Effective Interviews

While most organizations use interviews in employment decision making, many have not maximized the effectiveness of their interviewing process.  In the section on Types of Employment Tests, the advantages and disadvantages of interviews were presented.  In this section, we discuss what distinguishes an effective interview from an ineffective one.  Research has been fairly conclusive in showing that structuring an interviewmaking sure that the characteristics to be evaluated are clearly identified, that all interviewers ask the same questions of all candidates, that interviewers are well trained, and that interviewee performance is evaluated using well-developed rating scalesleads to a more effective interview process. 

The following tips can help managers create an effective interview. 

1.   Identify the candidate characteristics that should be assessed during the interview.

Employers must consider a number of factors in deciding what candidate characteristics will be evaluated in the interview.  Questions to be considered include:  Is this a knowledge, skill, or characteristic that is important to success on the job or to some outcome of interest (e.g., low turnover)?  Is the interview the best way to assess this important knowledge skill or ability? How much overlap would be best between the interview and other tests used in the decision-making process?   

2.   Develop interview questions. 

Once the areas to be evaluated are identified, interview questions should be created that will be used with all candidates for a particular position.  Past behavior is one of the best predictors of future behavior. Interview questions should be designed so that candidates describe things they actually did or said in a previous situation and the outcome of their actions. This information often predicts very well how candidates are likely to respond to a similar situation in the future. While questions about hypothetical situations (what would you do if . . .) can be useful also, these questions need to worded and used carefully within any interview to get the maximum benefit from them.  For example, asking an individual about whether he/she would apply a skill in a particular situation can result in his/her giving an obvious, socially desirable response.   

3.  Plan likely probes and follow-up questions.  

Organizations may find that an interview process that was designed to be one in which all interviewees are treated the same and asked the same questions becomes one in which people are asked dramatically different things because interviewers vary widely in what they do in follow-up questions or probing.   If interviewers are not allowed to probe, however, often key information is not elicited.   Thus, the interview should be designed to give interviewers the freedom to ask follow-up questions but also to guide them in the types of follow-up questions that would be most appropriate for the given interview structure.   A suggested list of possible probes can accompany the list of interview questions, and/or training in effective probing be provided to interviewers.  

4.  Evaluate responses using anchored scales.  

A systematic evaluation of individuals responses to interview questions is helpful for several reasons.  It allows for a comparison across candidates who are often interviewed by different individuals or even by the same individual across a wide time span.  It requires the interviewer to evaluate the candidate on the job-relevant characteristics identified as important, not on any idiosyncratic set of criteria.  Standardization in rating scales provides documentation that all candidates were evaluated on the same basis.  

5.  Train interviewers.  

Despite the beliefs of many individuals that they are good judges of others, interviewer training has been demonstrated to be effective in improving the judgments of interviewers, in ensuring that all candidates are treated similarly, and in calibrating interviewers with one another.   

6.  Understand the legal parameters. 

Using business-related job requirements as the foundation for creating interview questions usually means the interview will be in compliance with the law.  In deciding which questions to ask in an interview, understanding the legal requirements for selection will help the interviewer avoid asking inappropriate questions.   For example in the U.S., laws such as Title VII of the Civil Rights Act (1964), the Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990 and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 outline several areas of concern with regard to employment discrimination.  These characteristics include race, color, gender, religion, national origin, age (over 40), and disabilities. Generally, questions directly about these characteristics will be problematic, but questions that ask about a job requirement may relate to a characteristic and be acceptable. For example, one cannot ask Are you a member of a religion that holds services on Saturday? but one can ask, This job requires overtime work on the weekends.  Can you work on Saturdays and Sundays?   In other countries, and in specific jurisdictions within the U.S., other issues may be of concern.  Contact your local governmental agency for lists of questions to avoid.  

7.  Use the interview to provide a realistic job preview.

Interviews are not just opportunities to learn more about candidates; they are also opportunities for managers to help candidates learn more about the job. When candidates have a realistic understanding of their job, their expectations are more likely to be met. When a job fails to live up to an individuals expectations, he/she is more likely to be dissatisfied and ultimately leave the position. When encountering tight labor markets, managers may be inclined to only relay the positive aspects of a job to candidates. Although this approach may result in short-term success, ultimately more time is spent hiring as candidates continually leave the position.  

8.  Use the interview as a selling opportunity.

To increase the chances of hiring a good candidate, use the interview experience to sell the job and the company. Prior to the interview, talk to employees in the company and find out what they like best about the organization. Then, when talking to candidates about what they are looking for in a work experience, relay how the job and the organization can meet their needs. To make the most of this selling opportunity, think about the interview experience from the candidates perspective. A candidates experience in the interview process affects his/her opinions about the organization. Being treated professionally and talking with a well-prepared interviewer creates a positive impression and experience.  

Developing an effective interview process is challenging.  The Society for Industrial and Organization Psychology as well as the psychology and business departments of your local college or university are excellent resources for consultants that can answer any questions about interview development.