Competency-based Interview Skills

Rightly or wrongly, the face-to-face, pre-employment interview is here to stay. What can you do to maximize your time with the candidate and get the kind of information you need for a decent evaluation of potential? According to Dr. Marvin Dunnette, an industrial psychologist and selection expert with Personnel Decisions, Minneapolis, these dozen and a half helpful hints can help you increase the effectiveness— read validity and reliability— of the face-to-face interview process.

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1. Have a definite structure in mind— or in writing—for the interview, and fol-low it. Amateur interviewers, such as supervisors and managers, might benefit from a written interview outline or checklist.

2. Set a comfortable, conversational tone for the interview. A good interview should remind you of a “chat with a purpose,” not a police lineup or a Monty Python parody of the Spanish Inquisition.

3. Be willing to reveal aspects of yourself during the interview. The interviewer who can open up will do better at opening the interviewee up. Very simply, there is a psychological reciprocity in one-to-one exchanges: “I tell you something personal and you owe me a similar sharing.”

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4. Be flexible enough to use a surprise tactic or two. You must be able to guide the conversation from general to specific, sensitive to harmless, without losing track of where you are in the interview.

5. Play detective. It is important to remain nonjudgmental and nonreactive to interviewee opinions and ideas, and you must be as open at the end of the interview as at the beginning. Even body language can give re¬inforcing or warning cues, so assume an impartial, outside observer “mental set,” to thwart the tendency to give away personal feelings.

6. Follow up hunches or unusual statements. If an interviewee says, “You know what that kind is like,” and you have a lot of “that kind” in your department, you should be able to discover whether that’s socialized hot air or a potential problem attitude.

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7. Avoid “magic questions.” At one time it was believed the kind of car one drove or booze one drank was psychologically revealing. Even if there was a grain of truth in the concept, today’s diverse society makes interpretation of such symbols dubious.

8. Do your homework. You should have a decent grasp of what’s on the employment application and the re¬sume. For one thing, your familiarity helps warm up the interviewee. For another the application is already filled out, the resume already written; your candidate isn’t much interested in reciting the contents once more. Get to the script he or she has been rehearsing since the interview time was set.

9. Clearly position the interview for the interviewee. Specifically, explain what the interview is for and provide a realistic idea of the role and weight it plays in getting the job.

10. Avoid yes/no questions. You must be able to draw them out. “Tell me about …” and “Give me an exam¬ple of …” questions give candidates a chance to show their stuff.

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11. Show some energy and enthusiasm. Candidates are hypersensitive to your conduct and style. Sub¬consciously, they assume you like people like yourself. A terse, formal interviewer gets terse, formal answers and explanations. If you are energetic and enthusiastic, candidates will loosen up and give you a bigger and better sample of their normal behavior.

12. Focus the interview on things that are significant and important to the job. You must know when to get off your agenda and onto the applicant’s.

13. Concentrate on behavior. If past performance is usually the best predictor of future performance, you must be able to tease out important or critical events in the applicant’s work history. For example, “When the pres¬ident of the company said everyone needs as much communications train¬ing as we can afford to give them, what exactly did you say to her?”

14. Take clear and copious notes— but first set the ground rules. Make it clear that anything to be kept off and out of the record will be. Some inter¬viewers dictate file notes immediately after the session, since memory can deceive and interviews run together.

15. Let there be silence. Don’t be afraid to shut up once in a while and let the interviewee think and take the initiative. Or mull over the next steps you want to take.

16. Say something nice if it seems appropriate. Stroking people for past accomplishments and having a pleas¬ant personality is perfectly okay. In fact it helps keep the interview open, pleasant and nonthreatening. There are perfectly nice people who are a total mismatch to the job you are try¬ing to fill. Acknowledging the good¬ness of the person doesn’t hurt and isn’t a false sign of your opinion of their suitability to the position.

17. Close the interview with specific details of what will happen next. Fair is fair. The interviewee invested time and energy so you should, by rights, provide a rundown of how the hire decision will be made, and when. Even if you don’t hire the applicant, you want to instill a favorable opinion of you and your organization. Besides, someday you may be in need of a helping hand. Stranger things have happened.

18. Do a content analysis of the inter¬view. You might find it useful to have a set of homemade rating scales for evaluating each applicant and to help you summarize your impressions, but don’t stop at a “5” for work experience and a “7” for honesty. Back up those evaluations with why and wherefore examples from the interview. Be pre¬cise and specific, and avoid the Freu¬dian interpretation bit. “The candi¬date indicated he has never taken a project from start to finish alone” is defensible. “The candidate seems to be mother-fixated and incapable of completely independent action” is not.

Bottom line, Dunnette’s advice is to be supportive, warm, tactful and open as a person, but at the same time
aware that you must be a straightforward, job-focused, reasonably structured information gatherer who is in control of the proceedings. Admittedly, that’s a tough act, but possible with practice.

Source : Training Magazine, August 1980.

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