Chapter 9: Interviewing in Organizations

9.2 Interviewer: Planning the interview


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A large part of the interviewing process is planning. For example, consider the hiring manager who doesn’t know exactly the type of person and skills they are looking to hire but sets up interviews anyway. It is difficult, if not impossible, to determine who should be hired if you don’t know what you are looking for in the first place. Here are some things to consider when planning for an interview.

  1. Chose the right style of interview.  Employment interviews come in all shapes and sizes, and may not be limited to only one interaction.  Some jobs necessitate only one interview, while another necessitate a telephone interview and at least one or two traditional interviews. Here are different types of interviews:
    • Traditional interview. This type of interview normally takes place in the office. It consists of the interviewer and the candidate, and a series of questions are asked and answered.
    • Telephone interview. A telephone interview is often used to narrow the list of people receiving a traditional interview. It can be used to determine salary requirements or other data that might automatically rule out giving someone a traditional interview. For example, if you receive two hundred résumés and narrow these down to twenty-five, it is still unrealistic to interview twenty-five people in person. At this point, you may decide to conduct phone interviews of those twenty-five, which could narrow the in-person interviews to a more manageable ten or so people.
    • Panel interview. A panel interview occurs when several people are interviewing one candidate at the same time. While this type of interview can be nerve racking for the candidate, it can also be a more effective use of time. Consider some companies who require three to four people to interview candidates for a job. It would be unrealistic to ask the candidate to come in for three or four interviews, so it makes sense for them to be interviewed by everyone at once.
    • Information interview. Informational interviews are usually used when there is no specific job opening, but the candidate is exploring possibilities in a given career field. The advantage to conducting these types of interviews is the ability to find great people ahead of a job opening.
    • Meal interviews. Many organizations offer to take the candidate to lunch or dinner for the interview. This can allow for a more casual meeting where, as the interviewer, you might be able to gather more information about the person, such as their manners and treatment of waitstaff. This type of interview might be considered an unstructured interview, since it would tend to be more of a conversation as opposed to a session consisting of specific questions and answers.
    • Group interview. In a group interview, two or more candidates interview at the same time. This type of interview can be an excellent source of information if you need to know how they may relate to other people in their job.
    • Video interviews. Video interviews are the same as traditional interviews, except that video technology is used (e.g., zoom, skype). This can be cost saving if one or more of your candidates are from out of town.  An interview may not feel the same as a traditional interview, but the same information can be gathered about the candidate.
  2. Create a moderately structured interview document. An important aspect of employment interviewing is replication. Each applicant needs to be asked the same questions so they can be compared equitably.  When thinking about different instances of interviews in organizations (e.g., exit, investigatory, etc.) a structure other than a moderately structured interview may be beneficial. To provide context and clarity around the moderately structured interview, an its utility for employment interviews, a brief description of various structurers is provided.  

Unstructured: Unstructured interviews typically involved a couple of open-ended questions that allow for fluidity in the  interview. The goal of these interviews is to collect rich, descriptive information. This allows for uncovering the unexpected, and assumes that there are  thoughts, topics, feelings, etc. that are not known. An example of a time when an organization may use an unstructured interview is during a consumer focus group. In this situation, the goal is to uncover whatever it is that a consumer may want to share about their experience with a product.

Highly Structured: This structure consists of a standard set of close-ended questions (yes/no, on a scale of 1 to 10, etc.). Often there is one opened-ended question at the end (e.g., “Is there anything you’d like to share”). The goal of this structure is to collect consistent, easily tabulated information about pre-determined topics. An example of a time that an organization may use this sort of interview is an employee satisfaction survey. When surveying a large number of individuals, the highly structured interview enables responses to be aggregated easily. What is often missing, however, is often the “why” of the answers (e.g., Why did the employees rate their overall satisfaction as a 2 out of 10?). Organizations may follow up with an unstructured interview (e.g., focus group) to gather this descriptive information.

Moderately structured: Employment interviews are best designed using a moderately structured interview. Primary question are developed around key topics/themes, and then secondary questions are planned to elicit further detail. The value of the moderately structured interview is that everyone is asked the same questions, you ensure that important questions are asked, and you gather a mixture of description (open ended questions) and content based (close ended) responses.

3. Prepare opening and closing remarks.

Opening Remarks: When beginning an interview, it is important that you have both rapport building and orientation components.

Rapport building: Upon welcoming the candidate to the interview, you should begin by introducing yourself and help the applicant begin to settle in with a welcoming question or comment. It’s important to think about what you might say in this initial interaction, as you don’t want to start the interview by eliciting illegal information from the applicant (e.g., “Did you have a relaxing weekend with you children?”).

Orientation: After breaking the ice and settling in, you should spend a few minutes letting the applicant know how the interview will proceed. For example, if there is a series of questions, you should remind the applicant of the time constraints (e.g., “We have 10 questions for you, and 45 minutes for our interview today”). You should also let the applicant know if you will be watching the time, so they don’t wonder why you are glancing at the clock. Finally, if they were asked to prepare a presentation,  let them know when that might be occurring (e.g., We are going to ask you  3 questions, and then have you do your presentation”).

Closing Remarks: Preparation should also include how you will end the interview. An effective closing will include a request for questions from the applicant, the next steps of the process, and closing rapport.

Request for questions: Allowing the applicant time to ask questions is an extremely valuable part of the interview process. During this part of the interview you get a sense of who the applicant is, and how they see themselves within the organization. If an applicant asks questions about their vacation accrual, or where their office might be located, this may indicate that they are self-focused and not suitable for the culture of your organization. If, on the other hand, they ask about innovative ways to move the organization forward, this might indicate how the applicant is planning to engage as a team member.

Next steps: Let the applicant know what the next steps of the process will look like. Will there be a follow up interview with finalists? How long before they hear back on their status? Who might be contacting them next?

Closing rapport: Express appreciation for the applicant’s time as you end the interview.

4. Create a variety of questions.   The  questions asked are one of the most important aspects of an effective employment interview. Once your time with an applicant is over, you want to have enough useful information to make a decision. The following table identifies different types of questions you should consider when creating your list of moderately structured interview questions.

Table 9.2 Types of interview Questions

Types of questions Description Example
1.      Primary

2.      Secondary

Introduces a new topic

Asks additional information about a topic

Have you done direct sales in the past?

What are examples of direct sales you’ve done?

3.      Open

4.      Closed

Invites an explanation, description, story, etc..

Identifies limited response options (e.g., yes or no, on a scale of 1-10)

Where do you see yourself in the next 10 years?

Do you aspire to move into a management position?

5.      Factual

6.      Opinion

Asks about matters of of fact

Asks for their opinion or judgment(s)

Do you know how to run a Xerox machine?

Which copy machine do you think provides the best quality copies?

7.      Direct

8.      Indirect

Straightforward request for information

Gets at knowledge, skills or opinions by means other than directly asking for the information.


What are your weaknesses with respect to this position?

If we ended up terminating your employment within the 1st year of your employment with us, what might you suspect would be the reason for that?

9.  Critical Incident

10.  Hypothetical

Ask about a real situation that has occurred

Asks the applicant to speculate (e.g., “What if”)

Describe how you’ve dealt with a difficult customer.

What would you do if a customer came in and demanded to get their money back, claiming you didn’t give them the correct change?

5. Ensure you dont ask illegal or inappropriate questions.  In addition to considering the content and types of questions to ask, you also need to ensure you are avoiding illegal or inappropriate questions.  According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) , questions asked need to be for bona fide occupational qualifications (BFOQ). This means the questions should focus on the essential functions of the job. Question cannot be asked for the purposes of discrimination, or result in hiring inequities.

  • National origin. You cannot ask seemingly innocent questions such as “That’s a beautiful name, where is your family from?” This could indicate national origin, which could result in bias. You also cannot ask questions about citizenship, except by asking if a candidate is legally allowed to work in the United States. Questions about the first language of the candidate shouldn’t be asked, either. However, asking “Do you have any language abilities that would be helpful in this job?” or “Are you authorized to work in the United States?” would be acceptable.
  • Age. You cannot ask someone how old they are, and it is best to avoid questions that might indicate age, such as “When did you graduate from high school?” However, asking “Are you over 18?” is acceptable.
  • Marital status. You can’t ask direct questions about marital status or ages of children. An alternative may be to ask, “Do you have any restrictions on your ability to travel, since this job requires 50 percent travel?”
  • Religion. It’s illegal to ask candidates about their religious affiliation or to ask questions that may indicate a religion-affiliated school or university.
  • Disabilities. You may not ask if the person has disabilities or recent illnesses. You can ask if the candidate is able to perform the functions of the job with or without reasonable accommodations.
  • Criminal record. While it is fine to perform a criminal record check, asking a candidate if they have ever been arrested is not appropriate. It is best to perform the background check and then have a follow up conversation with the applicant if there are any convictions and guilty pleadings that are concerning with respect to the position they have applied for.
  • Personal questions. Avoid asking personal questions, such as questions about social organizations or clubs, unless they relate to the job.
  • Besides these questions, any specific questions about weight, height, gender, and arrest record (as opposed to allowable questions about criminal convictions) should be avoided.

Page Attribution

  • 5.3 Interviewing. Human Resources Management. 2016.