Step 7: The Interview

The interview, either via telephone or in person, is the most important aspect of the process.  Take time to plan the interview and to compile core interview questions.  To ensure a professional approach while interviewing, it is recommended that the committee follow a structured/patterned interview plan in which the same general questions and same standards are used with all candidates.  Questions related to race, religion, age, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, or disabilities are inappropriate at any time during the interviewing process.  There is additional information on questions to ask or to avoid in the Appendices Section.  An interview is more productive if the purposes are kept in focus.

  • to obtain information missing or incomplete in the credentials;
  • to elaborate on training and experience of the applicant;
  • to evaluate the personality and characteristics of the applicant;
  • to ascertain whether the person would fit into this situation; and/or
  • to allow the candidate to ask questions about the position and institution.

Being prepared and attention to detail will increase the effectiveness of the interview.  If one has only a short time to prepare for an interview, there are still effective ways to prepare.  Minimally, one should consider using the 10-Minute Pre-Interview Checklist*, in the Appendices Section as an effective way to prepare.

To prevent unnecessary expenses, it is prudent to find out before the on-campus interview whether the individual is interested in accepting the position, that the range of salary meets his/her requirements.
General suggestions for the interview include:

  • arrange for an interview environment
  • greet the candidate and use rapport building questions
  • ask open-ended questions
  • allow for silence
  • seek disconfirming evidence
  • control the interview
  • end the interview cleanly to avoid problematic casual questions.

There is research which suggests that most people form an opinion of a candidate within five minutes of the initial meeting.  One important point to remember during the interview is the importance of seeking disconfirming evidence, i.e. to disconfirm your "first impressions."

Some method should be devised to record the highlights of the interview and in due course, the decisions made.  Enough information should be noted so that one is able to remember who each applicant is, what makes one different from another and how each applicant measures up to the specifications for the job.

Ask a wide variety of questions to gain information about the candidate's jobs skills.  Ask probing questions, such as "Describe a time when. . .", "Give us an example of. . .", or "Describe the most significant report/written document/ presentation which you have had to complete."  These questions can serve as guides to help develop questions which target specific skill requirements of the position.

Questions related to race, religion, age, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, or disabilities are inappropriate at any time during the interviewing process.  To ensure a professional approach while interviewing, it is recommended that the committee follow a structured interview plan in which the same general questions and same standards are used with all candidates.  Personal questions have been (sometimes subconsciously) used in a discriminatory manner.  Avoid them, especially during any "informal" time under the guise of being friendly.  Neither men nor women should be asked about their marital status, whether they have children, personal relationships, etc.  Use any extra time to describe the University’s mission, programs, campus art and/or other cultural activities, facilities, history, etc.

In general, questions and issues relevant to the position may be:

  • inquiries about the person’s qualifications, abilities, experience, and/or education with reference to advertised responsibilities of the position;
  • details about the duties and responsibilities of the position, and other details such as travel requirements, equipment and facilities available, etc.
  • career possibilities, opportunity for professional development and advancement.

The following suggestions have been proposed in many of the reference sources on this topic as being helpful to ensure that no federal or state equal employment opportunity laws are violated in the interview:

  • Only ask questions relevant to the job itself.  Questions regarding marriage plans or family matters are the topic of frequent suspect questions.  Do not ask about:
    • marital status or non-marital arrangements;
    • what the spouse does, questions regarding spouse earnings;
    • how the spouse feels about the candidate's work life, travel requirements, possible relocation;
    • medical history concerning pregnancy or any questions relating to the pregnancy (the EEOC has ruled that to refuse to hire a female solely because she is pregnant amounts to sex discrimination);
    • whether there are children, how many, their ages.
       
  • Be professional and consistent in addressing men and women.  Either use first names or last names for all candidates.
     
  • Applicants with disabilities should only be asked questions relevant to the job.  Do not inquire into:
    • the nature or present serious illnesses or physical/mental conditions;
    • the nature or severity of an apparent disability;
    • problems an individual may have had because of a disability;
    • how the person became disabled.
       
  • You may inquire:
    • whether the individual needs any reasonable accommodations or assistance during the hiring or interviewing process;
    • about the individual's ability to perform essential job functions with or without reasonable accommodation.*
       
  • Avoid making assumptions in making a selection, such as:
    • supervisors might prefer men or women or employees of certain ethnic/racial origins or colleagues who do not have physical disabilities;
    • students or coworkers might not want to deal with men or women or minorities or persons who have physical disabilities;
    • the job might involve travel or travel with the opposite sex or members of certain ethnic/racial backgrounds which might be thought to disqualify the applicant;
    • the job might involve unusual working conditions which might be thought to disqualify the applicant.
       
  • It is inappropriate to inquire about an arrest record.  It is permissible to inquire about a candidate's conviction record for "security sensitive" jobs.
     
  • If the city will be discussed or toured, mention everything and do not try to overemphasize the city's aspects as a "good place to raise a family."  Don't assume that the city is not the place for a single person or for minorities.  Mention the city's attractions, proximity to urban areas, or other relevant topics.  Also remember that a single person may be as interested in buying a house as a married person.  Do not assume the person will want to rent.
     
  • In general, avoid references to a candidate's personal happiness (i.e., social and/or sexual).
     
  • Do not indicate that you're interested in hiring a woman or minority person or person with a disability as a statistic to improve the institution's Equal Opportunity profile.  The institution is offering an opportunity to be considered for a position based on qualifications.

See Appendices Section for additional sample interview questions and questions to avoid.

In order to keep an interview on track and achieve proper balance, the committee should have a clock in viewing distance. Time spent on various aspects of the interview should also be planned, i.e., 55 to 65 minutes on work history, 15 to 20 minutes on education, etc. These simple suggestions ensure the information needed is gathered, and that the interviewee and committee remain on schedule.

There are two useful techniques which can also be used to control the interview--the use of an interview guide and interruption controls.  A written interview guide provides a list of the important factors to be covered, the sequence of the discussion, and protects against the omission of important items.  The second technique is used when the applicant offers too much irrelevant detail or gets off-track.  Obviously, it must be used subtly so that applicants do not realize they are being interrupted.  An interruption can be softened by using a phrase such as, "That's interesting.  Can you tell me then... " which serves as a lead-in to another question or topic.

In summary, experts say the most productive interviews will be structured, planned in advance, and executed with discipline.

Telephone Interview.  Telephone interviews can be more difficult to conduct, as one does not have the benefit of seeing the person's reactions to the questions.  Some of the same suggestions follow through to telephone interviews.  Take the time to establish rapport with the individual.  Ask probing, credible questions, and be a good listener.  And remember, you may not ask the candidate any illegal questions, such as those regarding marital status, etc.

On-Campus Interview.  It will save time and money in the long run if one can find out before the on-campus interview whether the individual is interested in accepting the position, and/or that the range of salary meets his/her requirements.

In addition to our learning about the candidates, we want to provide an opportunity for them to receive any information that might be important from their point of view.  Candidates may appreciate being able to inquire about particular campus and community activities.  Packets of information about the community may be provided, using materials from the Chamber of Commerce or other resources.

Ending the interview.  To avoid falling into casual conversations which may lead to inappropriate questions, end the interview effectively.  Use phrases, such as "You have given us about all the information we need.  Do you have any questions to ask of us?"  Respond to any pertinent inquiries; explain to the applicant what is next for him/her.  Be frank--if applicant is still in the running, give some idea as to when the decision is likely to be reached.  By the time the job applicants have reached the final selection interview, they have already passed a careful evaluation of their knowledge, skills and abilities and are considered to possess at least minimum requirements for the particular job. The purpose of a final interview is to gather additional information on the applicant’s job-related knowledge, skills and abilities that will be helpful in selecting the individual most qualified for the position. The interview plays a crucial role in the selection of the right employee.

Please Note: If you have eliminated all but one applicant during the screening process, you are still required to interview the top candidate. 

Applicants who qualify for veteran’s preference must receive an initial interview.

There are several ways to conduct an interview:

  • Individual Interviews: One-on-one interviews.
  • Panel Interviews: Conducted by a small group of managers and/or state representatives (generally two or three people).  Panel interviews allow for various perspectives on the KSAs required for the position and each candidate's qualifications provide a more objective measurement of the candidate's ability to do the job. Assemble a diverse panel, include supervisors and staff who are knowledgeable about the job and who have some relationship to the job. Make sure the panel members’ roles and responsibilities are clear.
  • Sequential Interviews: A series of panel or individual interviews; the purpose is to give various individuals or groups a chance to interview and assess a candidate.

Developing the Interview Questions
The knowledge, skills and abilities listed in the job announcement are the foundation for developing your interview questions. Questions should be formulated to reveal and provide specific information concerning the knowledge, skills and abilities required for a new employee to be successful on the job. As an interviewer, you must evaluate the same general criteria for each applicant and ask each applicant the same set of core questions. An interview that follows a general standard outline will produce more reliable and valid information for selection, will allow for valid comparisons among applicants, and is less likely to run afoul of laws and regulations governing the selection process. 

Please contact the Human Resources Director for assistance in preparing for and conducting the final interviews, if needed.

Guidelines for Conducting Final Interviews

  1. Prepare for the interview. Review the application shortly before the interview to refresh your memory.  Note areas where you want additional information from the applicant.
  2. Set the interview climate.  Choose a location free from interruptions and hold all calls.  Arrange a casual seating arrangement. Whenever possible, let each candidate see the actual work location.  Ensure that appropriate accommodations are made for people who have requested them.
  3. Establish rapport.  Put the candidate at ease; refer to something you noted on the application to show you have carefully studied it.
  4. Set the agenda.  Describe the interview structure; this will help you (the panel) and the candidate achieve a concise, focused interview. 
  5. Take notes.  This will help you ask follow-up questions and recall specifics about each candidate.  Tell the candidate that you (and the panel) will be taking notes.  Note key words/phrases - your notes need not be verbatim.  Notes should always be appropriate and reflect job-related observations.
  6. Listen Carefully.  The applicant should carry 80 to 85 percent of the total conversation. Your input should be limited to asking your prepared questions, probing deeper, and asking follow-up questions as needed.
  7. Maintain Control.  If the candidate gets off track, ask a specific question that will bring the interview back to the subject.
  8. Allow silence and be patient.  The candidate may need some time to put his or her thoughts together to provide specific answers to your questions.
  9. Avoid using the word "you" during the interview when describing the job.  This may be viewed by the applicant as an indication he or she has been selected for the position.  For example, do not use, "you will be answering the phone…" Instead change the phrasing so the job is not personalized, e.g., "the job duties for this position are…"
  10. Ask the applicant to complete the appropriate “Authorization of Release” form. Advise the candidate that you will be checking references on your final candidates and have them sign an “Authorization of Release of Information For Reference Checks” (found on page 24) at the time of the interview. If an applicant indicates they do not wish to have their most recent or current employer contacted, you should discuss the reason for this request with the applicant and ask permission to contact the employer before proceeding with the reference check.  If a legitimate reason exists not to contact the current or most recent employer, you should contact other employment references.  
  11. Close the interview. Ask the candidate if he or she has any questions, needs clarification, or has anything to add.  Well-prepared candidates will want to ask relevant questions about the job.  You may also want to introduce the candidate to others in the office and/or give a tour of the work setting.  Thank the candidate for coming and explain your notification process – when a decision will be made, whether a second interview will be conducted, and how candidates will be notified.
  12. Complete your notes and/or rating sheet immediately; don't rely on your memory.  Decide whether the candidate meets, exceeds, or does not meet the requirements.  Allow adequate breaks between the interviews to make notes and prepare for the next interview.

*Stephen D. Bruce, Face to Face - Every Manager's Guide to Better Interviewing, (Bureau of Law & Business, Inc., 1984), 1.