Preparing for a recruitment interviewWednesday, December 22nd, 2010
If you ask most people who have just collected on their desk a pile of job applications “What do you do next?”, they will say “Draw up a short list of the best candidates, then interview them”. Sounds straightforward, but there is a most important gap between those two actions that needs to be thought through and acted upon if the best candidates are to retain their enthusiasm and interest in your vacancy. You need to prepare for those interviews, and prepare well.
Too often a job advertisement has been drafted that covers the essentials of the job, but nothing further is done until just before an interview is due, and that is just not good enough. Both you and the candidate will suffer. You must be absolutely sure that you know exactly what it is that you are looking for, therefore look out or produce a job description that sets out the purpose of the job and its detailed requirements. From this you need to draw up a person specification. You will not unfortunately attract superman or woman and no candidate is likely to possess your level of excellence, therefore list the absolute essentials for the job and then the desirable qualities. However, take care to express these as competencies rather than vague human qualities. Try starting each requirement with “Must be able to ….” or “Ideally will be able to ….” And from this you should be able to compile a questionnaire that will enable you to explore all the important areas of the candidates’ background. This can take the form either of a list of specific questions or of areas to explore and points to raise, whichever you are more comfortable with.
You also need an interview form for each candidate on which to record his or her responses, your comments and some form of mark system. This is important to remind you of what was said and what you thought at the time, to enable you to make objective assessments as you go along, and to protect you against any claims of discrimination.
As soon as you can, contact each candidate you wish to interview. Ideally phone them at home during the evening. This shows interest, impresses greatly and also enables you to fix a mutually convenient interview time. If instead you send a letter, make it friendly. Thank the person for applying, say that you would very much like to arrange a meeting, give a time but say what to do if that is not convenient. Remember that the best candidates, being keen on their work, may not be too willing to take a day off to come to an interview on the off-chance that it may be a better job, so be prepared to meet outside work hours. If your premises will be closed, book a room somewhere or meet in a quiet hotel lobby.
Indicate clearly how to reach your site, and be realistic about time. If you ask someone to travel a long distance, do not fix the interview for early morning unless you are prepared to put them up in a hotel the night before. If appropriate, tell them which is the nearest rail station, otherwise give them directions for reaching you by road. This should be a simple map, narrative directions, and the post code to feed into a satnav. Make clear where they should park their car, and ideally reserve a spot for them.
The corporate welcome is most important, therefore tell everyone who receives visitors – receptionists, gatekeepers – the names and times of arrivals of interviewees, and have them say “We” (not “Mr Smith is…”) “We are expecting you, Miss Lovejoy”.
Have a look at your reception area. Be it ever so humble, is it welcoming? If not, do something about it. Essentially you need comfortable seats and something to look at. Not your boring sales literature, but a couple of colour supplements or today’s paper. And of course a receptionist must be a paragon of warmth and friendliness. If you cannot offer a welcoming reception area and staff, then find an empty office, have the visitor put in there and send along a cuppa and something to read. The visitor should always be shown where the washrooms are and given time to use them. Remember that the interview experience is not just an opportunity to decide whether you want the candidate, it is an occasion for the candidate to decide whether he or she wants you. Your reception area is the face of your organisation, so make sure that it smiles and not frowns at visitors. Any sales representative will tell you that one can learn an awful lot about an organisation from its reception function, so make sure that yours says to candidates “You will love working here!”
Although you are an extremely important and busy person, nevertheless do not send for the visitor but go to reception yourself to collect him or her. Offer a warm handshake and welcome the person by name. Just before leaving your office for this task, find something in the application form, perhaps where the person lives or something from his leisure interests, that you can chat about while walking the corridor back to your office. And if, like the writer, you have difficulty remembering names, write the candidate’s name in biro on the inside of your wrist where you can easily glance at it surreptitiously. And use his or her name often during the following interview.
How you conduct an interview will have to be the subject of a future article, but if you have done all this preparatory work, by the time the candidate settles down into the chair in your office, he or she will feel wanted and will be so relaxed that he will happily pour out lots of information that otherwise might have been kept back.