Interview Preparation A commonly held but erroneous belief is that interviewing does not require any real preparation.

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CHAPTER 5 Interview Preparation

A commonly held but erroneous belief is that interviewing does not require any real preparation. The perception is that an interview is little more than two people sitting down together having a conversation. As they talk, one person—the interviewer—asks questions, while the other—the applicant—answers the questions. Whether or not a job offer is extended depends on just how well the applicant answers the questions.

Such an impression is largely based on observations of interviews being conducted by seasoned interviewers who certainly can make employment interviews seem like effortless conversation. It is, however, an inaccurate impression; these interviewers have actually put a great deal of work into this casual front and have completed a number of preparatory steps before meeting their applicants.

Do a Job Analysis

The process of interview preparation begins with a thorough job analysis. This includes a review of the position’s responsibilities, requirements, reporting relationships, environmental factors, exemption and union status, salary, benefits, and growth opportunities. This important task provides necessary answers to four key questions:

1. Am I thoroughly familiar with the qualities being sought in an applicant? 2. Are these qualities both job-related and realistic? 3. Can I clearly communicate the duties and responsibilities of this position to applicants? 4. Am I prepared to provide additional relevant information about the job and the company

to applicants?

Duties and Responsibilities

Job analysts (typically HR specialists) should make it a point to spend time in the department where openings exist, observing and conversing with incumbents as they perform various aspects of the job, as well as talking with managers in charge about their perspective of the scope of work involved. If possible, they should also seek out people who previously held the position to shed light on how the job may have evolved. Visiting on more than one occasion will enable the job analyst to observe a typical day. If personal visits aren’t feasible, lengthy conversations with several departmental representatives will suffice.

In reviewing the duties and responsibilities of an opening, job analysts will want to determine if the duties and responsibilities are realistic in relation to other factors, such as previous experience and education. Equally important is determining if they’re relevant to the overall job function and if they overlap with the responsibilities of other jobs.

Job analysts should review the duties and responsibilities of a job each time a position becomes available. Even if an opening was filled six months ago and is now vacant again,

Arthur, Diane. <i>Recruiting, Interviewing, Selecting and Orienting New Employees</i>, AMACOM, 2012. ProQuest Ebook Central, http://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/capella/detail.action?docID=931154. Created from capella on 2019-09-30 19:18:54.

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assessing its current status will ensure that no major changes have occurred in the interim. This, in turn, will guarantee up-to-date job information and accuracy when discussing the position with potential employees.

Education and Prior Experience

The process of job analysis continues with identifying appropriate educational and prior experience prerequisites. This can best be accomplished when managers and HR representatives join together to ask these key questions:

• What skills and knowledge are needed to successfully perform the primary duties and responsibilities of this job?

• What makes these skills and knowledge necessary? • Why couldn’t someone without these skills and knowledge perform the primary functions of this job?

• Are the requirements consistent with the job duties and responsibilities? • Are we influenced by the background of the present or last incumbent? • Are we subjectively considering our own personal expectations of the job? • Are we compromising because we’re in a hurry to fill the job? • Are we unrealistically searching for the ideal applicant? • Are we succumbing to pressure from others, e.g., senior management, as to what are appropriate job requirements?

• Are the requirements in accordance with all applicable equal employment opportunity laws?

Arbitrarily setting high minimum standards in the hope of filling a position with the most qualified person can backfire. For example, suppose you’re trying to fill a first-line supervisor’s spot and you decide on someone who not only has a great deal of hands-on experience, but is also well-rounded. To you, this translates into someone with at least five years of supervisory experience and a four-year college degree.

If asked some of the questions just suggested, you would probably conclude that these requirements are too stringent for a first-line supervisory position. You would also want to modify them for reasons of possible discrimination. But even if there were no applicable employment laws, there is a good reason for setting more flexible standards: If you came across an applicant who fell short of this experience and educational profile but who met other intangible requirements and came highly recommended, you would not be able to hire him. It would be difficult to justify hiring someone not meeting the minimum requirements of the job, especially if you also rejected applicants who exceeded them.

In addition to asking yourself these basic questions regarding experience and education, there is a way of setting requirements that doesn’t paint you into a corner and still allows you to be highly selective. By using carefully worded terminology you can choose the applicant who best combines relevant concrete and intangible requirements. Suggested phrases include:

Arthur, Diane. <i>Recruiting, Interviewing, Selecting and Orienting New Employees</i>, AMACOM, 2012. ProQuest Ebook Central, http://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/capella/detail.action?docID=931154. Created from capella on 2019-09-30 19:18:54.

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• Demonstrated ability to__________required. • In-depth knowledge of__________required. • Extensive experience in__________required. • Knowledge of__________would be an advantage. • Proven ability to__________required. • We are looking for an effective__________. • Proven track record of__________needed. • Substantial experience in__________essential. • Familiarity with__________would be ideal. • Degree relevant to__________preferred. • Degree in__________preferred. • Advanced degree a plus. • College degree in__________highly desirable. • An equivalent combination of education and experience.

These sample phrases all provide employers with latitude to select someone who may be lacking in one area, such as formal education, but compensates with additional experience. The use of such terms does not mean compromising hiring standards; rather, it means taking care to avoid setting requirements that cannot be justified by the specific duties of the job, while at the same time offering the widest range of choice among applicants.

Intangible Requirements

To lend balance to a lack of specific educational or experiential requirements, or to round out the concrete requirements of a position, job-related intangible criteria can be helpful. Depending on the job, these intangibles may be relevant:

• Cooperative working relationships • Decision-making ability • Effective time-management skills • Even disposition • Flexibility • Organizational skills • Problem-solving ability • Self-confidence • Successful delegation skills

These intangible factors can be significant, but only when examined in relation to the requirements of the opening. That is, in addition to determining any relevant education and

Arthur, Diane. <i>Recruiting, Interviewing, Selecting and Orienting New Employees</i>, AMACOM, 2012. ProQuest Ebook Central, http://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/capella/detail.action?docID=931154. Created from capella on 2019-09-30 19:18:54.

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experience prerequisites and examining the scope and degree of responsibilities, you should explore the question of what type of individual would be most compatible with the position. This may best be determined by learning as much as possible about such factors as the amount of stress involved, the extent of independent work permitted, and the overall management style of the department. The combined information should translate into a profile of the person who will make the best fit.

Keeping this profile in mind as job seekers are considered can be helpful, particularly if two or more applicants meet the concrete requirements of the job. You can then compare intangible job-related criteria to help make the final decision. Intangibles can also be helpful in evaluating applicants for entry-level jobs for which there are few, if any, concrete educational and experience prerequisites.

Be careful when making comparisons based on intangibles, since the meaning of certain terms can be highly subjective. For example, some of the more popular applicant evaluation phrases—the person has a bad attitude, a winning personality, or a nice appearance—may not translate the same way for everyone. Furthermore, such descriptions really do not tell anything substantive about what the person can contribute to a job. So be careful not to weigh intangible elements too heavily or select someone solely on the basis of any of these factors. If considered at all, such factors must be job-related, not based on personal bias.

Reporting Relationships

Another facet of job analysis has to do with reporting relationships. In this regard, ask yourself the following questions:

• What positions will this job report to, both directly and indirectly? • Where does this job appear on the department’s organizational chart? • What positions, if any, report directly and/or indirectly to this job? • What is the relationship between this job and other jobs in the department in terms of level and scope of responsibility?

• What is the relationship between this job and other jobs in the organization?

These questions all pertain to positions, as opposed to specific individuals. Once you’ve determined the nature and level of a reporting relationship, you can factor in any relevant personality traits of the person to whom the opening reports. For example, if the department head with an opening for an assistant is known to have a short fuse, you would be wise to seek out someone who has demonstrated in past jobs the ability to effectively deal with such outbursts.

Work Environment

A job’s work environment consists of four distinct areas: physical working conditions, geographic location, travel, and work schedule. A work environment checklist appears in Appendix D.

Physical Working Conditions Arthur, Diane. <i>Recruiting, Interviewing, Selecting and Orienting New Employees</i>, AMACOM, 2012. ProQuest Ebook Central, http://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/capella/detail.action?docID=931154. Created from capella on 2019-09-30 19:18:54.

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Physical working conditions encompass such factors as working in areas that may not be well- ventilated, exposure to chemicals or toxic fumes, working in cramped quarters, working in a noisy location, and sitting or standing for long periods. If working conditions are ideal, few interviewers will hesitate to inform prospective employees. After all, this helps sell the company and the job and perhaps even compensates for areas that fall short, such as the starting salary or benefits package. If the working conditions leave something to be desired, however, the tendency is to omit reference to them when discussing the job in the hope that once employees begin work and discover flaws in the work environment, they’ll opt to adjust rather than leave. Unfortunately, what frequently happens is that new employees resent the deception and either quit, develop poor work habits, or harbor feelings of resentment over being had.

Problems of poor morale or high turnover as they relate to unsatisfactory working conditions can easily be prevented. Ask applicants to describe past and current physical working conditions, then accurately describe the working conditions of the available job. If an unpleasant condition is temporary, by all means say so, but don’t make anything up. Again, ask applicants to compare experiences with similar conditions. As they talk, watch as well as listen to their answers. There may be a contradiction between an applicant’s verbal and nonverbal responses. Skilled interviewers are able to separate and evaluate both. Issues of actively listening and nonverbal communication will be developed in subsequent chapters, but for now, suffice it to say that if an applicant verbally states that she doesn’t mind standing seven hours a day, but you sense hesitancy through her body language, pursue the subject until you’re more certain of the truth.

Another way of assessing potential employees’ reactions to less-than-ideal working conditions is to show them where they would be working if hired. Unless it’s logistically impractical, a quick trip to the job site should be part of the interview. This way there will be no surprises and a new employee knows exactly what to expect.

Geographic Location

As stated, when possible, show potential employees where they would be working if hired. If recruiting from a central office for positions in satellite branches, be specific in the description of the job site and offer visual depictions, realistically illustrating the location where an opening exists.

Sometimes a position calls for rotation from one site to another. As with physical working conditions, ask the applicant about any prior experiences they’ve had with job rotations before describing the working conditions of each location and how long each assignment is likely to last. Through your questioning, determine if they would prefer to settle into a work routine where they’re familiar with the environment, the commute, and the other workers, or if they would prefer the variety offered by a rotational position. It’s important that you know so you can determine the best fit for the job.

Travel

Talk with applicants about whether they travel for their current employer or did so in former jobs. Then discuss the geographic span and expected frequency of job-related travel. Tell

Arthur, Diane. <i>Recruiting, Interviewing, Selecting and Orienting New Employees</i>, AMACOM, 2012. ProQuest Ebook Central, http://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/capella/detail.action?docID=931154. Created from capella on 2019-09-30 19:18:54.

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applicants, too, how much advance notice they can generally expect before having to leave. In the case of local travel, applicants will want to know whether they will be expected to provide their own transportation. They will also want to know how reimbursement for job- related travel expenses are handled.

Work Schedule

Employees, especially at the nonexempt level, need to know what days of the week they’re expected to work, how many hours they’re being paid for, when to report to work each day, and when they may leave. If alternative work arrangements are available, applicants need to know their options. They will also want to know how much time is allotted for meals, as well as other scheduled breaks throughout the day.

Exemption Status

The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) defines the term “exempt” to mean precluded from overtime compensation; that is, an employer is not required to pay exempt employees for time worked beyond their regularly scheduled workweek. This generally pertains to executives, managers, and some supervisors. The term “nonexempt” means not precluded from overtime compensation. Full-time nonexempt employees, such as clerical workers, must be paid for any time worked beyond their regularly scheduled workweek.

To assist with exemption classification, the Department of Labor offers a series of requirements that must be met before someone can be classified as exempt. These requirements were revised in 2004, replacing the long-standing dual Salary and Duty Tests with the singular Standard Test. Revisions include an increase in the minimum salary for determining exemption status to $455 per week and revising stipulations for the executive, administrative, and professional duties tests.

The Standard Test helps employers determine the exemption status of their workforce. The actual work or duties performed by employees, not their job titles, determines exemption status. With most positions there is no question as to whether they are exempt or nonexempt: employees earning less than $455 per week, regardless of duties performed, are considered nonexempt. Some jobs, however, fall into a gray area and are not as easily categorized. Fact sheets are available at www.dol.gov.

Union Status

The National Labor Relations Act (Wagner Act) clearly states, “Employees shall have the right to self-organization, to form, join, or assist labor organizations, to bargain collectively, through representatives of their own choosing, and to engage in other concerted activities, for the purpose of collective bargaining or other mutual aid or protection.”

If you’re interviewing applicants for union positions, be prepared to tell them if they’re required to join, information relative to initiation fees or required dues, and, essentially, what being a union member entails. Do not express your personal opinions regarding unions or try to influence them, either for or against. Also avoid inquiries about their present views toward unions or questions about past union involvement. Your job is to be informative and descriptive only.

Arthur, Diane. <i>Recruiting, Interviewing, Selecting and Orienting New Employees</i>, AMACOM, 2012. ProQuest Ebook Central, http://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/capella/detail.action?docID=931154. Created from capella on 2019-09-30 19:18:54.

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Salary Ranges

Whether this information is disclosed to an applicant at the initial interview is a matter of company policy, but interviewers should certainly know what a job pays so they can determine if an applicant warrants further consideration. If, for example, there is an opening for a benefits specialist offering an annual salary of between $55,500 and $63,750, and an applicant is currently earning $57,900 a year, there’s no problem. On the other hand, if there’s an opening for a purchasing manager with a salary range of between $83,500 and $97,500, and an applicant is currently earning an annual salary of $96,500, there’s cause for concern. What’s your company’s policy when it comes to starting a new employee so close to the maximum of the salary range? If you offer the maximum, will this person accept an increase of up to $1,000? What about subsequent salary increases? Does your company “red circle” employees who are at the ceiling of their ranges so that they remain frozen until either the salary structure is re-evaluated or the position is reclassified?

Other salary-related issues may arise. An applicant may currently be earning considerably less than the minimum salary you’re offering for what may be considered comparable work. It could be that the applicant is currently underpaid or not being altogether forthright about his actual duties and responsibilities. This calls for a more thorough line of questioning during the interview regarding the level and scope of tasks he is presently capable of performing.

Applicants sometimes indicate that they are currently earning considerably more than the maximum for an available position, but are receptive to taking a pay cut. This doesn’t automatically translate into being overqualified or that, if hired, they’ll get restless and leave the job. There are a number of explanations as to why someone would be willing to take a reduction in pay, such as the opportunity to work for a specific company, the desire to learn new skills or enter a new field, or an inability to find suitable work in one’s own profession.

Related to the issue of salary is the sign-on or hiring bonus. Previously reserved for executive-level, highly specialized, or hard-to-fill positions, the bonus is now becoming a means for attracting talent at all levels. It is generally calculated at 5 to 20 percent of the base salary, depending on the scope and difficulty of the job. Some companies tie the bonus to an agreement with the employee not to leave the company for a specified period.

Benefits

Describing your company’s benefits package can be an excellent selling point, especially for hard-to-fill positions. Recruiters are advised to prepare a forty-five- to sixty-second summary of company benefits, such as medical and disability insurance, dental coverage, life insurance, profit-sharing plans, stock bonus programs, vacation days, personal days, leaves of absence, holidays, and tuition reimbursement.

Be careful not to give the impression that a discussion of your company’s benefits means the applicant is being seriously considered for a job. Make it clear that providing this information is part of the interview process and that the selected applicant will receive more comprehensive benefits information if a job offer is extended.

Growth Opportunities

Arthur, Diane. <i>Recruiting, Interviewing, Selecting and Orienting New Employees</i>, AMACOM, 2012. ProQuest Ebook Central, http://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/capella/detail.action?docID=931154. Created from capella on 2019-09-30 19:18:54.

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Most applicants are interested in whether they will be able to move up in an organization. It is therefore helpful to know about the frequency of performance appraisals, salary reviews, and increases; policies regarding promotions; relationship of a position’s level and scope of responsibilities to that of others within a job family; policies governing internal job posting; likelihood of advancement; tuition reimbursement plans; and training.

It’s important to provide an accurate account of growth opportunities to preclude the possibility of morale problems developing later on. For example, if an applicant is applying for a position that is one step removed from the top position in a given job family, and that position has been occupied by the same person for the past ten years, the opportunity for growth by way of promotion is unlikely. There are, however, other ways to grow, such as an expansion of responsibilities that could, in turn, lead to the creation of a new job classification.

Prepare a Job Description

The primary purpose of a job description is to identify the essential function of a job, that is, those tasks that are fundamental to the position. It clarifies the role of the job and what the incumbent is expected to accomplish. Essentially, a job description forms the groundwork for an agreement between an employer and the incumbent as to expected job performance results. Accordingly, the language should be concise, straightforward, uncomplicated, and easily interpreted.

Every position in an organization should have a job description, whether it’s generic or specific. Generic job descriptions are written in broad, general terms and may be used for several similar positions in different departments of the same company. For example, there may be one generic job description for “administrative assistant,” rather than a separate administrative assistant job description for each department. Specific job descriptions define the duties and tasks of one particular position, such as “vice president of human resources.” They are written when a position has unique responsibilities that distinguish it from other, similarly titled jobs.

Job descriptions are multipurpose tools that can be used in virtually every aspect of the employment process:

Since job descriptions can be used for many different purposes, employers should take care to write them as comprehensively as possible. Initially, this will require a fair amount of time, but it will prove well worth the effort.

Here are fifteen guidelines for writing job descriptions:

1. Arrange duties and responsibilities in a logical, sequential order. Begin with the task requiring the greatest amount of time or carrying the greatest responsibility.

Arthur, Diane. <i>Recruiting, Interviewing, Selecting and Orienting New Employees</i>, AMACOM, 2012. ProQuest Ebook Central, http://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/capella/detail.action?docID=931154. Created from capella on 2019-09-30 19:18:54.

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2. State separate duties clearly and concisely. This way anyone can glance at the description and easily identify each duty. Identify each task as essential or nonessential—a requirement of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA).

3. Avoid generalizations or ambiguous words. Use specific language and be exact in your meaning. To illustrate: “Handles mail” might be better expressed as “sorts mail” or “distributes mail.”

4. Don’t try to list every task. Use the phrase “primary duties and responsibilities include” at the beginning of the job description, and close with the phrase “performs other related duties and responsibilities, as required.”

5. Include specific examples of duties wherever possible. This will enable the reader to more fully understand the scope of responsibility involved.

6. Use nontechnical language. A good job description explains the responsibilities of a job in commonly known terms.

7. Indicate the frequency of occurrence of each duty. One popular way of doing this is to have a column on the left side of the list of tasks with corresponding percentage representing the estimated amount of time devoted to each primary duty.

8. List duties individually and concisely rather than using narrative paragraph form. A job description is not a novel.

9. Don’t refer to specific people. Instead, reference titles and positions. Incumbents are likely to change positions long before the positions themselves are revamped or eliminated.

10. Use the present tense. It reads more smoothly. 11. Be objective and accurate. Describe the job as it should be performed, not as you

would like to see it performed. 12. Stress what the incumbent does instead of explaining a procedure that is used. For

instance, use “records appointments” rather than “a record of appointments must be kept.” 13. Be certain that all requirements are job-related and are in accordance with equal

employment opportunity (EEO) laws and regulations. This will preclude the likelihood of legal problems developing later on.

14. Eliminate excessive verbiage. Most job descriptions can be completed in a page or two. The length of a job description does not increase the importance of the job.

15. Use action words. These words describe a specific function, such as organize. One word should stand out within a sentence as most descriptive, a word that could readily stand alone. Action words will also convey to the reader a degree of responsibility. For example, compare “directs” with “under the direction of.” Try to begin each sentence with an action word; the first word used should introduce the function being described. Here’s a list of sample action words that employers can refer to when writing job descriptions:

Arthur, Diane. <i>Recruiting, Interviewing, Selecting and Orienting New Employees</i>, AMACOM, 2012. ProQuest Ebook Central, http://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/capella/detail.action?docID=931154. Created from capella on 2019-09-30 19:18:54.

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After writing a job description, ask yourself a series of questions to confirm its contents:

• What is the purpose of the job? • Will the jobholder supervise the work of others? If so, can I provide job titles and a brief description of the responsibilities of those supervised?

• What duties will the jobholder perform regularly, periodically, and infrequently? Can I list these in order of importance?

• What degree of supervision will be exercised over the jobholder? • To what extent will instructions be necessary when assigning work to the jobholder? • How much decision-making authority or judgment is to be allowed the jobholder in the performance of required duties?

• What are the working conditions? • What skills are necessary for the successful performance of the essential functions of the job?

• What authority will the jobholder have in directing the work of others? • At what stage of its completion will the manager in charge review the jobholder’s work?

• What equipment will the jobholder be responsible for operating? Am I able to adequately describe the equipment’s complexity?

• What would be the cost to management of serious errors that the jobholder might make Arthur, Diane. <i>Recruiting, Interviewing, Selecting and Orienting New Employees</i>, AMACOM, 2012. ProQuest Ebook Central, http://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/capella/detail.action?docID=931154. Created from capella on 2019-09-30 19:18:54.

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