Workplace Matters: Navigating the interview process for employers and prospective employees

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Photo: Maranda Vandergriff/Unsplash.

MOST of us, employers and employees alike, dread the interview process but that doesn’t have to be the case.

In reality, it’s very simple. The employer has a role they need to fill and the applicant is looking for a job. The interview process should be the marrying of these two goals.

So why is it so scary? Maybe because we don’t set down any clear rules for engagement. So with that in mind, let’s look at how this process should be done from both sides.

Step 1: The Post

It starts with a vacancy, which, let’s face it, typically involves an employer looking to replace Mary or Mark with another Mary or Mark. But every vacancy, new or old, deserves careful consideration of what the role involves and the person performing it.

So employers, don’t just post the same old advert. Update it and reflect on the role itself.

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Make sure the job posting is accurate and in no way misleading. Do not oversell the role to be something it’s not, that’s not fair to the people that take their valuable time to apply and potentially interview for a job that isn’t the one they’re going to be doing.

Be clear of the qualifying criteria, be that experience or qualifications. When possible, post the salary range – this can save everyone a lot of wasted time.

Reply to every applicant, not just the ones you’re interested in. If someone has taken the time to apply for a role and sent in their CV, the least they can expect is a response.

Step 2: Screening

As I’ve already said, don’t look to replace like for like. This is an opportunity to bring diversity to the team and reimagine the role and the person performing it.

Don’t overlook any applicant, we all bring something different to the table. Most skills and knowledge can be acquired over time with training and mentoring, but the right attitude is not as easily acquired. So, keep an open mind when screening applicants, you’re looking for a fit for the organisation, not a clone.

Step 3: The Interview

Golden rule: It’s an interview, not an interrogation.

See it as an opportunity for everyone to exchange information and see if there is a spark. It’s not meant to be adversarial or full of tricky questions, it’s a two-way exchange of information that should result in the right person getting the role.

Applicants should be well prepared. Write up a list of questions about the company – its structure, culture, ethics, corporate social and environmental responsibility, gender balance, pay equity, anything that is important to you and your outlook as an individual.

You have an equal responsibility to use the interview as an opportunity to make sure you know what you’re buying into. Do not be afraid to ask probing questions of the interviewer. This is your best opportunity to get a sense of whether this is the right employer for you or you should walk away.

If you ask a question the interviewer cannot answer, this may be the first sign that this isn’t the right place for you. Sure, you do risk alienating the interviewer by asking a hard question, but would you prefer to know now or 6 months into a new role that their values do not align with yours?

For interviewers, it’s your responsibility to manage the interview process in a sensitive and inclusive manner that makes your prospective employee feel at ease.

Explain how the interview process works, who is involved, how long it will take, and what types of questions will be asked (situational, educational, qualification, experience, etc.)

Remember, a CV is to help explore an applicant’s suitability for the role, not a tool to prove why they aren’t.

Allow time and encourage the applicant to ask as many questions as they want – even if it’s something as simple as whether there’s a fridge for their sandwiches.

When finishing up, the interviewer should let the applicant know the next steps of the process and when and how they can expect to hear back from them.

Step 4: Making a Decision

Interviews by their nature are a limited crude, instrument for selection, but it’s the best process we have at our disposal.

When I follow up with both employers and employees months after a job has been offered and accepted, the replies I get can range from “best hire we ever made” to “dear God what were we thinking”. And that’s before I get to what some of the employees have to say.

How an interviewer assesses applicants is a matter for them, but it should be objective, measurable, transparent, and most importantly, unbiased. Instances of even unconscious bias can be discriminatory and a breach of Employment Equality Acts 1998-2015, which can lead to some unnecessary and costly claims.

To protect against such claims, and to help the interviewer spot their unconscious bias during the interview, they should think very carefully before asking a question that could at a later stage be viewed as discriminatory.

Interviewers should keep their notes as an unsuccessful applicant may ask how they performed and request copies of the interviewer’s notes if they feel they were discriminated against.

Step 5: The Job Offer

So, the interviewer thinks the process is complete as they have selected the best person for the position. But wait, this is a two-way street. Maybe the applicant isn’t so sure about them as their next employer.

Most likely the initial offer will be made by phone, during which everyone is on their best behaviour as we are still in the courtship phase of the relationship.

The proper job offer should be in writing and 100 per cent clear. Everything from the salary right down to when they get their breaks. Any ambiguity at this critical stage can lead to disharmony at a later stage, so take your time to get this right.

If done correctly, this formal written job offer meets the employer’s obligation to provide new employees with their Core Terms of Employment, which they are entitled to receive within five days of starting.

The applicant should feel free to ask follow up questions about the offer if there is something that’s important to them that has not been covered.

If all of this is done right, a formal acceptance, in writing or via email, from the successful applicant should seal the deal.

Happy interviewing!

Workplace Matters is a new series of premium columns on exploring HR issues from the perspective of workers and businesses. It is written by human resource management and employment law experts HR Hub, based on O’Connell Street in Limerick.