By Margery Weinstein
The descriptions of ideal candidates managers give Human Resources often sound like the description the Banks children gave of their ideal nanny in Mary Poppins. Could a creature of such perfection exist? You want to make your managers happy, but there’s only so much HR can do to find people who match these managers’ golden employee dreams, and there’s only so much trainers can do to groom would-be-golden-employees into near-perfection. Much of the work in identifying the best people for open positions falls to line-of-business managers. As Human Resources and Training specialists, it is your job to teach these managers how to conduct employment interviews that reveal stellar applicants and those who probably aren’t a good fit.
Hiring Interview Tool Set
At Verizon Wireless, managers are trained to pick the best candidates for open slots. “It is our goal that all newly hired, newly promoted managers and supervisors complete a one-day, instructor-led training called Interviewing at Verizon Wireless,” says Associate Director-Workforce Development Angela Blake. “This course is designed to provide our hiring managers with the right knowledge and skills to conduct behavioral interviews to identify high-caliber job candidates, and includes hands-on activities and role-plays to simulate the interviewing and selection experience.”
Blake says that in addition to choosing the best people for open jobs, Verizon Wireless, like all companies, wants to ensure its managers also adhere closely to employment laws during interviews. “We want to ensure our managers and supervisors select the best candidates for a role and do so in a manner that is an effective, legally defensible behavioral interview using our internal interviewing process and tools,” says Blake. “The most common concerns are interviewing without a structure, failing to consider fit within the organization, missing critical information, poor data collection, or relying on biases and stereotypes.”
In Interviewing at Verizon Wireless, the company addresses these concerns and reviews the ramifications of each. Then, managers are given a review of the selection process that includes the roles and responsibilities of Human Resources and the hiring manager, scheduling expectations, note-taking skills, and the Verizon Interview Guides. An essential part of its managers’ hiring process, these guides were designed by experts within Verizon Wireless—experienced HR professionals, organizational psychologists, and operational leaders who have analyzed the successful profiles of jobs in the company’s workforce.
The Interview Guides are structured in a way that identifies core competencies for each job role, corresponding interview questions, and a rating system to ensure fair consideration for each candidate, says Blake. To reinforce lessons conveyed in the Guides, managers also complete an Interviewing at Verizon Wireless training program that includes multiple role-play exercises to allow them to apply and practice their new hiring skills.
Since protecting your company legally is half the battle in any employment interview, Interviewing at Verizon Wireless also emphasizes legal considerations. For example, one module instructs managers to read and discuss Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964/1991, the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967. “Through this exercise, managers are taught to conduct legally defensible interviews by treating all candidates the same, asking only job-related questions, and avoiding personal or invasive questioning,” Blake explains.
A key to interviewing candidates well is knowing what to do when insufficient information is given. “Our Interview Guides include probing questions aligned to the core competencies for each role,” says Blake. “Occasionally, candidates may not provide a complete enough response to allow managers to accurately assess past behavior. In a behavioral interview, it is important that managers understand the full story a candidate is telling. If managers do not ask sufficient follow-up questions, they may only get part of the story and may not make the best candidate selection.” To address this challenge, Blake says trainers provide additional interview practice, including role-play exercises that feature “candidates” who offer insufficient information.
With so much at stake, says Blake, it is important that Human Resources and Training leaders take a proactive approach to preparing managers to conduct effective hiring interviews. “The Verizon Wireless Workforce Development Team is responsible for delivering our behavioral interview training program in person and via Webinar to all departments within the company,” she says. “However, as our products and services become more advanced, the positions within our company also evolve. With such a constant evolution, it is the responsibility of the HR team—both training and our organization development teams—to apply these changes to the Interview Guide materials, as well as the interview training our managers receive.”
At Umpqua Bank, the culture is so finely tailored, finding the best candidates for each position requires a second opinion, and beyond, says Assistant Vice President, Leadership Development Training Officer Marla Turner. “Potential candidates for positions at Umpqua Bank are interviewed by at least four associates, including the hiring manager, the hiring manager’s manager, a co-associate or peer, and a key business partner from a team outside of the hiring group,” says Turner. To accommodate this 360-degree-style interview process, multiple interview training programs are delivered.
Two distinct training classes are offered: one for hiring managers (Hire the Best) and one for associates who may serve on an interviewing team (Interviewing the Umpqua Way). Hire the Best teaches managers a holistic approach to hiring and interviewing, says Turner. “Participants learn how to be on the lookout for, and build a database of, potential candidates; how to effectively review résumés and conduct pre-screening phone interviews; and how to employ a variety of interviewing techniques and select and hire the right candidate. In Interviewing the Umpqua Way, associates learn the role they will play on an interviewing team and are exposed to the same interviewing techniques as managers.”
Both classes are designed and delivered by an internal leadership development training officer. “Behavioral interviewing strategies emphasizing the importance of asking targeted questions that gauge whether the candidate is a cultural fit (e.g., ‘Describe a recent business process improvement idea you had and the steps you took to implement it’) are cornerstone concepts covered in Umpqua’s instructor-led classes,” says Turner. Course materials include interview guides containing dozens of questions designed to help interviewers uncover behavioral tendencies that relate to Umpqua’s culture. The guides were created internally and link directly to the company’s core and job-specific performance competencies. Class participants also create their own behavioral interviewing questions that link to competencies, as well as to specific knowledge and skills applicable to their department.
Both classes tackle subjects that should be avoided during interviews—specifically, topics protected by anti-discrimination laws. Participants learn about questions they should never ask in an interview, and if the candidate brings up a subject that should be avoided, how to handle the situation. And all participants learn how to structure the interview, conduct an interview with multiple interviewers, take notes on applicants’ responses, participate in a post-interview debrief, and select the final candidate.
There also is ample hands-on practice, says Turner. “Umpqua classes include a great deal of practice and discussion. For instance, participants review real résumés and justify who they would select to interview and why,” she says. “They also practice selecting interview questions for a specific position and discuss how those questions can help determine a job and cultural fit. Participants even listen to mock interviews and practice taking notes and rating the strength of interviewees’ responses.”
Realizing Recruitment Acumen
For Verity Credit Union, teaching managers to conduct hiring interviews that lead to smart choices is part of leadership development. “We make sure recruitment acumen is a major component in all our supervisor trainings,” says Vice President, Human Resources and Training Justin Martin. “It starts with our management pipeline program. A key course in this program is a series of classes covering the entire spectrum of the recruitment process, from staffing analysis to the selection process. We believe that through understanding all of the components of Verity’s recruitment process our managers become partners in the process.”
Human Resources partners with managers in the process, with HR taking on the role of consultant, Martin explains. To enable this equal partnership, managers are taught to feel comfortable as the hiring decision-maker. To get to that comfort level, they are taught how to legally protect the company, as well as how to assess for their ideal characteristics. They are tutored on what is legal to ask, along with other abstract concepts, and then role-play it to see if they have the confidence to do it.
This recruitment acumen is reinforced annually, with hiring managers required to attend an interview training course every year. “This one-day training allows us to share updates and best practices; the last half of this class involves case studies and role-playing in small groups,” says Martin. “This format allows managers to discuss their techniques for dealing with various situations and to learn best practices from each other. We also have found it creates a great network for the managers to refer to when they are preparing to interview candidates for an open position.”
The STAR Methodology
At Vanguard, interviewing for selection purposes is a critical skill for all leaders, says Brian Schrum, head of Staffing. “We offer more than seven different courses for managers and crew who wish to improve their interviewing skills.” Course offerings vary from e-learning to classroom delivery and also include workshops for skill practice. The courseware focuses on everything from basic to advanced interviewing techniques. “We feel it is important to not only teach managers how to interview properly but also make sure that we invest in the crew (our term for employees) to ensure they are successful in the interview process, as well,” Schrum notes.
Vanguard places special emphasis on probing skills to ensure that managers correctly identify the behaviors, skills, and abilities that drive success on the job. “We use a behavioral-based interviewing technique that allows the evaluator to focus on actual past performance and draws from real-life examples provided by the candidate,” Schrum says. “Evaluators are taught to gather information using a STAR methodology, which seeks to document the S (Situation) or T (Task) and uncover the A (Actions taken by the candidate) and the R (Result achieved). A response that gathers all four criteria often is detailed enough to allow the evaluator to clearly understand the example provided by the candidate.”
The most common mistake made during an interview is the lack of probing, Schrum believes. “To successfully understand a candidate’s skill, the interviewer must dig deeper and ask follow-up questions to fully understand the experiences and contributions made by a potential applicant,” he explains. “Knowing how to probe and ask for clarity in responses can have a strong positive impact on the outcome of one’s assessment. There’s more detail in every applicant’s response; you just have to know how to probe to get the information you are looking for.”
Schrum emphasizes that interviewers must be very clear on the knowledge skills and abilities that are required for the job in order to select the right candidate. “The selection tools used during the interview process must align to the desired criteria,” he notes. “Leaders must take the time to document what they are looking for and make sure the interview questions they ask uncover those skills. In addition, taking the time to prepare prior to the interview is a simple step that often is overlooked and one that can save time in the end and prevent you from making the wrong decision.”
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