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Effective interviewing

By Beatrice Thomas

In an increasingly competitive market, finding the right people is becoming more and more important in running a successful business.

The most commonly used method to review applicants for job vacancies is interviewing, and therefore knowing how to conduct effective interviews is a key skill for managers and HR practitioners to have.

The costs of getting it wrong are significant and can include (but are not limited to) time, lost productivity and training costs, unlawful termination, unfair dismissal claims, absenteeism, resignations and reduced staff morale.

There are a number of considerations to take into account in terms of preparing and running a successful interview and selecting the best candidate.

Preparation

Making appropriate preparations is fundamental to running a successful interview. Interviewers should always prepare an interview guide with the relevant questions to be asked. The guide should be followed in each interview and all questions asked; even if the candidate doesn’t seem to be suitable. Applying the guide in a consistent manner will not only assist in evaluating candidates equitably by using a standardised assessment tool, but also minimises the risk for discrimination claims.

Before running an interview, some practical preparations should be made. Arrange an appropriately sized room for the number of attendees. Ensure the room is equipped with comfortable chairs and sufficient lighting.

Consider the configuration of furniture in the interview room. One option is to have a round table, but if this is not possible then the interviewers should avoid sitting directly across from the applicant.

Oversized tables can be intimidating and may impact on the outcome of the interview. The room should also offer privacy and the temperature be set at a comfortable level. Offering water or tea/coffee may further help the applicant relax. Considerations also need to be made to any special needs of the applicant, for example if they require wheelchair access etc. Interviews should generally take no longer than one hour.

Employers conducting interviews should familiarise themselves with the details of the vacant role and the team environment. If possible, two people should conduct the interview (one to ask questions and one to take notes).

The same individuals should conduct all the interviews for a particular role to ensure consistent evaluation of candidates. Employers should always take notes as a protection against potential discrimination-based claims. The note taker can serve as a witness in the event of a claim. Any information that the applicant provides which is not relevant to the selection criteria should be disregarded.

Under the Equal Opportunity Act 1984 prospective employees can lodge a discrimination claim up to 12 months after date on which the alleged act of discrimination was committed. The time limit for lodging a general protections claim under the Fair Work Act 2009 (applicable to national system employers) for matters that do not involve dismissal, is 6 years.

Recruitment process – creating first impressions

How employers interview candidates will influence prospective employees’ first impressions of the company and will generally affect whether they accept an offer of employment. Additionally, how an organisation deals with unsuccessful applicants can impact on corporate reputation in the market place and influence prospective candidate behaviour. Professionalism, a friendly manner, promptness and respectful behaviour will be remembered by both successful and unsuccessful candidates and will translate into positive feedback about the organisation being relayed to friends and family. This may affect the calibre, quality and number of future candidates. Word of mouth is a powerful tool when it comes to recruiting quality employees and should not be underestimated.

Interviewers should always dress professionally and appropriately, arrive on time to the interview and be prepared. Body language is important, and interviewers should pay attention not only to the candidate’s body language but also their own to ensure a professional, friendly, yet objective message is given.

Interview questions

Before attending an interview, the relevant interview questions should be determined, as suggested above. The interview should be structured to cover both the candidate’s employment history and questions specific to the skill set required in the job description. When discussing employment history, the interviewer should investigate why the candidate left their previous positions and asked to explain any gaps in their resume or application form.

To test the candidate’s interest in the role and the company, ask questions concerning their knowledge of the company and understanding/expectations of the position. This will give an indication as to how much research and preparation the candidate has done.

Asking how the role fits with their career goals can indicate whether this role is what the candidate is looking for, or if they intend on using the position simply as a stepping stone whilst waiting for a better opportunity.

Questions should also be constructed to cover the key skills/requirements of the position. Interviewers should consider using behavioural or situational questions, where the candidate must give examples of how they have handled and/or would handle a specific situation/problem/challenge. An example of a behavioural question is: ‘Tell me about a time you had to handle a difficult client. How did you go about resolving their complaint?” and a situational question: “How would you handle an irate client with a complaint about one of our products?”

This will help determine the candidate’s ability to problem solve, what they would do in a specific situation and whether they have the skills to deal with real scenarios that may arise in the role.

If the role is highly technical, some technically oriented questions may be of relevance to test the applicant’s knowledge in the area. Where this is the case it is advisable to have a technical expert attend the interview, so an appropriate assessment of the answer can be made. Additionally, if the technical question is misunderstood by the candidate, the technical expert will be able to reword the question to assist in the candidate’s understanding.

The interview should also test soft skills, such as team fit and preferred management style. The candidate could, for example, be asked to provide information on how he/she has previously dealt with a personality conflict in the team.

Interviewers should avoid questions that would receive a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer and avoid ask leading questions, such as “Do you think you will be suitable for this role?”. Very common questions, such as asking about the candidate’s strengths and weaknesses should also be avoided, as these types of questions are quite often anticipated and rehearsed and give no real information about the individual.

There are a number of standard questions that should be asked at the end of each interview:

  • Salary expectations
  • Availability to commence (notice requirements from current role etc)
  • Working rights in Australia
  • Whether the candidate has any holidays booked
  • Whether the listed referees may be contacted.

Even if the candidate has listed referees on their resume, always ask for their permission before contacting them.

Providing information

Employers should always provide sufficient information about the position, the team and the company, to enable the candidate to make an informed decision. The candidate should also be encouraged to ask questions. The most successful placements are ones where both the applicant and the employer are happy. To avoid early resignations and employee disappointment, employers should give accurate information about the organisation and the role. Ensure not to over-sell the role or provide any incorrect or misleading information.

At the end of the interview, the interviewer should offer information on what the next steps are in the recruitment process and when the candidate is expected to hear of the outcome.

Questions to avoid

Both federal and state legislation make it unlawful to discriminate against prospective employees. Consistency and transparency should always be applied in the recruitment process and any questions that could raise suspicions should be avoided.

The applicable legislation for employers in Western Australia (WA) is:

  • Federal discrimination legislation:
  • Fair Work Act 2009
  • Age Discrimination Act 2004
  • Racial Discrimination Act 1975
  • Sex Discrimination Act 1984
  • Disability Discrimination Act 1992
  • Australian Human Rights Commission Act 1986
  • Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Act 1999
  • WA state discrimination legislation:
  • Equal Opportunity Act 1984
  • Spent Convictions Act 1988
  • Occupational Health and Safety Act 1984
  • Industrial Relations Act 1979

Discriminatory grounds include but are not limited to: sex, marital status, pregnancy, family responsibility, breastfeeding women, race/colour, national/ethnic origin, religion, political opinion, social opinion, age, criminal record, medical record, sexual preference, disability and trade union activity.

There are two types of discrimination: direct and indirect. Direct discrimination involves treating a person less favourably because of a characteristic that is typically attributed to a group of people that the person belongs to. Indirect discrimination is subtler and involves a rule or requirement that applies to everyone but has a disproportionate effect on particular groups. Both these types of discrimination are unlawful.

Under the Fair Work Act 2009, National System Employers may now also face general protections claims. Prospective employers are prohibited from taking adverse action against prospective employees, because of a workplace right, industrial activities or on discriminatory grounds.

A ‘workplace right’ includes holding a role or responsibility and initiating, participating in or making a complaint or inquiry under a workplace law or workplace instrument.

  • A workplace right is a benefit to which the person is entitled under a workplace law or workplace instrument.
  • A role or responsibility might include being a union delegate, a safety representative, a bargaining representative etc.
  • Complaint or inquiry under a workplace law or workplace instrument might include an unfair dismissal claim against a previous employer, a bullying or harassment claim, an underpayment claim etc.

‘Adverse action’ could include choosing not to employ a candidate. Should an unsuccessful applicant make a general protections claim, it is up to the employer to provide evidence as to why a particular candidate was selected over another.

To minimise the risk for these types of claims, it is recommended that questions of a personal nature are avoided in application forms and at interview. Additionally, all questions asked should be reviewed to ensure they don’t include questions that might indicate the organisation is intending to discriminate (i.e. questions relating to age, gender, race etc.)

There are several exemptions where employers are allowed to discriminate. For example, if the person is unable to perform the inherent requirements of the role, and it would cause unjustifiable hardship for the employer to make accommodations in order to allow the person to perform the role. If employers want to query medical history, it is suggested that the question is phrased more in terms of “do you have any previous or current medical condition, physical or otherwise, which may affect your ability to perform the inherent requirements of the job?”

Contact the CCIWA Employee Relations Advice Centre on (08) 9365 7660 or via advice@cciwa.com to find out what other exceptions are applicable.

What about pre-employment medicals?

Discrimination legislation prohibits discrimination on the grounds of medical history or disability, unless it impacts on the candidate’s ability to perform the inherent requirements of the job.

Employers are required to take reasonable steps to accommodate any disabilities or injuries. The extent of this obligation depends on the size of the business and the cost of the required accommodations. If it would cause unjustifiable hardship on the employer to make the changes then it may be lawful to discriminate. It is advisable to seek advice from the Employee Relations Advice Centre prior to discriminating on this basis.

Employers should never make an offer of employment subject to a medical examination. If a pre-employment medical is necessary, it should be mentioned in the interview that applicants may be required to undergo a medical. The selected medical practitioner should have a full understanding of the role requirements and the job description in order to determine the suitability of the candidate.

Selection process

After all interviews have been completed, a comparison should be made between all candidates’ qualifications, skills, experience, motivation/team fit and any other selection criteria. To ensure the process is transparent, each criterion should be rated in terms of importance. Each candidate should then be given a score against objective and standardised selection criteria.

Advise the successful candidate promptly as during a skill shortage, quality candidates will find alternative work quickly. Also ensure any unsuccessful candidates are advised as soon as a decision has been made. Employers should be mindful that any verbal offers are binding, so the final decision and the salary to be offered should be considered carefully before contacting the successful applicant(s).

For further information contact CCIWA’s Employee Relations Advice Centre on (08) 9365 7660, email advice@cciwa.com or visit CCI’s website at www.cciwa.com.

In an increasingly competitive market, finding the right people is becoming more and more important in running a successful business.

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