As the Interviewer: Stages of the Interview

There are so many different ways that companies are conducting interviews these days that it begs the question: Should there be different steps in the interview process?

Some will say the process depends on the size of the company…others will say it depends on the level of the position.  But too many times either a vital step is missed or more steps are added that complicate the process and may end in loosing a candidate or having to re-hire again because a candidate didn’t work out.

Not knowing the best way to approach the interview process is really no one’s fault.  The Art of Interviewing is a topic discussed with Jobseekers but never have I seen it as a topic taught from the Interviewer’s perspective.  Like with any HR or Management position, it is just “assumed” that you will know how to interview because you have achieved those roles in your career.  And this is where I have seen mistakes be made.

You have may a process that works well for you and your company….and congratulations if you do!  But for those that find themselves wondering if it could be better or struggling with always seeming to hire “problem” employees that aren’t discovered until after the fact, here is a breakdown that hopefully will help you.

Stage 1:    The Phone Interview

Duration: Typically no more than 15min

For some people, they think the Phone Interview is a waste of time and go right to bringing the candidate in for an in-person interview.  However, you are missing a key opportunity especially if this is a candidate that will be working on the phone in any capacity with your customers.

The main purpose of conducting a phone interview is to hear the person’s phone etiquette.  Are they quiet and timid or are they hyper and interrupting?  Do they speak clearly?  Do you perceive any attitude when they are answering you that your customers may misinterpret?

Questions are by the Interviewer are typically: questions about the current job that they have, what interested the candidate about your job opening and the “why do you feel you are a fit for this job?”  Based on the impressions over the phone, you decide whether or not to go to Stage 2.

Stage 2:  First In-person Interview with HR

Duration: Typically 30-45min

Here is where many Managers just don’t understand why HR has to get involved to interview.  After all, when it comes to doing the job (especially if it is technical or specialized) how can HR really be a good judge about who would be a “good hire” and who wouldn’t?  The purpose of the “first interview” is not to find your ideal candidate right off the bat, but to serve as a “gatekeeper” to weed out all of those that may not be a good representation of the company or a fit with the company’s culture.

Your HR person is looking for a “personality fit” when they first meet with the candidates:

  • Do they speak clearly?
  • Are they thoughtful when answering questions about their background?
  • Do they show they can think on their feet when asked questions about past problems they have encountered?
  • Are they a personality a fit for the company and how it projects itself to its customers?
  • Would they bit a fit with the other employees?
  • Are they looking for more career-wise than the company is able to offer to where they may become dissatisfied quickly?
  • What are their reasons for gaps, changes in career, leaving previous employers?

They made it past the “check the box” on their resume to get the interview, but now it’s time to see how they answer questions about their experience and aspirations to see if – personality-wise – there is a match with your company.  When HR finds the candidates that they feel fit this requirement, now it’s time to get into their specific skills and experience to see how it relates to the job you are looking to fill.

Stage 3:  Second In-Person Interview with Hiring Manager

Duration: Typically 30-45min

This is where the Manager gets to focus just on the candidate’s background and skills to ask questions to see if they will be able to fill the job you are looking to fill.  Don’t waste your time with some of the typical questions you can find on the Internet such as “Where do you see yourself in 5yrs?”  Remember, that’s the type of questions your HR person has already asked to see if they would have a future with the company.

Make the most of your time by focusing on “if” and “how” this candidate in front of you would be able to:

  • Come up to speed to do the job you are hiring for or will they need more time to train and become accustomed…
  • Are they technically up to par with the skill set you are looking for or, with a little time and training, could you train them up to be the ideal employee…
  • How well do they seem to listen to direction – do they listen to you or interrupt you when asking questions…
  • Do they offer ideas and suggestions based on past experience as answers to the questions you pose…

Let’s face it – you are looking for that employee that can hit the ground running right after their first day, so use this time to uncover if they will be able to work with you (as their manager) and do the job efficiently so you can quickly make a choice on your new hire.

Optional:  Reference Checks

Today’s jobseekers often wonder if companies ever do call on references before hiring them and, in all honesty, many companies don’t…mainly because they don’t think it will get them any insight into a candidate as they are expecting.  So, as a result, jobseekers don’t want to share references in the early stages of interviewing (and they really shouldn’t be required to) and employers aren’t taking the time to do their research.

With social media today, there are so many ways to “reference check” an employee to see if they would be a good hire.  Many candidates will have LinkedIn accounts that allows you to see not just their resume, but more about outside activities such as: volunteer positions and articles published, not to mention how professionally they work to appear online (is their photo professional or questionable?).  Same can be said for Twitter, Facebook, Instagram….anything that is set to “public” that you can see – your customers and clients will be able to see to.

But don’t discount the phone inquiry!  Yes, there are companies staying away from offering reference checks because of implied legal retaliation, but some are still willing to share especially if it was a great employee that they were sorry to see go.  Just stay away from family and friends as references.  Even students can offer teachers as references that will give you more of a peek into their personality and ethics.  And don’t pressure an employee to give you a reference from their current employer unless you have already extended a job offer.  Ask for past supervisors and even subordinates. 

You will already have an idea if you want to hire the person or not before you make the call so keep the conversation on how well they carried out their job, how they got along with others, did they have ideas to bring to the table, etc.

If Its On the Internet, It Must Be True!

search_internetHow quick are we to believe what we read and find on the Internet!

Remember the State Farm Insurance commercials promoting their mobile app where the girl tells her friend “If it on the Internet, it must be true.” We laugh and roll our eyes at the stupidity of the comment…yet, so many people pass judgment or make assumptions based on what they see on the Internet.

I recently had a friend go through a personal ordeal because of information uncovered by another person on the Internet. This person, for whatever reason, had “Googled” my friend’s name and found questionable information…and then proceeded to make assumptions based on this information to degrade my friend’s character. No one further investigated the information or even asked him for an explanation to determine whether or not it was true and/or what were the circumstances. Instead, a lynch mob ensued, orchestrated by this person who played to the fears and emotions of others. Had an explanation been sought before taking action, the truth surrounding the information found on the Internet would have been revealed…and not been as bad as it was made out to be. Instead, my friend was ousted from this group because the situation had escalated beyond any chance of resolution and the person who spread this information was allowed to go home and gloat in the glory of his success.

Ridiculous, right? Upset? I was too.

And while I’m sure not many of us would have gone to the extreme that this person did, how many of us will admit that we too have jumped to conclusions based on the tidbit of information we see? Or worse – choose not to interview an applicant because they have checked that box on their application that “have been convicted of a crime.”

As a Hiring Manager, it is important to protect the integrity of the company as well as its employees. If an actual background check is not included as part of the pre-hire procedure, its not uncommon for many to resort to “Googling” a person’s name to see what public information comes up.

Should we take that information as gospel? Not unless you think like the girl in the State Farm commercial!

Just like with any other situation, we must get the full facts – from both sides if available – before we jump to conclusions, make assumptions or pass judgment whether it be verbal accusations or Internet findings. So, how to you handle it without worrying about any legal backlash? Use it as a talking point to gather information – and remember not ask in the tone of making an accusation.

For example: I had an applicant that noted that he had been arrested for armed robbery. He showed up wearing a suit to personally turn in his application so I decided to ask him if he wanted to expand on why he answered the question with a “yes.” He admitted that he had been arrested but stated that he was young and it was a case of being in the “wrong place at the wrong time” – he didn’t know at the time, but he had gotten in a car with a friend that had just committed the robbery when the police pulled him over and was considered guilty by association. Ten years later, he had kept a clean record, finished school and had different volunteer groups he had become a part of. His previous employer had gone out of business with the market, so was just looking a full-time job with a career path. I was impressed…so was the manager…so we gave him a chance. (Yes, he worked out…and eventually moved into an Assistant Manager position!)

We are bombarded with images and news of crime on a daily basis that it makes it easy for us to jump to quick conclusions without the benefit of the doubt….and this is all perpetuated by fear. Fear is the “evil you” sitting on your one shoulder always trying to drown out the “good you.” Will you let Fear win? Or will you question before making a decision?

“All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” – Edmund Burke

Top Signs You Should Think Twice About Hiring An Applicant

flag_pin_angled_400_clr_9655You were impressed with their resume.

You conducted the phone interview.

You were equally impressed with them during an in-person interview.

Could they be the perfect candidate?

Aside from the typical background checks HR professional do these days: reference checks, Google searches, LinkedIn/Twitter/Facebook searches, criminal background checks…are there other signs that can point to a problematic employee before you spend all your time researching them?

Don’t loose sight of the importance of the traditional “Application for Employment.”

Candidates will typically stretch the truth on their resumes with the expectation that it will be the only document the potential employer will use in evaluating them. Remember: resumes are not always complete or clear. Last thing an employer wants to deal with is having to terminate an employee after-the-fact and risking a lawsuit.

So how can the Application for Employment serve as a measurement of an applicant’s candidacy?

1) Beware the applicant that doesn’t sign the employment application. Most companies use the same standard line on the application near the signature block – “all information is truthful and accurate to the best of my knowledge.” Not signing is less of an omission and more a sign that the candidate is purposefully not signing the application for fear that it would be used against them later when its discovered that the information they provided was false.

2) The applicant does not sign the consent for a background screening. Most online resume submissions are programmed to not allow a candidate to advance to the submission stage without agreeing to a background check, but if you are having them complete the application in person – pay attention to this box. Employers who do not enforce this, especially small businesses, run the risk of being labeled the “preferred employer” for those with past actions to hide because they know the employer doesn’t really perform this step.

3) An applicant fails to explain gaps in employment. In today’s market, many applicants are afraid or ashamed to report that they were laid off for fear that they will be judged by that. If this is the case, it can be gauged during an interview by simply asking the applicant about the gaps. However, another reason for tracking gaps in employment is for criminal background checks. Contrary to popular belief (or what you see on TV), there isn’t a national database for criminal records. These have to be run separately by state.

4) The applicant fails to give sufficient information on past employers for reference checks. While many applicants won’t keep track of phone numbers for HR to call, location and supervisor’s name is usually enough to track down a phone number or email address. Don’t bypass a past employer because you don’t have enough information to contact them. Many applicants will not give enough information because they don’t want you to contact their previous employer – which means there may be valuable insight you are missing. Beware especially when an applicant states they can’t remember their previous supervisor’s name. I can still remember my first manager’s name when I started working at 17 and I’m sure you can too! Past employment reference checks may only yield title and dates of employment, but the applicant doesn’t know that.

5) The applicant fails to give a reason for leaving a past job. That’s usually a red flag that they were terminated or asked to resign due to some performance issue. While this can be addressed during the interview, the omission should put you on alert to watch for how the applicant answers when asked in person. Do they fidget? Do they look like they are struggling to come up with an answer? Do they simply say “it was just time for me to move on?” All are reasons to be skeptical.

6) Simple as it sounds – lots of cross-outs and changes on the resume. That could be a sign that they are making things up as they go along and trying to cover up real reasons/information with what you will want to read.

While technology has greatly improved the recruiting process, making it easier for candidates to apply and recruiter s to screen, don’t loose sight of the “old school” tactics that can protect your company from future liability.

Some practices should never be replaced.

#HRHorrorStories – Day 5 – And The Award Goes To….

Head in HandsIf you have been following the #HRHorrorStories that were shared on #DTHR last week, you were probably thinking “yep, I’ve had that happen to me” or “I’ve had a similar experience.” Those of us that have been in the field for a while think that we’ve heard it all!

Well, get ready cause I’m willing to bet you never had this one happen to you! So, sit down, get comfortable, grab your coffee and drink it first before you read on…this may make you fall off your chair or spit your coffee out.

There were two stories shared – one that opened a lot of discussion about best practices and one that left us all speechless….and in my opinion wins the award for Best HR Horror Story EVER!

The first story was about an HR Manager finding out from another employee who had been surfing the Internet one day that a current employee of the company had been listed on the State’s Sexual Offender list. Of course, we know not to always believe everything that we read on the Internet, so the HR Manager did their due diligence and verified with the State Agency that is was in fact true. Once the employee was questioned, he admitted to the conviction and knowing that he was on the list but had indicated on his job application that he had no past convictions and was terminated that day for lying on his application.

Many companies do like to do background checks prior to hiring – sometimes its as simple as a reference check, sometimes its more involved such as a criminal or financial background check (although I personally think unless you are applying for a financial position, the company is over doing it but demanding a financial background check) and some companies will do a brief Internet check. This is a big reason why we advise jobseekers at any level to “Google yourself” and see what information comes up on the Internet about you including pictures. We do advise jobseekers to also be aware of what they post on Social Media as that may be seem by potential employers as well but not sure many companies actually take the time to check those before hiring.

The example provided also brought up the fact that many states have “Ban the Box” practices now that prevent employers from including questions about your background on the job application. This does make it harder to uncover such situations…but also begs the question: how in-depth of a background do you think your future employee needs? Does it really matter what they have done in the past when they are trying to make a change in their life? If they admit their past mistakes to you, will you hold it against them or praise them for their honesty?

Let me give you some food for thought: An employee with a past conviction for a DUI applies to your company for a position that will not involve him operating machinery or driving a vehicle. Should it matter that he has a DUI conviction? Will you question every time he is late or sick as alcohol-related instead of believing the reasons he tells you? Will it make you view him differently regardless of whether or not he does a good job? See what I mean…there isn’t a perfect answer but its something that every company needs to look at individually to decide.

Now….here’s the award-winning story!

As part of a company’s standard policy, all employees needed to go through a pre-employment physical. In this case, the new employees were allowed to start work immediately pending the results of the drug screen. (Rapid panels drug tests can provide you with immediate results, however proper testing and recording can take up to 24hrs for negative test and 72hrs for positive ones.) Well, this employee failed his drug screen. He was brought it, told of his test results and terminated.

A couple of days later – this ex-employee called HR and asked for a copy of his failed drug test. When HR asked why he wanted it, he said it was because he had bought a Drug Masking kit to guarantee that he would pass so he needed the results in order to go back to the store to ask for a refund on the kit! Of course, the company opted not to provide him with a copy. What the employee also didn’t realize is that many drug tests today are setup to look for those masking agents that have become so popular.

While many employees will try anything to pass a drug screen, companies requiring one as a condition of employment really should wait until the test results have been received before starting them. This saves you time and money spent on getting all their paperwork together and added into your payroll system. It also prevents any case of unemployment to be filed against you – even though they will not have had enough time to make you a chargeable employer, they can still list you as a previous employer if you had already let them start before finding out they failed the drug screen.

There you have it!

For anyone who ever thought that HR was just filling out paperwork and doing payroll, I hope you enjoyed reading all the situations and trials that HR professionals encounter on a daily basis. Yes, most of the stories shared are more common than you think….its just that you must have a great HR person on staff to handle these things so that you never had to know what happens behind the door to the HR office…