HR Hero Line

Hey boss! Get ready, be smart, and do the right thing

by Phillip S. Oberrecht

You have an important position to fill. You have narrowed the applicant pool to a manageable number. It’s time to conduct interviews, and you need the best person for the job. What can you do to conduct the best interview possible? 

The company’s needs, résumés, and social media
The first step to finding the best applicant is understanding your company’s needs. Note the qualifications, experience, and credentials you seek. Identify the qualities of your best performers and the characteristics that fit your company culture. Are your stars tech-savvy? People-oriented? High-energy? Kind and generous? Production-oriented? Detailed? Midnight oil burners? Big picture people? Which characteristics does the job require?

Next, spend time examining written inquiries and résumés submitted by applicants. Note the care with which they are written, and identify questions and red flags.

Don’t be afraid to run a social media check on applicants. Often, you can find acquaintances who will give you information about an applicant you cannot get from references. Also, you may find information that supplements or contradicts details on an applicant’s résumé.

Be prepared for interviews
Be prepared to interview applicants. Take your job seriously, and prepare well. If you take advantage of the information at your disposal, you can make the interview meaningful and productive for you and the applicant. You will gain insight from the materials you have researched, and you will be able to focus the interview on productive and meaningful discussions.

Friendly investigation
Interviews will be more effective and applicants will obtain a better impression of your company if you conduct interviews as discussions, not interrogations. If you start an interview with a series of routine, broad questions about an applicant’s résumé, you will put the applicant at ease and give her an opportunity to open up and provide you with information that gives you better insight into her character, work habits, and abilities. For example, you can ask, “Why did you take this job?” and follow up with, “What promotions did you receive?” and “What were your accomplishments?” End the discussion by asking, “Why did you leave?”

You should listen, take notes, and ask the same questions for each job the applicant has held. Your job is to listen to the answers very carefully and give the applicant an opportunity to get comfortable and open up. Asking the same questions sets applicants at ease, and they will give you more information than you could have obtained by asking direct questions.

The worst questions
You need to know as much as you can about an applicant’s character and her ability to fit in and work as a member of your team. Understand her likes and dislikes, her interests, what motivates her, and the challenges she needs. You need to grasp what makes work meaningful and enjoyable for her and how she will get along with bosses and coworkers.

However, you can’t ask an applicant about her religious preference, childcare arrangements, birthplace, or national origin. You can’t ask an applicant whether she’s married, divorced, or widowed. You can’t ask whether she has been convicted of a crime that is not related to the requirements of the job or whether she speaks a language other than English at home. You should not ask which clubs or social organizations she belongs to. You cannot ask whether she is disabled or whether she has filed workers’ compensation claims in the past. You are familiar with those restrictions, but you need more in-depth information about an applicant’s personality. What do you do?

The softballs
Most applicants want to give you more—not less—information. You can obtain most of the information you want simply by asking broad questions and listening to applicants’ answers. Ask applicants about projects they worked on for previous employers. This is the time to ask follow-up questions such as:

  • What made the project a success or failure?
  • How did that experience help you attain your goals?
  • What has led you to define your career path?
  • How have past jobs complemented or interfered with your ability to pursue other interests?
  • What personality challenges have you experienced from coworkers and bosses?
  • Which traits do the best coworkers and bosses have?
  • Which traits do the worst coworkers and bosses have?
  • Which traits do the best employers have?

Your questions and follow-ups to applicants’ answers should be simple and broad. They should allow an applicant to expand on previous answers and give you information about who she really is and how she interacts with coworkers and bosses. Applicants will give you the information they want you to have, but they will relax and provide you with more information than you could ever obtain by asking specific, direct yes-or-no questions.

Answer applicants’ questions
The ideal interview will result in the applicant asking questions about the job, the company’s culture, and the people she will work with. Be thoughtful and candid in your responses. Be open and transparent as you describe your company. Your answers will provide the applicant the information she needs to determine whether she wants to work for your company and how she will talk about your company if she does not get the job. The applicant is interviewing you as much as you are interviewing her. Don’t give her a sales pitch. Simply be prepared, considerate, and engaging. Explain the next steps in the process, and make sure to follow through. Make your company appear to be the well-organized, considerate employer you know it is.

Final steps
After you have conducted the interview, check the applicant’s references. At a minimum, call the references the applicant listed. In addition, consider contacting references you discovered by researching social media and other sources. If you know of individuals from one of the applicant’s past employers who were not listed as references, call them. You often can get more candid responses from those individuals than you can from an applicant’s references, who you know will give the applicant good marks.

Finally, be sure to bring closure to the process. That may mean offering the applicant the job, arranging another interview, or politely informing her that the company has chosen another candidate. The interview process is difficult for both interviewers and applicants. Mind your manners and use common sense to make first impressions as meaningful as possible.

Phillip Oberrecht is a partner in the Boise office of Greener Burke Shoemaker Oberrecht, P.A. He may be contacted at

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *