June 17, 2013
Author: Amy Jacobs, Esq.
Organization: Employment Practices Solutions
Let’s face it. Hiring decisions are some of the most critical decisions that an employer makes. Even under the best circumstances, the costs of training and orienting a new employee are significant. A poor hiring decision increases those costs dramatically. Nonetheless, in many organizations the selection process is haphazard, with time crunched managers squeezing interviews into an already crowded schedule. The stakes are too high. Take the time to review the hiring process and give guidance to those who will interview the candidates – it will yield a better hiring decision and facilitate an easier transition for the organization and the new employee.
Where to Start?
The best place to start is at the beginning – the job description. Every position should have a current and accurate job description. Notwithstanding compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, the job description helps to focus the hiring process and decision as well as provide a standard for later performance evaluations.
How can a job description help? A proper job description identifies the essential functions of the position. In other words, it clearly explains why the position exists and what is expected of the person who performs it. It also identifies necessary qualifications. With clearly stated qualifications and expectations, the recruiting, screening and interviewing process progresses more smoothly.
Be careful, though. The job description should not include qualifications that are not relevant to the essential functions of the position. Certainly, nothing that relates to a protected classification should be included. For example, it would unwise to include “single” or “unmarried” as a qualification. Similarly, be careful about terms such as “fresh” or “energetic” that imply youth.
Additionally, be sure that the employment application is up to date and in compliance with state and local laws. The overriding principle for applications is to solicit only information relevant to the hiring process. Do not seek general information that does not (or should not) enter into the hiring decision. Some states do not allow hiring or employment decisions to be made on the basis of legal, off duty conduct. Off duty cigarette smoking would fall into this category. Political affiliation is also a protected classification in many jurisdictions, so it is prudent to remove any questions concerning memberships and associations, other than professional or industry related groups.
Preparing for the Interview
Once applicants have been selected for an interview, it is time to return once again to the trusty job description. Using the job description as a guide, create a list of questions to ask of all applicants. It is helpful to compare each applicant’s answer to the same question. More importantly, an outline of questions will ensure that an important question is not forgotten.
Include some open-ended or behavior based questions, not just those that can be satisfied with a “yes” or “no” answer. Use behavior based questions that relate to the organization’s culture. For example, if unexpected deadlines are a possibility in the position, consider asking the applicant about any examples of experience she or he has had with an unexpected deadline and how it was managed.
A review of the job description clarifies the type of applicant needed for the job. Now, turn to the applicant’s resume and application. Supplement the interview outline with specific questions about the resume. Sadly, many applicants lie, distort the truth, or conceal information on their resumes. Review the resume, and prepare to ask for specifics about past employment and education.
Good rules of thumb about interview questions:
- Do ask questions related to the applicant’s ability to perform the job, but
- do not ask questions that relate to a protected status or classification.
- Do ask questions about work history and experience.
- Do inquire about job related skills, training and knowledge.
- Do not ask questions pertaining to age (except if over 18), pregnancy, marital status, race/national origin, religion, disability or medical history.
- Do not ask about childbearing plans or child care issues.
Why should an interviewer avoid these types of questions? Because if this information is sought out, and the applicant is rejected, an argument might be made that the information about the protected classification (i.e. pregnant) was the reason for rejection.
Conducting the Interview
When scheduling the interview(s), allow plenty of time. It is much easier to cut an interview short (and find some unexpected extra time in the day!) than to reshuffle remaining appointments and/or keep other applicants waiting. Remember, an amazing applicant may choose to take her amazing and highly sought after qualifications elsewhere if she is kept waiting for 45 minutes. Accordingly, be considerate of everyone’s time, including your own, and formulate a realistic schedule.
Find an appropriate location for the interview. The most important thing is to conduct an interview in a place where interruptions are minimized.
Document the interview. Notes will be helpful during the final selection process. Bear in mind, however, that if a legal dispute results from the hiring decision, the notes may be discoverable or turned over to the EEOC or the applicant’s attorney. Therefore, just like the interview questions, the notes should be reflective of job related concerns. Jot down information (positive and negative) concerning the employee’s work history and/or qualifications. Note how responsive the applicant is to the questions.
Leave some time for the applicant to ask questions. This is important both so his or her questions can be answered, but also to see if the applicant is truly interested in this particular employer.
Close the interview in a professional and cordial manner. Thank the candidate and give a time frame for the decision making process. Do not promise a candidate the job, no matter how fabulous he or she may appear.
Spend some time preparing and conducting considered interviews, and you will be that much closer to a solid new hire. Then, with any luck, it will be quite some time before you have to interview for that position again.
About the Author
Amy Nickell Jacobs, Esq., Senior Consultant, has a thorough knowledge of employment law from eight years of practice, first with Bracewell & Patterson in Houston, Texas and then with Haynes & Boone in Fort Worth, Texas. She has advised and defended organizations on a variety of employment law issues, including harassment. Her experience includes investigating allegations of harassment, advising employers on resolution strategies and defending employers in litigation relating to harassment.
Amy has worked with small and large employers in both the public and private sector. Her experience with public sector employers gives her sensitivity to the scrutiny under which governmental entities must handle workplace issues. Amy is also a frequent speaker on a wide range of employment topics and has worked as a consulting expert on investigation issues. She is an energetic and effective trainer, and has significant experience training all levels of employees from entry level up to executive management.
Amy graduated from Virginia Tech and received her law degree from the University of Virginia School of Law. She is a co-author of Prevent Workplace Harassment: Proven Policies that Keep Your Company Out of Court (Aspen Publishing, 2002). Amy joined EPS in 1997. Dallas/Ft. Worth, Texas office of EPS.