The Interview: Selecting a new employee

March 1, 2004

The Interview
Selecting a new employee

By Brandon Battles

At one time or another, employees will leave your organization. Regardless of the reason for the departure, your organization faces the same issue, unless of course the position is eliminated. Your organization must find another person to fill the vacancy. Finding the person best suited for the job is important for a couple of reasons.

First, you or someone else in your organization has to perform the tasks associated with the vacant position and that adds to what is probably an already busy job. Second, if you make the wrong selection, then you not only have to continue to perform the tasks associated with the vacant position but you also have to repeat the steps to fill the vacancy. And going through the process of finding the best-suited employee can take a great deal of time and effort.

In the October 2003 issue, I covered the steps that you may want to consider when finding the person best suited to fill the vacancy. As a brief review I suggested the following: Identify the requirements of the position. Spread the word that you are looking. Identify the best candidates.

This is where the October article ended, on the cusp of one of the very important steps in the process of selecting the candidate best suited to fill the position. The next step is the face-to-face interview. The interview is important for a couple of reasons.

First it is, more than likely, your first opportunity to meet and interact with the individual as it relates to this position. You may already know the candidate but not necessarily in this set of circumstances. The interview may be your only face-to-face opportunity to evaluate the candidate for the position. Second, the interview is hopefully the culmination of a difficult, time-consuming process that will result in a selection that benefits your organization and the individual.

If we accept that the interview is an important step in the process then what are some of the issues you should keep in mind as you prepare for, or while you conduct, an interview?

Why are you conducting the interview? As mentioned before, the interview is one of the final steps in a process that should identify an individual that is best suited to fill a vacant position in your organization. The interview should stay in concert with this objective. Don't select the individual simply because of your personal preferences.

Who do you represent? You represent the organization that employs you. You do not represent yourself. This is an easy point to forget. While conducting the interview, the person interviewed will certainly view you as such. Be careful of what you say or do. Do not make promises that the organization cannot keep, such as guaranteeing that the job will be around for a long time. Your organization might eliminate the position after a short period. And you have created a risk for your organization. While your intent was not malicious, the statement was misleading and detrimental to the new employee.

Don't tell jokes or make off-handed comments that could be misinterpreted. Remember what may not be offensive to some is to others. Stick to the subject that has brought you and the candidate together.

Be aware of your appearance. I've frequently read or heard about guidance for the person being interviewed in the areas of proper attire and clean appearance but the evaluation goes both ways. Remember the candidate is trying to make a decision about your organization as well. Your appearance could affect his or her perception of your entire organization.

Is interviewing one of your specialties? For most of you, it is not. It certainly isn't one of the core tasks that you perform while serving as manager of the maintenance organization. But as a manager, you will be asked to conduct interviews at one time or another. Even if you work for an organization that has a human resource department, you will eventually conduct interviews.

The human resource department can help you with the earlier steps in the process of finding an employee (i.e. updating the job description, posting the position, and conducting initial screening and testing) but you will have to conduct the final interview. After all, the person will be working for you.

Let's add a little more pressure to the interview scenario. The organization in essence is asking you to do something that is not your specialty, which is difficult enough. But it's the choices that you make as a result of the interviews and the consequences of those choices that make a difficult task even more so. Remember, an organization's employees are arguably an organization's most expensive asset. One bad choice or a series of bad choices could have an adverse effect on your organization. As a result, the organization is not likely to welcome mistakes.

How can you prepare?
Some things are obvious, while some are easily overlooked. These ideas certainly aren't all-inclusive but should give you a good start. Remember, a lot depends upon you making the correct selection, so prepare and control the interview so you can collect as much information as possible.

  • Review any material that you have about the candidate. If you have a resume, review it so you can identify strong and weak points. If you have a human resource department, review any information that it has collected. Sometimes human resource departments administer tests that reveal more information.
  • Prepare interview questions. Determine what it is you need to learn from the candidate that is relevant to the vacancy. Develop questions that will solicit this information. Try to develop a set of standard questions so that you can compare the candidates. Once the interview has begun, it can be difficult to stay on track based upon a variety of factors, two of which are the different personalities that you will deal with and your ability to operate under pressure.
  • Determine the physical location of the interview. Try to find a place where you will not be interrupted. It's important for you to give the interview your undivided attention. Is the location in a noisy area? If you don't have much flexibility, at least be aware of some of the distractions. What furniture does the room contain? Do you need to rearrange anything to fit your needs? Will you offer the candidate anything to drink? Do you know where the restrooms are located if you are conducting the interview in an unfamiliar location?

What should occur in the interview?
While there are many ways to answer this question, I will focus on an area that is relevant to every interview and one that can help you avoid problems for you and your organization. What kinds of questions should you ask and not ask during the interview?

Remember why you are conducting the interview. You are trying to gather information about the candidate that will help you decide whether or not to extend an opportunity for employment. Your questions should be designed to collect that type of information. Don't wander into areas that don't have a direct relevance to the job.

Don't ask questions that could be construed as discriminatory. It's illegal to ask questions about marital status, religion, age, or national origin, so don't ask. Questions that solicit information in areas such as family member names, number and age of children, membership in clubs or organizations, and the occupation of a spouse enter the gray area. Unless the reason for asking the question has a direct bearing on the job or the ability to perform the job, don't ask these types of questions.

Generally, asking a candidate about any arrest records is not a good idea. However, if a security clearance is associated with the available job, then this type of information may be important. As it relates to disabilities, you cannot ask about the disability but you can ask whether or not the candidate can perform the tasks associated with the job.

Now that you probably feel like your hands are tied, let me share some examples of questions that are good to ask. Notice that they are all related to the available position. Open-ended questions should get the candidate talking, a situation where you should learn more about the candidate. Do you understand what the job entails? Why do you think you are suited for this position? Have you done any jobs like this before? What is it you like about our organization? (Have they done their homework about your organization?) Do the hours that you would be working present a problem?

There are also several questions you can keep in mind during the course of the interview that may help you identify characteristics you're looking for in an employee. Did the candidate answer your questions directly? Could they remain on the subject? Was the candidate enthusiastic about the job and your organization? In general, was the candidate optimistic or pessimistic? Was the candidate confident? Did the candidate try to argue with you during the interview? Is the candidate's behavior mature? If applicable, does the candidate interact well with others in your organization? Is the candidate emotionally stable?

As a conclusion to the interview, you should let the candidate know what events should occur next. Let the person know what the next step is and the timeframe. We have all applied for a job before and there is nothing worse than not knowing what will occur next or how long it might take.

What should occur after the interview? I will mention two items. First, make notes immediately following the interview. Don't wait until the next day or until another candidate is interviewed. If you are like me, your average day can be hectic. And hectic days can cause us to forget things. Some of you might be talented enough to take notes while you conduct the interview. I am not. I find that I start worrying more about my notes than actually listening to what the candidate is telling me. Jot down notes that will help you remember how the candidate answered questions that were job related.

Second, send the candidate an e-mail or letter thanking them for coming to the interview. Remember, they may have other employment alternatives (the best candidates usually do) and you want to show that you're thinking of them. Besides, it's the right thing to do.

Good luck with making the right choice for you and your organization.

Brandon Battles is a partner with Conklin & de Decker. He has spent more than 15 years in aviation working with maintenance organizations in the areas of cost collection and analysis, systems review, inventory analysis, and management training.

About the Author

Brandon Battles