Is Your Organization Ready to Conduct Effective Interviews?

By Jon Vegosen

With our nation coming out of the worst economy since the Great Depression, hiring may be the last thing on some employers’ minds. But there are signs that things are improving, and some companies are hiring. Moreover, employee turnover may result in job openings within organizations. Unfortunately, even in a “buyer’s market” hiring managers too often unwittingly settle on less than a stellar candidate. When the candidate comes aboard, managers lament: “This isn’t who I thought we hired!” This article outlines why this phenomenon can occur and offers some suggestions for conducting effective interviews.

Hire Against a Standard
Many managers fail to appreciate the importance of hiring against a standard. They do not establish ahead of time their hiring criteria and the successful results that they want a new employee to achieve once hired. Frequently, they look at a pool of candidates and simply hire the one that appears to be the “best of the lot.”
Instead, they should only employ an applicant who meets the employer’s hiring criteria. This approach increases the chances of finding the “must hire” candidate. Yes, it requires an employer to have the discipline and patience to “keep looking” if none of the applicants meet the hiring criteria. But the investment made can pay an employer rich dividends.

Oftentimes members of the employer’s interviewing team do not prepare well for their interviews. Instead, they “wing it.” Interviewers should approach the hiring process seriously. They should learn as much about a candidate as possible before the interview. They should carefully review a candidate’s resume and other relevant information ahead of time and assess how “on paper” the candidate matches up with the employer’s hiring criteria.

Interviewers should also plan behavioral-based questions that track the employer’s hiring criteria and the results the employer wants the successful candidate to achieve. Because past performance is often an excellent prognosticator of future success, behavioral-based questioning can be a powerful interviewing tool. It is also an excellent way to avoid asking unlawful or inappropriate questions.

Behavioral-based questions are open-ended ones that (1) focus on the circumstances, (2) ascertain what actions a candidate took, and (3) reveal the results the candidate achieved. Examples of behavioral-based questions include:

• “Tell me about a situation when you persuaded a difficult customer to do business with your company.”
• “What has been your most significant achievement at ABC Company? What did you do, and what were the results?”

Structure the Interview
Another obstacle is that many hiring managers do not know how to structure an interview. Granted, there is not necessarily one way to structure to an interview. Some interviews are formal and others are more relaxed. In addition, the parties to an interview and their interaction will inevitably shape how it proceeds. Nevertheless, hiring managers tend to focus and hire better when they structure their interviews in an organized manner like the following:

1. Introduction
The first part of an interview is the introduction phase. This is the interviewer’s first impression of the candidate and the candidate’s first impression of the interviewer. From the candidate’s perspective, the interviewer not only represents the employer, but also the interviewer is the employer. It is critical to establish a good rapport with the candidate, to make the candidate feel comfortable, and to convey a sense of interest in the candidate. The interviewer should introduce himself or herself, shake the candidate’s hand firmly, and look the candidate in the eye. Remember—one can only make a first impression once. At the outset, it is advisable to try to find some common ground with the candidate. For example, an interviewer might say, “I see from your resume that you like movies. So do I. What’s your favorite movie?” The introduction phase should comprise about 10 percent of the interviewing time.

2. Discovery
The second part of the interview is the “discovery” phase. This should be the longest part of the interview and should comprise about 60 percent of the interviewing time. The interviewer will want to find out about and test his or her interest in the candidate. The best way to do so is to follow the 80/20 rule—to listen 80 percent of the time and speak only 20 percent of the time. It is critical to use behavioral-based questions to find out about the candidate’s past performance, skill, traits, character, fit, and any other relevant and legally permissible areas that are important in deciding whether the candidate is a good prospect and will be successful within the organization. It is equally essential to listen to the answers to questions. They may be vague. Or, the answers may provide fodder for additional questions. Either way, interviewers will need to follow-up and “drill down.”

3. Why Your Organization
The third part of the interview is to learn why the candidate is interested in joining the employer. Is the candidate’s interest genuine? Is the interest short-term or long-term? Is the candidate’s interest purely economic or are there other factors at work? How much does the applicant know about the employer? How much homework has he or she done before the interview? This phase should comprise about 10% of the interviewing time.

4. Candidate’s Questions
The fourth part of the interview is to give the candidate an opportunity to ask questions about the employer and the position. This can help make the candidate feel important, allow the candidate to test and reveal his or her interest in the organization, and determine whether there is a fit from his or her perspective. It is vital to listen carefully to the nature and quality of the candidate’s questions because they can assist in the evaluation of the candidate. This phase should comprise about 10 percent of the interviewing time.

5. Selling
The fifth part of the interview—selling—is discretionary. By selling, a manager may tip the employer’s hat too much as to what kind of candidate the employer is seeking. On the other hand, interviewing is also a marketing process. It may be necessary to generate some enthusiasm, especially if the candidate is being pursued by other employers. Interviewers need to be careful not to let selling dominate the interview. By the time the interview is over, they must have enough information to make a decision about the candidate. This phase should comprise about 7 percent of the interviewing time.

6. Closing

The closing is the last part of the interview. The interviewer should bring the interview to a conclusion, politely thank the candidate for his or her time, and let the candidate know the next step. For example, is the candidate meeting with someone else in the organization? Will the interviewer get back in touch with the candidate in a few weeks? Let the candidate know what to expect. This phase should comprise about 3 percent of the interviewing time.


Conducting effective interviews requires hiring managers to devise sound hiring criteria and to hire against a standard, to prepare for their interviews, and to structure their interviews. By investing the time in these fundamental steps, managers can significantly increase their chances of employing a “must hire” candidate.

Jon Vegosen is a founding member of Funkhouser Vegosen Liebman & Dunn Ltd. and has more than 33 years experience practicing law. He is nationally recognized for his work in labor and employment relations and is sought after as an author and spokesperson on labor and employment issues.

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