, questions are changed to match the specific applicant; for example, questions about the candidate’s background in relation to their résumé might be used. In a structured interview, there is a set of standardized questions based on the job analysis, not on individual candidates’ résumés. While a structured interview might seem the best option to find out about a particular candidate, the bigger concern is that the interview revolves around the specific job for which the candidate is interviewing. In a structured interview, the expected or desired answers are determined ahead of time, which allows the interviewer to rate responses as the candidate provides answers. This allows for a fair interview process, according to the US Office of Personnel Management1. For purposes of this section, we will assume that all interviews you perform will be structured, unless otherwise noted.

    Types of Interviews

    Interview processes can be time-consuming, so it makes sense to choose the right type of interview(s) for the individual job. Some jobs, for example, may necessitate only one interview, while another may necessitate a telephone interview and at least one or two traditional interviews. Keep in mind, though, that there will likely be other methods with which to evaluate a candidate’s potential, such as testing. Testing is discussed in Section 5.4.1 “Testing”. Here are different types of interviews:

    1. Traditional interview. This type of interview normally takes place in the office. It consists of the interviewer and the candidate, and a series of questions are asked and answered.
    2. Telephone interview. A telephone interview is often used to narrow the list of people receiving a traditional interview. It can be used to determine salary requirements or other data that might automatically rule out giving someone a traditional interview. For example, if you receive two hundred résumés and narrow these down to twenty-five, it is still unrealistic to interview twenty-five people in person. At this point, you may decide to conduct phone interviews of those twenty-five, which could narrow the in-person interviews to a more manageable ten or so people.
    3. Panel interview. A panel interview occurs when several people are interviewing one candidate at the same time. While this type of interview can be nerve racking for the candidate, it can also be a more effective use of time. Consider some companies who require three to four people to interview candidates for a job. It would be unrealistic to ask the candidate to come in for three or four interviews, so it makes sense for them to be interviewed by everyone at once.
    4. Information interview. Informational interviews are usually used when there is no specific job opening, but the candidate is exploring possibilities in a given career field. The advantage to conducting these types of interviews is the ability to find great people ahead of a job opening.
    5. Meal interviews. Many organizations offer to take the candidate to lunch or dinner for the interview. This can allow for a more casual meeting where, as the interviewer, you might be able to gather more information about the person, such as their manners and treatment of waitstaff. This type of interview might be considered an unstructured interview, since it would tend to be more of a conversation as opposed to a session consisting of specific questions and answers.
    6. Group interview. In a group interview, two or more candidates interview at the same time. This type of interview can be an excellent source of information if you need to know how they may relate to other people in their job.
    7. Video interviews. Video interviews are the same as traditional interviews, except that video technology is used. This can be cost saving if one or more of your candidates are from out of town. Skype, for example, allows free video calls. An interview may not feel the same as a traditional interview, but the same information can be gathered about the candidate.
    8. Nondirective interview (sometimes called an unstructured interview). In a nondirective interview, the candidate essentially leads the discussion. Some very general questions that are planned ahead of time may be asked, but the candidate spends more time talking than the interviewer. The questions may be more open ended; for example, instead of asking, “Do you like working with customers?” you may ask, “What did you like best about your last job?” The advantage of this type of interview is that it can give candidates a good chance to show their abilities; however, the downside is that it may be hard to compare potential candidates, since questions are not set in advance. It relies on more of a “gut feeling” approach.

    It is likely you may use one or more of these types of interviews. For example, you may conduct phone interviews, then do a meal interview, and follow up with a traditional interview, depending on the type of job.

    Interview Questions

    Most interviews consist of many types of questions, but they usually lean toward situational interviews or behavior description interviews. A situational interview is one in which the candidate is given a sample situation and is asked how he or she might deal with the situation. In a behavior description interview, the candidate is asked questions about what he or she actually did in a variety of given situations. The assumption in this type of interview is that someone’s past experience or actions are an indicator of future behavior. These types of questions, as opposed to the old “tell me about yourself” questions, tend to assist the interviewer in knowing how a person would handle or has handled situations. These interview styles also use a structured method and provide a better basis for decision making. Examples of situational interview questions might include the following:

    1. If you saw someone stealing from the company, what would you do?
    2. One of your employees is performing poorly, but you know he has some personal home issues he is dealing with. How would you handle complaints from his colleagues about lack of performance?
    3. A coworker has told you she called in sick three days last week because she actually decided to take a vacation. What would you do?
    4. You are rolling out a new sales plan on Tuesday, which is really important to ensure success in your organization. When you present it, the team is lukewarm on the plan. What would you do?
    5. You disagree with your supervisor on her handling of a situation. What would you do?

    Examples of behavior description interview questions might include the following:

    1. Tell me about a time you had to make a hard decision. How did you handle this process?
    2. Give an example of how you handled an angry customer.
    3. Do you show leadership in your current or past job? What would be an example of a situation in which you did this?
    4. What accomplishments have given you the most pride and why?
    5. What plans have you made to achieve your career goals?

    Top 36 Interview Questions and Answers

    (click to see video)

    Examples of how to answer those difficult interview questions.

    As you already know, there are many types of interview questions that would be considered illegal. Here are some examples:

    1. National origin. You cannot ask seemingly innocent questions such as “That’s a beautiful name, where is your family from?” This could indicate national origin, which could result in bias. You also cannot ask questions about citizenship, except by asking if a candidate is legally allowed to work in the United States. Questions about the first language of the candidate shouldn’t be asked, either. However, asking “Do you have any language abilities that would be helpful in this job?” or “Are you authorized to work in the United States?” would be acceptable.
    2. Age. You cannot ask someone how old they are, and it is best to avoid questions that might indicate age, such as “When did you graduate from high school?” However, asking “Are you over 18?” is acceptable.
    3. Marital status. You can’t ask direct questions about marital status or ages of children. An alternative may be to ask, “Do you have any restrictions on your ability to travel, since this job requires 50 percent travel?”
    4. Religion. It’s illegal to ask candidates about their religious affiliation or to ask questions that may indicate a religion-affiliated school or university.
    5. Disabilities. You may not directly ask if the person has disabilities or recent illnesses. You can ask if the candidate is able to perform the functions of the job with or without reasonable accommodations.
    6. Criminal record. While it is fine to perform a criminal record check, asking a candidate if they have ever been arrested is not appropriate; however, questions about convictions and guilty pleadings are acceptable.
    7. Personal questions. Avoid asking personal questions, such as questions about social organizations or clubs, unless they relate to the job.

    Besides these questions, any specific questions about weight, height, gender, and arrest record (as opposed to allowable questions about criminal convictions) should be avoided.

    HR professionals and managers should be aware of their own body language in an interview. Some habits, such as nodding, can make the candidate think they are on the right track when answering a question. Also, be aware of a halo effect or reverse halo effect. This occurs when an interviewer becomes biased because of one positive or negative trait a candidate possesses. Interview bias can occur in almost any interview situation. Interview bias is when an interviewer makes assumptions about the candidate that may not be accurate (Lipschultz, 2010). These assumptions can be detrimental to an interview process. Contrast bias is a type of bias that occurs when comparing one candidate to others. It can result in one person looking particularly strong in an area, when in fact they look strong compared to the other candidates. A gut feeling bias is when an interviewer relies on an intuitive feeling about a candidate. Generalization bias can occur when an interviewer assumes that how someone behaves in an interview is how they always behave. For example, if a candidate is very nervous and stutters while talking, an assumption may be made that he or she always stutters. Another important bias called cultural noise bias occurs when a candidate thinks he or she knows what the interviewer wants to hear and answers the questions based on that assumption. Nonverbal behavior bias occurs when an interviewer likes an answer and smiles and nods, sending the wrong signal to the candidate. A similar to me bias (which could be considered discriminatory) results when an interviewer has a preference for a candidate because he or she views that person as having similar attributes as themselves. Finally, recency bias occurs when the interviewer remembers candidates interviewed most recently more so than the other candidates.

    Human Resource Recall

    What are the dangers of a reverse halo effect?

    Figure 5.3


    A halo effect occurs when a desirable trait makes us believe all traits possessed by the candidate are desirable. This can be a major danger in interviewing candidates.