Here’s a statistic you want to be aware of: 46% of new hires are fired or quit in the first 18 months.
Why? It’s not because new hires are unskilled.
Most new employees have enough skills to get the job done, because that’s what managers focus on during the interview and hiring process – and therein lies the problem.
Managers spend too much time focusing on skill sets, when the real key to separating the stars from the duds involves focusing on a whole host of areas most supervisors never touch on.
This article will take you through the interviewing and hiring process step by step and help your organization make the best hiring decisions possible.
Worth the Read:
Here are some of the topics we introduce and cover in detail across our website. Click to jump ahead:
- The Interview Process
- Interview Tips and Techniques
- Interview Questions
- Illegal Interview Questions
- After the Interview
You’ve identified a skills gap or a chance to expand your operations, defined the requirements applicants will need to succeed in those positions and now you need to find the best people for those jobs.
So, you advertise the position, gather and screen applicant resumes to find a group of applicants that match what you need, at least on the surface.
The interview process takes you from that mountain of resumes, many of which don’t begin to match your requirements, through a series of phone and in-person conversations that narrows down to just a few viable candidates, and the final decision that leads to a job offer.
There are six basic steps in the interview process. You may add to these depending on specific organization or industry needs.
- Initial resume screening
- Telephone screening (this may be done by an outside recruiter)
- Telephone interview(s)
- Face-to-face interview(s)
- Reference checks
There’s a large selection of recruiting software packages on the market that can do the first screen, reviewing resumes and organizing them from best to worst fit for the position based on your job description.
Then it is up to HR and hiring managers to carefully review resumes that made it through the screening process. That narrows the pool of applicants to just those worth interviewing.
Of course, you’ll want to check out the candidates who look like perfect fits, but make sure you to include some of the applicants who fall in the middle of your rankings.
Resumes don’t tell the whole story (and software is nowhere near perfect) and you may find your next star performer among that group.
Before scheduling a formal telephone interview, initial screening calls will winnow out the applicants who don’t really have the required skills, aren’t serious about joining your organization, have unrealistic salary expectations, or just won’t fit in with your team and organizational culture.
Don’t spend too much time with each candidate at this stage, since your list is likely still pretty long.
If they (and you) remain interested in the position at the end of that call, schedule a formal telephone interview.
For those who make the cut after the phone interview, it’s time to invite them in for a face-to-face interview with one or more hiring managers (we discuss some great interviewing tips later on).
Once one or two candidates make it through initial and follow up interviews, it’s time to check references and do any other research (web searches, social media reviews) you feel is appropriate. Note this is not the time to do formal background checks. Those need to wait til you’ve made the job offer.
The interview process is now over.
It’s time to compare notes with everyone whose participated in the interview process, make your choice and extend a formal offer.
Let’s take a closer look at some of the steps in the interview process.
How to Critically Read Applicant’s Resumes
Even in this tight labor market, any company with an open job is hit with a flood of resumes – but more resumes doesn’t necessarily mean more quality candidates. How can you spot the future stars your organization needs to succeed over the long term?
It all starts with that pile of resumes.
Here are steps to follow for a more effective resume screening process:
Look for Specifics
When candidates list their accomplishments, keep your eyes peeled for specific details.
For example, you’d rather see something like, “Managed a staff of 10 accounting employees,” instead of, “Managed the entire accounting staff.”
Find Signs of Initiative
To separate average workers from star employees, look for signs that candidates possess initiative and did more than the minimum in their previous jobs than just what was expected of them.
Some key words to highlight: “led,” “created,” and “designed.
Use the Resume to Prepare for an Effective Phone Interview.
Highlight remarks that need clarification or further probing.
That way you’ll know exactly what you need to find out in the phone screen, and you’ll have an efficient way to decide who moves on to the next round.
Resume Warning Signs
Some candidates go to great lengths to stand out.
They may even lie to you.
Watch out for these resume tweaks, which applicants may try to sneak by you:
Many candidates worry about explaining periods when they were out of work.
The solution for some: Claim they were volunteering – it’s harder to verify than previous work history.
Ask probing questions about volunteering and check references at the organization.
Also watch out for “functional resumes,” which list applicants’ experience and accomplishments grouped by type, followed by a list of previous employers, rather than a chronological list of past positions.
If you suspect a candidate has exaggerated responsibilities with a previous employer, ask detailed questions and don’t give up if you get vague answers.
Or bring in someone who’s already doing a job similar to the one the person’s applying for.
Dishonest applicants will try to fake their way through an interview using buzz words and generalities but break down when someone who’s skilled in the field asks for details.
Some out-of-work employees are looking for stopgap jobs by “dumbing down” their credentials so they don’t appear overqualified.
The best way to spot this type of dishonesty is the same way managers catch other applicants’ lies – by asking probing questions during the interview and thoroughly checking references.
Conducting Effective Phone Interviews
Before scheduling face-to-face time with all the candidates under consideration, conduct telephone interviews and refine the final list.
Remember to treat phone interviews as seriously as any other conversation with an applicant. Make sure you are prepared with specific questions.
Set expectations for the length of the interview, but leave yourself a reasonable amount of slack in case you want to go longer.
Telephone screening will help recruiting managers determine if a candidate has what it takes to move to the next level in the hiring process and save valuable time interviewing unqualified candidates.
Effective screening will also reduce the time spent in the overall hiring process and spare the inconvenience of travel for those who do not qualify.
Worth the Read:
- Uh-oh: Average Interview Process Now Longer Than Ever
- Why the Interview Process is Flawed
- How ‘Declined Offer’ Interviews Can Help Sharpen Your Hiring Process
Interview Tips and Techniques
There are a number of effective screening procedures, including a long line of vendors that supply personality and aptitude tests.
Despite all of the advanced assessment tools, interviews by your recruiting team remain the most effective way to weed out the bad fits and identify superstars.
Beyond ensuring a candidate has the right skills to do the job, you also face the difficult task of gauging how a candidate might fit in with the company’s culture.
If you don’t, you may end up hiring a skilled, qualified employee – but one who’ll be unsatisfied, won’t get along with co-workers and, most importantly, won’t stay in the job very long.
- The first and most obvious tip for conducting effective interviews? Be prepared. Know exactly what the job requires and how it fits into your organizational goals. Anticipate what that applicant will want to know and have meaningful answers ready.
- Take the time to make the applicant comfortable. Even highly confident applicants find interviews stressful. You want to see them at their best, so do what you can to help them relax.
- Don’t surprise applicants. Make sure they know ahead of time if they’ll be taking any sort of test. If you conduct group interviews, let them know they’ll be talking to more than one person.
- If you schedule multiple interviews, make sure everyone asks a core set of questions so they can compare notes on how a candidate’s responses changed — or if they seem overly rehearsed.
- On the flip side, ask each candidate the same questions. You need to be able to compare their responses fairly.
- Ask one question at a time and spend at least five minutes on each question.
- Don’t hesitate to probe —get as much detail as possible.
- After you ask a question, stay quiet to force the candidate to keep talking. This is especially important during phone interviews.
- Interviews are conversations. Ask about hobbies and other interests (read on about Illegal interview questions for some cautions).
- Make the candidate want to know more. If you give a candidate reasons to be curious about your organization, they’ll be more engaged and likely will ask you better questions.
Finally, follow up!
Too many interviewers forget the importance of basic courtesy once an interview is over. Just as you want to know the candidate remains interested while you are making your decision, they want to know if they are still in the running.
Worth the Read:
- Elon Musk Has an Interview Tip for You
- Why First Impressions Don’t Tell the Whole Story — and 4 Ways to Combat ‘Em
When you are preparing questions for an interview, the best place to start is with a job description, either a formal one or an informal one that you put together to give you a handle on what you expect from anyone who gets hired.
Developing questions off the job description helps in two ways:
- It keeps you focused on what’s important – the ability to do the job.
- It ensures you’ll ask what we call “job appropriate” questions – those which hone in on the candidate’s ability and avoid topics that could be interpreted as inquiries about race, marital status, religion or any other subject that’s ripe for complaints and lawsuits.
As discussed earlier, it is very important to be consistent in the questions you ask every applicant for a given job. But that doesn’t mean you have to be a robot.
The way to tailor your questions for each applicant is mainly in the follow-up questions you use. You can still use the same core questions for each applicant, but you can develop follow-up questions that feed off the applicant’s initial responses.
Consider a situation where the same core question gets opposite answers, and calls for different follow-up.
Let’s say you ask each applicant, “What do you like least about your job?”
The first applicant may say, “I don’t like doing paperwork.”
You then can ask a follow-up that gets into the “why” of the problem: “Why don’t you like doing it? Do you feel it takes away time from more important tasks?”
The next applicant may respond to the same question with, “Oh, I like just about everything in my job.” Then you may have to change course a little and ask, “If you had to rank all your tasks, what would be at the top and what would be at the bottom?”
It’s a good idea to put together a separate set of questions for phone and in-person interviews. Any questions that are intended to gauge a candidate’s honesty or real expertise should be asked in person.
Phone Interview Questions
Here’s a selection of phone interview questions that will help identify the applicants you want to bring in for the next step in the interview process.
- Tell me a little about yourself.
- Why are you job hunting now?
- Are you interviewing elsewhere?
- Why are you applying for this position?
- What do you know about the job you’d be doing here?
- Describe your work experience as it relates to the job.
- Why do you want this job?
- Why do you want to work for our organization?
- What are you passionate about in your professional life? In your personal life?
- Tell me more about ___ (a specific item on their resume).
- What type of management style do you work best with? Respond poorly to?
- What are your salary expectations?
- If hired, when can you start?
- Do you have any questions?
There’s a reason these questions are staples of the interview process – they get to the bottom of candidates’ technical skills as workers.
But you need to delve deeper to determine if candidates are right for your organization – which is why asking questions that address specific situations in applicants’ previous work history can separate the wheat from the chaff in the applicant pool.
Of course, there’s more than one way to conduct an effective, legal interview.
All interviews should have some level of planning, but the structured interview takes the most planning. Essentially, you create a list of questions for the candidate based on what’s required for the job and what you know about the candidate based on information in a resume, cover letter or other documents.
An unstructured interview is more free-flowing and conversational, so it can go in different directions. To capture the details of this kind of interview, you’ll take a lot of notes, and as you know, some can be troublesome.
The STAR method is one effective way to get for more insight into how well an applicant will fit in the job and at your organization.
STAR stands for Situation, Task, Action, Results. You want applicants to go beyond yes or no answers and tell you a story that describes how they addressed a challenge in a previous job.
You’ll want them to describe a specific situation, the task or tasks they were responsible for in that instance, the actions they took to accomplish those tasks, and what results they achieved.
And remind them you need their answers to go beyond descriptions of day-to-day work processes.
Here’s four examples of questions that can give insight into a candidate’s potential:
- Think of a time when you were unfairly criticized. How did you handle it?
- When was the last time you had to act without the guidance of a formal policy or procedure? Tell me what you did.
- Give an example of a time when you had to deliver bad news. How did you go about it?
- Tell me about two times when you had good ideas, but co-workers or supervisors shot them down. How exactly did you handle that?
These questions require candidates to think on their feet and tell you about a specific success or failure in their past – which can help you get a better handle on how they’d react to similar situations in your work environment.
Be Prepared to Answer Applicant’s Questions
You wouldn’t hire applicants who were stumped by your questions. And applicants are less likely accept a job offer from a manager who can’t answer theirs.
Good questions from interviewees cover a lot of topics, including details about the job, questions about company financial health and growth strategy and insight into the candidate’s potential boss.
Applicants expect honest, thoughtful answers to their questions, and you need to be prepared to answer them.
Here are a few of the tougher questions you should expect from applicants:
- What do you see as the biggest challenges for someone in this job?
- How does the company define success in this position?
- What are some things about this job that previous employees have disliked?
- What brought you to this company? What has kept you here?
- How has the company changed since you joined?
- What are the company’s three most important goals?
- If you could change some things about the company, what would they be?
A final note on interviews of all kinds: make no promises.
Don’t exaggerate anything about the job. Even false statements about non-monetary things – for example, possibilities of promotion – could potentially lead to the company’s getting sued for making false promises.
Worth the Read:
- ‘What’s Your Spirit Animal?’ and Other Curveball Interview Questions You Might Want to Start Asking
- 20 Super-Hard Interview Questions Employers Are Really Asking
- The 10 Best Interview Questions You’ll See This Year
Illegal Interview Questions
Interviewing job candidates is a major task that carries with it two key responsibilities: (1) Getting the information needed to make a sound hiring decision. (2) Doing so in a way that doesn’t leave you or the company open to lawsuits from candidates.
Most lawsuits that come out of hiring interviews happen because the hiring manager or other interviewers aren’t familiar with the laws that cover discrimination in employment or don’t understand how the questions they ask might run afoul of those laws.
There are three main laws that protect applicants’ rights in the hiring process:
- Title VII of the Civil Rights Act prohibits discrimination based on race, color, sex, race, religion or national origin
- The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) makes it illegal to base decisions on an applicant’s age
- The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) makes it illegal to base decisions on a person’s physical or mental disability
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 states that you can’t reject an applicant based on race, sex, color, national origin or religion – what are referred to as “protected classes.”
These days, almost no one is ever going to outright reject a candidate because of membership in a protected class. The problem is usually a lot more subtle than that.
For instance, you might be interviewing a woman who’ll have to supervise an all-male team or crew. An interviewer naturally might want to know the woman’s background for filling the job. That calls for a question.
There are at least two ways to ask the question.
Here’s a way of asking that could get you into trouble: “Have you ever supervised men before?” That indicates you perceive a problem because the candidate is a woman – a protected class. Plus, it’s an ineffective question because it can be answered with a simple “yes” or “no.
Here’s a legal way of asking, and one that’s likely to get better results: “Describe your supervisory experience. What did you like and dislike about it? What are your strengths and weaknesses in that area?”
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
The Americans with Disabilities Act prohibits discrimination in the hiring and employment of the disabled. The ban on disability discrimination covers what’s said and done during the interviewing process.
Consider the types of questions and comments you’ll want to use and avoid when interviewing a candidate who’s obviously disabled or who mentions a “hidden” disability, such as chronic depression.
First and foremost, questions about the disability are off-limits.
That means you cannot ask, for instance, “How did it happen?” or “How does it limit your activities.”
When trying to decide what you can ask, remember this rule: Anything you’d reasonably ask a non-disabled candidate is OK to ask of a disabled candidate, including questions about ability to do the job.
Here’s an example of what you can ask: You have a job that requires the candidate to lift 30-pound boxes. It’s reasonable to ask a disabled or non-disabled person, “The job requires that you lift 30-pound boxes. Are you able to do that?”
Here’s an example of what you cannot ask: “The job requires that you lift 30-pound boxes. Will your disability interfere with that?” To ensure you stay on the right side of the law, remember the rule:
And remember, it isn’t just the questions your do ask that can get you in legal trouble. You also need to think about how missing a key question can be just as bad.
The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA)
The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) prohibits using age as a reason to reject an applicant. Just about everyone understands that, so why is there a problem and why should you be concerned about it?
Most lawsuits grow out of the applicant’s perception of the interviewer’s decisions, even when there’s no intent to discriminate. And that perception gets formed by the interviewer’s questions and comments.
Think about these examples of comments and questions that are perceived as age-related and possibly illegal:
“I see you went to Springfield High School. So did I. What year did you graduate?”
If the answer could be used to determine the candidate’s age, there’s a chance it’ll be perceived as playing a part in the hiring decision.
“In your resume, you mention experience with the Xdelete software. That hasn’t been around for years. When did you work with it?”
The answer could be used to determine a career timeline and illegally serve as a basis for rejecting the candidate.
To avoid creating a perception of age-related bias, consider asking the trainees to provide alternative, legal questions that cover the same ground – education and experience.
Here are two examples:
“What high school/college did you go to? Did you graduate?”
“What software do you have experience with?”
It is important to remember that these rules apply during any informal conversation with the candidate at any point in the interview process.
What if the Applicant Volunteers the Information?
While you have control over your part of the interviewing process, you can’t stop an applicant from volunteering information.
You can cut off a dangerous conversation by breaking in and saying something like, “Thank you, but I’d really like to know more about your experience as it directly relates to the job.”
Legally questionable information that’s volunteered by an applicant generally can’t be used against an interviewer as long as there’s no proof the information was used in the hiring decision.
So, should you immediately make a note that the applicant volunteered potentially problematic information during the interview?
Notes and Documentation
Unfortunately, like the rest of the interview process, that isn’t as simple as it sounds.
Notes and other documentation follow the same guides as conversation: keep them business-related and away from topics covered under Title VII, ADEA and ADA.
And, if an applicant files a lawsuit and a lawyer asks for all documentation regarding the interview, you’re legally bound to hand over any notes you have.
If you don’t, you are leaving your organization open to a charge of concealing evidence.
Think about your interview notes the same way you do about email. They can be obtained and read – and used against you or to legally support your decision.
Still, there’s no reason to fear writing down your observations as long as the notes strictly pertain to the applicant’s ability and skills to do the job. In other words, notes that mention personal traits or any of the “protected” classes in the Civil Rights Act can be a problem.
And never take notes directly on any document that you are required to keep or that will go into an employee file if they are hired. A single word scribbled on an applicant’s resume could be that little thing that lands you in court or costs your organization a large settlement.
Here are some forms to help you during the interviewing process:
- Application for Employment Form
- Interview Evaluation Form
- Illegal Interview Questions
- Telephone Reference Check Form
Worth the Read:
- 3 Innocent Interview Queries That Can Get You Into Trouble
- The Seemingly Innocent Interview Questions That Could Get You in Legal Hot Water
- Seemingly Innocent Interview Questions That Might Spark an Age-Bias Claim
After the Interview
If the interview goes well and you want to continue the process with a candidate, there are a few steps you need to take before your next conversation.
Social Networking Profiles
If possible, check applicants’ social networking profiles – but remember you can only use info that pertains specifically to predicting someone’s job performance.
Forty-five percent of managers have said they use social networking sites such as Facebook or LinkedIn to research applicants – and not all for bad.
While 35% of managers said they’ve turned down an applicant because of an online screen, 18% said they’ve made a positive decision based on an online profile.
So, what should you be looking out for when searching applicants’ profiles? Everyone has the right to restrict access to their pages (including both written and photographic material) via privacy settings.
Even if you do gain access without a problem, the site can reveal all sorts of things that could compromise compliance with existing employment laws – the applicant may have shared details about themselves that reveals medical conditions, past benefits claim disputes, religious beliefs and other protected info.
Regardless of how you obtain that information — even if a candidate shares it voluntarily — if a rejected applicant takes you to court, you will likely have to prove that you didn’t base your decision on that information, which is very difficult to do.
On the flip side, information an applicant posts on a website can also reveal red flags that clearly pertain to hiring decisions, such as bragging about sick-time abuse or padding a resume.
Bottom line: Combing through social media posts may reveal too much about an applicant, so only use info that pertains specifically to predicting job performance.
Candidates sometimes exaggerate skills and experience in an effort to stand out.
The most powerful tool you have in separating what’s true from what’s not is a well-conducted reference check.
When you contact former employers to check candidates’ references, pay close attention to any details you can glean about their previous work environment and find out as much as you can about previous supervisors’ management styles.
Here are four key parts of the process you shouldn’t overlook:
- Find out how well the reference knows that candidate’s work. Ask, “What were the candidate’s responsibilities?” to ensure that the reference directly supervised the applicant and knows the person’s work well. If the reference can only vaguely describe what the candidate did, you may not want to put that much stock in the rest of the job interview.
- Ask about management style and work environment. A candidate’s reference should be viewed in light of the former supervisor’s management style. A manager could give a glowing review, but could have a completely different style than you.
- Learn other details of the company culture to help judge the candidate’s fit. Excelling in one environment doesn’t guarantee success in another.
- Pay attention to neutral statements. Some references choose to say nothing – or remain neutral – about a candidate. That can mean there’s a problem — or could just reflect company policies that limit what anyone can discuss about an ex-employee. If that’s the case, check to see if they’ll provide more detail if they have the candidate’s express permission. When you are able to speak directly to a former supervisor, however, a good candidate will get a positive review, not a neutral one.
How to Answer “Why Wasn’t I Hired?”
It’s inevitable that some rejected applicants will want to know why they weren’t hired for a position. How you respond could very well get the company in legal trouble.
If you come away from the interview convinced the applicant isn’t the right fit for any of those reasons, let them know as soon as you can after making the decision. In this age of social media, a reputation for treating applicants disrespectfully is almost certain to hurt your brand as an employer.
And be very careful about the comments you make if unsuccessful candidates ask you why they didn’t get hired.
In recent court cases, managers have said things along the lines of “We wanted someone who’d help our diversity,” or “You didn’t have the right look” – and ended up costing their companies big.
When unsuccessful applicants ask you why they weren’t hired, stick with an all-purpose statement: “We filled the position with a more qualified candidate.”
As we mentioned at the beginning, 46% of new hires fail within their first 18 months on the job.
Your goal during the interviewing and hiring process is to find a candidate who is technically proficient, fits in with company culture, works hard and will stick with your company long-term.
The right candidate will be the one with the best combination of the traits we’ve detailed:
- Technical skills
- Relevant experience
- Interpersonal skills
- Work style
- Cultural fit
Don’t underestimate the value of soft skills. In most cases, technical skills can be taught, especially to quick learners.
Here are a few final important interviewing tips and reminders:
- Ask for clarification. Never be afraid to probe deeply and ask candidates to explain statements that aren’t clear. Too often, candidates are let off the hook when they make statements that don’t make sense or don’t actually answer the question.
- Don’t be afraid to drill. Always look for concrete, specific examples to back up candidates’ statements. The goal of most questions is to drill down to specific actions that candidates took.
- Information about a candidate’s protected class, such as race, sex, religion and disabilities, is off limits when it comes to interview questions, interview notes, and social media research.
- Be especially careful with note-taking. You never know if the notes you take during an interview may end up in the hands of a rejected applicant’s lawyer.
- When checking references, pay attention to lukewarm reference responses. Few references will make overtly negative statements about a former employee, but a neutral answer might be a red flag.
- If you get the opportunity, ask former supervisors probing questions about the specific traits that are most important to success at your organization.
- And finally, make no promises. Don’t exaggerate anything about the job. Even false statements about non-monetary things – for example, possibilities of promotion – could potentially lead to the company’s getting sued for making false promises.