You’ve posted the job and vetted the resumes. Now it’s time to start screening and interviewing candidates. What’s the best way for HR professionals to find just the right candidate? Multiple rounds of interviews? Set up an interview panel? Test for skills? And how should interviewers prepare?

HR professionals know there are right and wrong ways to identify the most promising candidates. Here are some of the techniques HR professionals use.

Starting and Structuring the Process

Conducting an initial phone screen before inviting a candidate for a more formal interview (either virtual or in-person) is an efficient way for both organizations and candidates to determine whether it makes sense to go forward.

One group found that only two percent of all applicants move to the next step after an initial phone screen. A 15-minute phone conversation can quickly weed out candidates who are unqualified or have issues (such as an existing non-compete contract). Candidates can ask their most important qualifying questions. At the end of the conversation, both sides should have a much better idea of whether it makes sense to keep talking.

HR, not the hiring manager, should conduct the initial phone screen. To respect the candidate’s time and ensure the organization gets the best results, HR professionals should:

  • Review the candidate’s resume and any other materials before the conversation
  • Inform candidates what to expect when scheduling the call
  • Be on time or let the candidate know as soon as possible of an unavoidable delay
  • Ask all candidates the same questions (A written script can help.)

The last tip is critical for avoiding liability. Asking different questions of candidates—especially if the candidates differ by age, race, gender, or another protected class—could be viewed as discriminatory. Follow-up questions can vary, but candidates should be asked the same initial questions.

And always, always, make sure that every interviewer is trained, knows what questions cannot be asked, and understands current laws and regulations. For example, the Department of Labor recently changed the rules, and companies can no longer ask for salary history on an application.

How to Interview

Having two people conduct an interview is fine. A hiring manager can be the best person to discuss the role and how it fits into the organization, while a peer-level employee may be better suited to determine technical skills or other specific job requirements.

If two or more people from the organization are going to participate, however, the candidate should know that multiple interviewers were scheduled for efficiency and expediency, not to “gang up on” or intimidate the candidate. Be aware, though, that many candidates might be intimidated in a panel interview, and multiple interviewers can change the dynamic of an interview. Keep in mind, too, that if making a personal connection with the candidate is part of the desired result, the more interviewers in the room, the less likely that will happen.

Again, whether the interview is more of a conversation or more of a question-and-answer session, keep the initial questions and initial discussions consistent to mitigate liability and give every candidate the same opportunity. As mentioned, follow-up questions and discussions can differ as the conversation evolves.

Testing for Skills

In many cases, skills testing may not be necessary. Think before asking candidates to take a test or complete a project. If you ask clients to complete a project, be mindful of what you’re requesting. Make sure it’s:

  • Necessary
  • Relevant
  • Not too much of a burden

Don’t ask candidates to spend hours on a project or a presentation. If you’re going to ask them to do anything substantial, compensate them and tell them what that compensation will be. This will vary by position: you might want a potential executive to demonstrate strategic thinking by writing a brief proposal, but don’t expect an entry-level person to spend hours on a project. And never, never, try to get paid work for free by making it part of the interview experience.

Avoiding Mistakes and Liabilities

Smart organizations realize that interviewing is a two-way street: the organization is trying to determine whether a candidate will be a good fit, and the candidate is deciding whether the organization seems right for them. Both sides are buyers and sellers; selling themselves and what they have to offer and deciding whether they want to “buy” (hire or be hired) what the other is selling.

To be most effective at both, avoid these mistakes:

  • Failure to prepare. An interviewer who looks at a resume and other submitted materials for the first time is sending a message. That message is, “I don’t have my act together and you aren’t important enough to prep for this interview.” Review each candidate’s materials and think about questions beforehand.
  • Inconsistent messaging. When one interviewer is neutral and another makes it sound as if the candidate is 99% certain to receive a job offer, candidates rightly wonder what exactly is going on.
  • Lack of engagement. Reading questions from a sheet and simply writing down the answers won’t tell you what you need to know about a candidate.
  • No checklist of “must have” and “nice to have” skills. Go beyond the job description. Does this job require someone who’s calm and analytical, friendly and welcoming, or who needs to possess certain critical skills? What skills must they bring to the position, and what can be learned once they’re in the role? Answer those questions internally before interviews begin.
  • Personal questions. When asked about a resume gap, the candidate might reply that they left the workforce to have and raise a baby or to care for a senior parent. Interviewers can acknowledge the life event, but they should not follow up with a personal question. (Side note: Gaps in work history are often irrelevant and, because of the pandemic, not unusual. Unless there’s a very good reason for asking, that’s often a subject that should be skipped.)

Even seasoned managers should be trained before beginning the interview process, and often it makes sense for someone from HR who’s savvy on the latest laws and regulations to take part in the interview as well.

The Lindenberger Group can help organizations in all industries conduct more effective interviews and avoid potential liabilities. For more information or to discuss your HR needs, please contact us at 609-730-1049 or send us an email.