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Interview Guide

Interview Guide Quick links

Goals of the Interview

  • Assess the candidate and determine whether there is a good fit between the candidate’s capabilities and the position requirements
  • Describe the job and working conditions
  • Create goodwill for the organization, whether or not the candidate is hired

Elements of Good Interviewing

Meeting the interview goals requires the following on the interviewer’s part:

  • Interpersonal skills, which put a job candidate at ease and elicit the most accurate responses.
  • Preparation helps an interviewer cover all job-related questions and avoid saying things that might violate antidiscrimination laws, create an implied employment contract, or misrepresent the job.
  • Objectivity requires the interviewer to be impartial and unbiased.  Interviewers must evaluate a candidate based on the factors that predict future job performance.
  • Good recordkeeping supplies the information needed to compare different candidates and documents the screening process in case a rejected candidate challenges the hiring decision.

Interview Types

Interviews fall into two categories: structured and unstructured.  OUHR recommends the use of structured interviews.

Structured Interviews

The interviewer approaches the interview with an organized and well-planned questioning method while always staying on task.  Some interviewers will ask the interview questions in a specific order while others take a more relaxed approach, though still addressing all pre-planned questions.

Structured interviews generally provide the interviewer with the information needed to make the hiring decision.  All candidates are asked the same questions, rather than tailoring the questions to target a specific individual.

Unstructured Interviews

Unstructured interviews do not rely upon a prepared agenda.  Instead, the candidate sets the pace of the interview.  The lack of structure makes it difficult to compare and rank candidates because they do not respond to the same questions.  However, unstructured interviews are sometimes used to make the selection between two, equally qualified, candidates.

Interview Questions

Interview questions should accomplish the following goals:

  • Determine a candidate’s qualifications and general character, in relation to the job
  • Expose undesirable traits
  • Clarify information
  • Provide other job-related data
  • Reveal inconsistencies

Job-Related Questions

Develop interview questions by examining the job description and determining job demands in each of these following areas:

  • Skills and abilities, including technical skills, communication ability, analytical ability, and specialized training
  • Behavioral factors: motivation, interests, goals, drive and energy, reliability, stress tolerance. Performance is a function of skills and abilities multiplied by behavioral considerations; skills and abilities determine whether someone “can do” a job.  Behavior determines whether they “will do” a job.  Both must be measured.
  • Corporate culture and job fit issues: team orientation, customer service focus, and accountability, for example.

Employers should design questions to elicit information about the candidate’s job qualifications in each of the noted areas.  These questions can form a standardized guide for each interview.  To customize the questionnaire, employers should review a candidate’s resumé for points covered on the questionnaire and individualize questions as needed. Click here for sample interview questions.

Evaluating candidate responses

As important as it is that questions are job-related, it’s even more important to know how to evaluate the candidate’s response.

The interviewer should not feel that a candidate’s first answer to any of the questions must be accepted as the only answer.  When the interviewer feels an answer is lacking, the interviewer should ask layered questions until reaching an answer with a satisfactory amount of information.

Questioning Techniques

The best interviewers employ a flexible questioning technique to elicit pertinent, accurate information.  Employers should vary the questioning technique according to the goals of the interview.  For example, an appropriate technique in one instance may yield false, incomplete, or misleading information in another.  The best interviewers use some combination of the following techniques as the situation demands.

Close-Ended Questions

Close-ended questions are most commonly asked in interviewing and are the most commonly misused questions.  The following is an example of an ineffective closed-ended question:  “Can you work under pressure?”  Only “Yes” and “No” are the possible answers.  The interviewer has no information and no way of evaluating any one candidate against another.  However, a closed-ended question would be appropriate and useful as a questioning technique when looking for a commitment from the individual, for example: “Can you start on Monday?”

A closed-end question also helps interviewers in an attempt to refresh their own memory or in verifying information from earlier in the interviewing sequence:  “You were with Company X for 10 years?” 

Interviewers may also utilize the close-ended technique as preparation for a series of questions on the same subject.

Open-Ended Questions

Open-ended questions often yield better results than close-ended.  Open-ended questions do not lend themselves to monosyllabic answers; instead, the question requires an explanation.  For example, the following open-ended question requires a detailed answer:  “How do you succeed in working under pressure?”

As a rule, open-ended questions are preferable to closed-ended questions because such questions require the candidate to speak while the interviewer listens.  Open-ended questions often begin as follows:

  • “Tell me about a time . . .”
  • “Describe a situation where . . .”

Behavioral Questions

The technique of asking behavioral questions has developed into a unique style of interviewing.  Behavioral questions are based on the premise that past behavior is the best predictor of future performance. 

Behavioral questions are open-ended and request specific examples of past behavior.  Such questions elicit conversation and are usually prefaced with something similar to the following:

  • “Share with me an experience when . . .”
  • “Give me an example of . . .”

Used appropriately, behavioral questions make it difficult for the candidate to misrepresent past performance.

Negative-Balance Questions

Interviewers often assume, albeit incorrectly, that a candidate who is strong in one area is equally impressive in all areas.  This is not always the case. 

To avoid this assumption, an interviewer may ask the following questions:

  • “That is very impressive.  Could you please describe an occasion when the situation did not work out to your advantage?”
  • “Additionally, please offer an example of an aspect in this area where you struggle(d).”

Negative Confirmation

When interviewers have sought and found negative balance, they may feel content that they are maintaining their objectivity and move on or that an answer they receive may be disturbing enough to warrant negative confirmation.

For example, an interviewee tells the interviewer about a situation when the individual felt that it was necessary to go around or behind a supervisor to achieve a goal.  A manager should be troubled because if such behavior is common, the person may not be desirable to hire.  Consequently, negative confirmation should be sought with perhaps the following:  “That is very interesting.  Let’s talk about another time when you had to . . .

Successive examples will help interviewers confirm negative traits and perhaps save the employer from hiring a candidate unfit for the employment position.  On the other hand, interviewers may establish that the negative situation was a peculiarity — a one-time thing — and nothing that would potentially disqualify a candidate. 

Reflexive Questions

Reflexive questions function to close a line of questioning and move the conversation forward.  Reflexive questions help interviewers calmly maintain control of the conversation no matter how talkative the interviewee.

When a candidate begins to stray from the topic of the questions, the interviewer can easily interject with a reflexive question that will allow the interviewer to proceed with other topics. 

An interviewer may accomplish this by adding phrases, such as the following, to the end of a statement:

  • Don’t you?
  • Couldn’t you?
  • Wouldn’t you?
  • Didn’t you?
  • Can’t you?
  • Aren’t you?

For example, the interviewer might say, “With time so short, I think it would be valuable to move onto another area, don’t you?”  The candidate’s reflex is to agree, and the conversation moves on.

Mirror Statements

Mirror statements function as a subtle form of probing in conjunction with silence.  To use the technique, the interviewer mirrors or paraphrases a key statement made by the candidate and then remains silent while offering positive reinforcement through body language such as nodding, and looking attentively at the interviewee. 

Interviewers should use mirror statements to fully understand and a candidate’s answer and gain more insight through the candidate’s detailed explanation.  For example, an interviewer would repeat the substance of an interviewee’s key comment in a question form, “Whenever you arrive two hours early for work, you then leave work two hours early to compensate yourself for your time?”  Upon completion of the question, the interviewer would patiently wait for the interviewee to expand on the mirrored statement, without a further interjection from the interviewer.  This technique allows the candidate to hear verbatim the words they chose as an answer and volunteer further details.

Loaded Questions

Loaded questions are inappropriate as they may lead to manipulation by the interviewer.  Loaded questions are fundamentally problematic because questions require the interviewee to decide between equally unsuitable options.  For instance, the following is a loaded question: “Which do you think is the lesser evil, embezzlement or forgery?”

Obviously, the interviewer should avoid absurd, loaded questions.  However, carefully balanced judgment-call questions may have a place in a good interview.  The technique may allow the interviewer to probe the interviewee’s decision-making approaches. 

For example, the interviewer may want to recall a real-life situation where two divergent approaches were both carefully considered and may do so by framing the situation as a question:

  • “I’m curious to know what you have done when . . .”
  • “What has been your approach in situations where . . .”

Half-Right Reflexives

Half-right reflexives can be utilized to glean specific answers and determine an individual’s propensity for specific work-related incidents.  To employ the technique, the interviewer must make a partially correct statement and ask the interviewee to agree. 

With half-right reflexives, the interviewee has the opportunity to offer personalized and experienced insights in regard to workplace dilemmas and situations.  However, the interviewee may also demonstrate a lack of experience or inability to perform required tasks of the job. 

This technique creates enlightening insights.  For instance, this example of a half-right reflexive always generates fascinating responses:  “I’ve always felt that customer service should commence only after the bill has been paid, haven’t you?”

Leading Questions

Leading questions allow interviewers to lead the listener toward a specific type of answer.  Leading questions often arise accidentally when the interviewer explains what type of organization the interviewee will be joining.  For instance, the interviewer might proudly exclaim, “We’re a fast-growing outfit here, and there is constant pressure to meet deadlines and satisfy our ever-increasing list of customers”, then ask, “How do you handle stress?” 

In the interviewers statement the basic principles and requirements of the job are made clear and thus, the correct answer to any further question is a simple paraphrase of the interviewers own statement.

Leading questions are often useful, but like closed-ended questions, the interviewer must use leading questions appropriately.  As information verifiers, leading questions encourage the candidate to expand on a particular topic, for example, “We are an organization that believes the customer is always right.  How do you feel about that?”

However, leading questions should be used only after establishing a candidate’s belief or performance in a particular area.  In any case, leading questions should not be used early in the interview or be confused with the half-right reflexive.

Question Layering

A good question poorly phrased will be ineffectual and provide the interviewer with incomplete or misleading information.  However, question layering allows an interviewer to thoroughly probe and answer on many different levels.  For example, when an interviewer wants to determine whether a candidate could work well under pressure the basic line of questioning (“Can you work under pressure?”) may prove to be the wrong approach because the question:

  • requires only a yes or no answer, which fails to provide adequate information for the interviewer
  • leads the interviewee toward the type of answer the individual knows the interviewer wants

Instead, interviewers can use a combination of all the questioning styles and techniques to examine the topic from every angle.  For example, to examine all angles of a topic the interviewer may ask:

  • Who?
  • What?
  • When?
  • Where?
  • Why?
  • How?

Similarly, the interviewer does the same by joining the closed-ended question with some of the other question techniques. 

The following sequence demonstrates how much more relevant information an interviewer can glean through question layering:

  • Tell me about a time when you worked under pressure.  (Open-ended.)
  • So, it was tough to meet the deadline?  (Mirror statement.)
  • How did this pressure situation arise?  (Question layering.)
  • Who was responsible?  (Question layering.)
  • Why was this allowed to occur?  (Question layering.)
  • Where did the problem originate?  (Question layering.)

These questions illustrate several different angles to the same question, each revealing a different aspect of the personality, performance, and behavior of the candidate.  The question layering technique makes the possibilities for questions theoretically endless, depending only on the interviewer’s thoroughness. 

Additional Input Questions

Three Techniques

Interviewers can use the following techniques to gain more information from an initial question:

If the interviewer wants to hear more — whether dissatisfied with the first answer or interested in obtaining more information — the interviewer could say, “Can you provide more detail about that?  It’s very interesting,” or, “Can you give me another example?”

The interviewer may hear an answer and then add, “What did you learn from that experience?”  This is an excellent layering technique that can give insight into judgment and emotional maturity.

Perhaps the best technique for gathering more information is for an interviewer to simply sit quietly, while maintaining eye contact with the interviewee and saying nothing.  If the conversation lulls, the interviewee may instinctually attempt to fill the silence and provide more information and/or details.  Although an interviewer may initially find the silence difficult to manage, patience and allowing the interviewee to speak without encumbrance can be effective. 

Additional Questions

Employers should try to include questions that go beyond a candidate’s technical competence or knowledge. 

The interviewer should probe for qualities needed to succeed at the job:

  • Organizational skill
  • Willingness to put in the extra time and effort necessary to complete a project

Relevant and job-related questions might target the following:

  • Incomplete information on application form
  • Work experience or education
  • Gaps in work history
  • Geographic preferences
  • Normal working hours
  • Willingness to travel
  • Reasons for leaving or planning to leave previous job
  • Job-related achievements
  • Signs of initiative and self-management
  • Specialized knowledge or expertise
  • Meaning of former job titles

Improper Interview Questions

Do not solicit information that employers are legally barred from considering in the hiring process. 

For example, under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and similar state laws, hiring decisions cannot be based on an the following:

  • Race
  • Religion
  • Creed
  • Sex, pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions
  • Marital status
  • National origin
  • Ancestry

Other laws prohibit questions about military background, age, disability, or union membership.  Generally, do not ask about:

  • Medical or mental health history
  • National origin and citizenship status
  • Height, weight, or physical characteristics
  • Disability
  • Membership in professional or civic organizations that would reveal national origin, race, gender, religion, or any of the other protected classes under fair employment practice laws
  • Military service history
  • Marital status
  • Sexual orientation
  • Age
  • Receipt of unemployment insurance, workers’ compensation, or disability benefits
  • Child care situation, family planning, or number of children
  • Religion or religious beliefs

The following are samples of questions which should be avoided. This is not an all-inclusive list.

Personal Data

  • "What is your maiden name?"
  • "Do you own or rent your home?"
  • "What is your age?"
  • "Where do you live?"
  • "What is your date of birth?"
  • "Are you married?"
  • Questions which tend to identify an applicant's age as over 40.

Education

  • The dates of attendance or completion of elementary or high school.

Citizenship

  • Birthplace of applicant or of applicant's parents, spouse or other relative.
  • "Are you a U.S. Citizen?" or "What is your citizenship or that of your parents, spouse or other relative?"
  • Questions as to race, nationality, national origin, or descent.
  • "What is your mother's tongue?" or "What is the language you speak at home?"

Family

  • Applicant's marital status.
  • The number or ages of children or dependents.
  • Provisions for child care.
  • Pregnancy, childbearing or birth control.

Medical

  • Questions which indicate an applicant's sex.
  • The applicant's height and weight.
  • Applicant's general medical condition, state of health, or illness.
  • Questions regarding HIV, AIDS, and related questions.
  • "Have you ever filed a workers compensation claim?"
  • "Do you have any mental or physical disabilities or handicaps?"

Associations

  • "Have you ever been arrested?"
  • Applicant's credit rating.
  • Ownership of a car.
  • Organizations, clubs, societies or lodges which an applicant belongs to.
  • Religious obligations that would prevent an individual from being available to work on Friday evenings, Saturdays, Sundays or holidays.
  • Asking an applicant the origin of their name.
  • "Do you speak __________________?" (unless a requirement for the job).
  • "Do you have any physical or mental disability/handicap that will require reasonable accommodation?"

Structuring the Interview

In structuring the interview, interviewers may mistakenly use a job candidate’s resumé as a guide for structuring the interview.  Generally, the resumé only provides information the candidate wants to reveal. Following the resumé throughout the interviewing process allows the candidate to control the interview, not the interviewer.  Interviewers must establish a set structure, to be applied consistently, for each interview to accomplish efficient and accurate interviews. 

Set the Tone

Interviewers may set the tone of the interview by first greeting the candidate and then engaging the candidate in casual conversation to create a calm and relaxed atmosphere.  Comfortable and secure candidates may communicate more honestly. 

Interviewers may ask about the person’s hobbies, interests, travel, or city of residence.  However, interviewers must remember to avoid sensitive areas like children, marital status, or church activities.  The formal interview may then begin through a simple transition question, such as, “What do you know about the organization?” or “How did you hear about this job opening?”

Provide an Overview

Interviewers should provide the candidate with an overview of the interview process.  For example, how the interview will proceed and what will be covered — job experience, education, interests.  Additionally, a comprehensive overview will explain that after discussing the candidate’s background, the interviewer will ask for information about the job, explain the organization, and answer any questions the candidate might have.

Discuss Work Experience and Education

In discussing a candidate’s work experience and education, the interview should ask prepared questions first, following up any responses that deserve further inquiry.

Good notes must be taken in regard to the discussion of job qualifications to document the screening process.

Candidate’s Interests and Self-Assessment

After discussing a candidate’s education and work experience, the interview may then ask a few questions about a candidate’s activities and interests to get a broader perspective.  Candidates may also be asked to provide a self-assessment, summarizing personal and professional strengths, as well as “developmental needs” or qualities that the individual might want to change or improve.

Review the Job

Interviewers would be wise to not discuss details of the job until the interview has covered a candidate’s qualifications; otherwise, a candidate may exaggerate certain skills required by the position.  An interviewer should review the organization, the job, salary, benefits, location, and any other pertinent data. 

Interviewers should be careful to limit comments to the specific facts about the job as it currently exists.

Close the Interview

In the final portion of the interview, the candidate should be given an opportunity to ask questions about the organization and the job. 

Interviewers should thank the candidate for the time spent on the interview and review the next steps in the hiring process.

Uniformity of Interviews

Interviewers must make sure all candidates for a position are given the opportunity to answer the same questions and that all questions are job related and nondiscriminatory. 

Interviewers should not deviate from the prepared questions but can ask appropriate follow up questions that may differ from candidate to candidate.

Interviewing Persons with Disabilities

Employers with 15 or more employees must comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).  The ADA protects persons with disabilities from discrimination in hiring and treatment on the job. 

The EEOC recently issued new interviewing guidelines that of questions an interviewer can and cannot ask job candidates.

Sample Questions an Interviewer May Ask

According to the EEOC guidelines, the following questions are acceptable during an interview:

  • Can you perform the essential functions of this job . . . with or without reasonable accommodation?
  • Describe how you would perform the essential functions of the job.
  • Can you meet the attendance requirements of this job?
  • How many days of leave did you take last year?

The following three keys facilitate legal interview questioning:

  1. Avoid inquiry or comment that requires an employee to reveal or talk about an illness or disability.
  2. Focus questions and comments on job-related topics.
  3. Focus on the positive:  “How will you perform . . . ?”  As opposed to “Is there anything that prevents you from . . . ?”

Sample Questions an Interviewer May Not Ask

The following questions may not be asked while conducting an interview:

  • Do you have (name of disease)?
  • Do you have a disability that would interfere with your ability to perform the job?
  • How many days were you sick last year?

The following example illustrates both incorrect and the correct methods of eliciting information:

The candidate for a telephone sales job is obviously blind as reasonably deducted based on appearance and tools (walking stick and/or trained guide dog).

The interviewer may not say, “I imagine that with your blindness you’d have some difficulty filling in our call forms and keeping track of the results of your calls.  In what ways do you think your blindness would interfere with your sales job?”

The interviewer may phrase the question as follows:  “This job requires that you ask questions from our telemarketing script and record the results of your calls.  How would you perform these essential functions of this job with reasonable accommodation?”


Checklist for Conducting a Hiring Interview

The person conducting the interview should be well prepared and knowledgeable on the company’s interviewing and hiring practices.  When conducting the interview, the interviewer should use the following outline: 

Establish Rapport

  • Help the candidate relax with brief, casual conversation.
  • Maintain appropriate eye contact.
  • Listen sympathetically.
  • Avoid direct criticism.
  • Reassure the candidate after an awkward disclosure by commending the openness, honesty, and willingness to face up to a problem.
  • Remain neutral; do not speak approvingly of questionable conduct.

Control the Interview

  • Keep the purpose of the interview clearly in mind.
  • Decide in advance what questions to raise in light of the job requirements and the candidate’s résumé.
  • Keep to the planned agenda and allocate time appropriately.
  • Politely return to the original question if the candidate’s answer was evasive.
  • Persuade the candidate to elaborate on suggestive or incomplete responses by:
    • Asking follow-up questions.
    • Repeating or summarizing the candidate’s statements in a questioning tone.
    • Maintaining silence.
  • Make smooth transitions from one topic to another.

Document the Interview

  • Take notes for reliable recall. Note points to follow up on later in the interview.
  • Note dress, behavior, or facial expressions, if relevant.
  • Wait until after the candidate has left to write down evaluative comments.