Interview questions and structured interviewing
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Hiring Interview + Strategic Applicant Management

Dennis Noland

It used to be that people interviewed for jobs, were hired and spent their next 30 or more years working at that company. Of course now every rule, nuance and thought relevant to interviewing has changed. There are seminars teaching candidates how to aggressively state their career case and there are seminars teaching interviewers how to listen--not to what the candidate says, but to what he or she really means. One would logically conclude that, when a prepared and motivated applicant collides with a skilled interviewer, an immediate chain-reaction would occur resulting in the perfect employee meeting the perfect company. But as we in the human resource business know, "It ain’t necessarily so."

Talented candidates in the job market today are highly sought after. As I have heard from countless candidates, "It is nice to be wanted." But many employers do not adequately prepare to meet, greet and deal with applicants. First of all, human resource managers should never forget the employment function is pure and simple sales. Unfortunately, with unemployment rates at record lows, talented applicants can be scarcer than customers. So with that in mind, employers must do everything possible to portray a professional winning image. In today’s marketplace, talented and skilled candidates will not work for a company that presents an image that does not meet their professional standards. So, as in sales presentations, every area of the interview, from the front door "curb appeal" to the goodbye handshake, should be reviewed for total professionalism. If you wish to attract the best, nothing should be left to chance. Think strategically.

Before an Applicant Leaves Home…

As a matter of practice every candidate invited for an interview should be given information in advance regarding what will occur during the interviewing process. This will provide the candidate with ample time to prepare for the interview and to gather documents such as addresses and phone numbers, which will be necessary for reference checking purposes. Also if testing is required, the candidate should be informed as to how much time will be needed to complete the process so he or she may plan accordingly. This is a courtesy that can pay off by eliminating excuses, misunderstandings and situations that may start a relationship off on the wrong foot.

Communicating Travel Arrangements

Before an out-of-town candidate ever makes it to your front door, he or she will have formed an opinion about your company. The opinion that is formed may or may not be very good. Most candidates who require overnight lodgings will not be expecting first class travel arrangements. Choose a mid-range business class hotel such as a Holiday Inn or Hampton Inn and be sure to have it prepaid or direct billed to the company. You will want to avoid any potential embarrassment to the company that may result from a candidate having to pay for the bill because the hotel desk clerk claims to never have heard of you or your company. Also, be sure to inform the candidate prior to the interview as to how the hotel bill will be handled.

If meals and cab fare are to be the responsibility of the candidate, then be sure to thoroughly convey this to him or her in advance. Let the candidate know what the travel requirements will be for every part of the journey. Travel arrangement misfires can dampen if not ruin an interview experience for both the company and the applicant.

Curb Appeal

For a thorough review of the elements of the interview day, let’s start at the front door. Does the reception and waiting area have a professional appearance? Is it clean and well furnished? An applicant’s initial impression of your company can seriously impact the success you will have in attracting the caliber of employees you desire. If it has been a while since you cast a critical eye upon the area in question, then take a walk around. What do the furnishings and lighting say about your company? Is it a harsh or friendly atmosphere? Look at publications available in the area. Do they communicate the message that you are serious professionals or are they barbershop quality magazines? I was recently in a company’s reception area where I saw a copy of a well-known national magazine shouting "Unleash Your Lust" from its cover. Before I had spoken to anyone, the magazine told me more than I cared to know about that company. Take a look at what’s available in your reception area and do it often so nothing questionable sneaks in.

Interview Schedule

Debra Johnson of PCS Health Systems always uses a pre-planned itinerary for moving candidates through an interview schedule. "This just allows all of the interviewers on the schedule to know how to plan their day," she says, "and it cuts down the potentially embarrassing confusion of interviewers not being available at the appointed time." Generally the schedule is prepared for each candidate and issued a day or so ahead of the interview. It allows interviewers to mark their calendars appropriately.

While an interview schedule is a simple communication tool to assemble, many companies rely on the "drop in" method of interviewing, whereby a manager may take an applicant on a walk through the company and drop in on key people he would like the candidate to spend a few minutes with. The downsides of this method are many. Primarily, interviewers are not mentally prepared to effectively conduct an interview on the spur of the moment and may in fact be significantly distracted over some other urgent business day activities. The resulting ineffective interview tells a candidate that interviews are not very important and just about anybody can get hired around here. Candidates do notice these things even if you do not.

By preparing an interview schedule, both interviewers and candidate know what to expect. The professionalism of a simple itinerary lets a candidate know that he or she is important and that conducting business in an organized and well-thought out fashion is the norm for your company.

It is helpful to outline the day’s events with the candidate before beginning the sessions. This can be as simple as saying, "This morning, you will be interviewing with three managers. It will take approximately three hours and I will see you again at the conclusion of these interviews to answer any questions you may have." The candidate knows what to expect and another potential barrier has now been removed.

Before an interview officially begins, always consider asking the candidate if he or she would like to use the restroom or get a drink of water first. Offer coffee or tea if you have it. Again, remember you have invited this candidate for an interview and your ultimate goal should be to remove any barriers to conducting an effective interview. An applicant’s discomfort can easily be misinterpreted as lack of interest or nervousness. Do all you can to eliminate possible communication barriers.


A talented candidate has now progressed through a morning of well-planned and thorough interviews and it is approaching lunchtime. Lunch should not necessarily be viewed as interview day intermission time. In a relaxed setting over a meal, interviewers have a great opportunity at hand to further question the candidate. In a non-office setting, questions asked earlier may even result in different answers. Even if this is not the case, interviewers will have a chance to see how an applicant behaves in different environments. Be sure you pick up the check.

Interview Skills

Every manager who is involved with applicants should have received at least some basic interviewing training. Aside from the obvious "don’t ask" legal questions, managers need to develop a solid understanding that the company is selling an important product and that the company’s and their own futures may depend on how successful they are. Additionally, candidates have expectations and questions that can be easily answered in an interview setting. Don’t short-change a candidate even if you know you will be making a job offer. You cannot possibly know whether he or she will accept an offer of employment, so keep interviewing and selling until the matter is settled.

Some companies have become so interested in why candidates decline offers that they have contracted with third party consultants to interview former candidates. The questions used deal with what candidates thought about the level of professionalism during the interviewing process including whether they thought the interview was friendly, thorough, informative and if they received accurate information regarding the company and its benefits and career opportunities. Notice that these companies are trying to ascertain what a candidate’s perceptions were regarding the company since all selling deals with perceptions as much as facts.

The best candidates will have many employment choices in today’s labor market. Keep this in mind as you interview candidates. Remove as many barriers to clear communication as possible so that you can determine if your company is a good match for the candidate. Your company may passionately care about attracting highly skilled and talented employees, retention and employee growth through interviews etc., but you must do more than care. You must show each candidate by way of strategic, well-thought out and professional interview sessions that you care. The candidates you want will notice and results can be far-reaching. Take the time to audit your entire interview process and determine if it sets the professional tone your company wishes to convey.


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