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Interviewing skills — an art or a science?

Once job candidates have been shortlisted, the best candidate needs to be determined, commonly by interview. Although this method has itsweaknesses, these can be minimised by careful planning.

This article forms the second part of a featureon recruitment. An article entitled “Are you recruiting the best person for the job?” was published in the January issue of RetailRound-up (p13-14).

During the recruitment process, the shortlist of potential candidates for a job needs to be whittled down to a single person.

Barbara Sutherland, resourcing manager at Lloydspharmacy, says that recruitmentand selection is an art and a science. “Testing and questioningcan determine if the candidate has the technical expertise or skillsto perform the role,” she said.

“That said, these methodsare not always robust enough to determine if the candidate possessesthe competencies suitable for the position or personal traits that matchthe organisation’s values.”

Despite its weaknesses, the interview remains the preferred option forchecking whether candidates are as good in reality as they appear onpaper.

The main problem with an interview is that it relies onthe candidate’sown report of their abilities and behaviour, which can incur an elementof bias.

Interview format

Interviews can be conducted in different styles, all ofwhich have advantages and disadvantages for the interviewer and the interviewee.

The choice of assessment method is often determined by the expertisethat is available. For example, if human resources support is available,the interview process could involve personality and psychometrictests. For independent pharmacies that do not have HR support,options forassessment may be limited.

One-to-one interviews The one-to-one interview is usually preferredby interviewees because it tends to be less intimidating to be interviewedby one person than by a panel. However, the one-to-one interview is moreopen to bias.

Some companies try to address this problem by organising a series ofone-to-one interviews with different managers. One of these may be thehuman resources manager, who explores general issues about the candidate’swork history and career outlook. This allows the line manager for thepost to focus an interview on job specific issues such as providing evidencefor the required competencies.

Extended interviews A company may choose to incorporate additional orextended assessment methods into the interview process. These includeaptitude tests, personality tests, psychometric tests, group discussions,role plays and presentations. These techniques enable an employer to:

• Make an informed and objective assessment ofeach candidate’sskills and abilities

• Observe each candidate’s behaviour in a situation typical tothe workplace

Panel interviews The panel interview tends to be the preferred formatof interview for professional or managerial posts. The presence of twoor more people during the interview reduces the risk of bias and discrimination.

The panel can comprise of staff from different parts of the company (eg,human resources, line manager, director, existing post holder), whichallows each panel member to assess the candidate from a different perspective.

Preparation is essential for a panel interview to be successful. A chairpersonshould be appointed to control the interview discussion and direct questionsto different panel members. The sequence and nature of questions needsto be agreed in advance.

In addition, some selection panels appoint oneperson to be a “note taker”. Alternatively, panel memberscan share responsibility for taking notes and recording answers.

Conducting an interview

The interview process can be effective provided the interviewersunderstand how to make the most of the time they have with a candidateto assesshis or her ability.

Interviews are a two-way process, although theinterviewee should do most of the talking. Good interviewers encouragea candidate to express his or herself, and can generate enough informationabout the candidate’s experience, skills, attitude, personalqualities and behaviour to enable an informed decision to be made abouthis or her suitability for a job.

Interviewers should be prepared to provide general information about the company and attempt to answer any query that the interviewee mayhave. This may be about:

  • Company strategy
  • Employee benefits
  • Training opportunities

Interviewers should be welcoming and friendly to make candidates feel at ease. There is nothing to be gained from making an interviewee feel afraid or uncomfortable.

The interview environment is as important as the structure of the interview. Candidates will usually be nervous, so an environment that looks welcoming and friendly can help to calm their nerves. This includes seating arrangements — placingchairs at angles or in a circular arrangement can be far less threateningthan seating the candidate on the opposite side of a table to the panel.

The right questions

Interview questions should be open (questions that begin with “how”, “why” and “what”)rather than closed (those that can be answered with “yes” or “no”).

Although some questions will explore issues specific to a candidate’s pplication, all candidates should be asked the same set of questions.This ensures the process is fair and helps the interviewer to compare answers. All questions should relate to the competencies and abilities required to do the job.

Critical incident questioning is often used to assess how a candidate will behave under certain circumstances. For example an interviewer may ask:

• How would you deal with a difficult customer who starts shouting atstaff in the pharmacy?

• Tell me about an occasion when you made a mistake at work that affectedother people

Experience-based questions are useful for learningmore about an interviewee’s working style and accomplishments. Personality tests, such as the Thomas Personal Profile Analysis, can help an employer explore a candidate’s work style. They address questions such as:

  • What are the candidate’s strengths and possible limitations?
  • Is he or she a self-starter?
  • How does he or she communicate?
  • What motivates him or her?

Inexperienced interviewers should seek legal or professional adviceabout the type of questions to avoid, to prevent the possibility of candidates feeling that they have been discriminated against.

The final decision

The final stage of the assessment process should relate directly to the first stage — the job description. The best candidate for the post should be the person who has demonstrated the skills, qualifications, attitude and experience specified in the job description (and personal specification if one exists).

The evidence used should only come from the application and assessment process. If used, candidate scoring should support the final decision, which should be supported by facts,not perceptions or “gut feelings”.

If the right candidate has not emerged during the assessment process,it is better to readvertise than to recruit the wrong person.

There is no such thing as the perfect recruitment and selection method.The best that proprietors and managers can do is reduce the margin oferror when recruiting new staff by using methods that have proved tobe effective.

Citation: Retail Round-upURI: 10006998

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