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be tough interviewer

Personnel pros say
be tough interviewer

Bobbie Kavanaugh-Reif, president of Med-Scribe Inc., has interviewed thousands of job seekers looking for positions in physicians’ and dentists’ offices, and in health care organizations. She stresses the importance of rigorous interviewing, testing and fact checking.
“It’s very time-consuming to do this kind of interviewing, but we do it,” she says.
Her company uses specialized testing to gauge everything from how fast someone types or transcribes, to their ability to work with people and handle telephone calls.
Many entrepreneurs and small-business owners use less-than-scientific interviewing techniques, Kavanaugh-Reif says.
“I think most small employers, from talking with them, … get a “gut opinion’ and go with it,” she says. “I’ve done interviewing most of my life, and I know it’s the absolute worst way.”
Walter Critchley, president of Cochran, Cochran and Yale in Henrietta, and a past president and current board member of the Society for Human Resource Management, Genesee Valley Chapter, says many interviewers need to improve their techniques. Learning to listen better is a good place to start, he says.
“The person interviewed should do 70 percent of the talking,” Critchley says. “Find out what interests the person. Most interviewers talk too much.”
He also suggests interviewers use more open-ended questions and take detailed notes.
Open-ended questions can help the interviewer decide whether the applicant will fit into the company’s corporate culture. Each company or organization has a specific culture, Critchley says. For example, some operate in a bureaucratic, formal environment; others stress an entrepreneurial approach with emphasis on individual efforts. The interviewer needs to identify the company’s profile, and then ask questions to detect whether the applicant fits in.
Every company uses different interviewing techniques. Some use high-pressure interviews with multiple questioners, reminiscent of a college dissertation review; others employ a friendlier style.
“The way the interview is (is) the way the company is,” Critchley says.
“The best technique is multiple interviews,” he adds. “In most companies, one person does the interviewing. Targeted interviews, with each interview on a small subject area, make the process more rigorous.”
Multiple interviews also base the hiring decision less on one person’s opinion, Critchley says.
Many large companies, such as Bausch & Lomb Inc., commonly use background checks and rigorous interviews by multiple interviewers. The company says these measures protect the firm and help ensure the right employee is hired.
Critchley further recommends that interviewers gain an understanding of, and eye for, body language.
“Body language is one of the biggest factors: movement, eye contact, eye motion, handshake, all those things–the way the person sits, whether they fidget,” he says.
Gladys Winkworth, professor of career and human resource development at Rochester Institute of Technology, says employers need to establish specific hiring and job criteria–before conducting the first interview.
They should clearly outline a job description listing the duties and necessary skills, and list the characteristics, attitudes and behavior the person should possess, she says. The interviewers must know what to look for in both verbal and non-verbal responses.
She recommends using simulations to test how applicants will perform in typical job situations.
“Asking questions is only one way to find out what you need to know,” she says.
Winkworth cites an example from a search committee she served on that interviewed candidates for a director’s-level position. The position required a person skilled at running meetings and conducting disciplinary interviews with students. In addition, the department’s culture stressed most decisions being made by consensus.
The search committee set up test scenarios. And these simulations revealed a top candidate could not meet several outlined criteria. For example, in running the meeting, the candidate’s leadership style led him to adopt a “this is my decision, how will you implement it” approach, Winkworth says.
For repetitive work, such as production-line jobs, asking about skill level may be enough, she adds. But simulations can be useful for any jobs involving interaction with people.
For example, a doctor’s-office receptionist must relate well to people, and be adept at taking messages and handling emergency and non-emergency calls. A poor receptionist can devastate a practice and cost far more money than extra interviewing.
“It’s time-consuming and therefore expensive,” she says. “But it’s worth spending the money first.”
At Med-Scribe, Kavanaugh-Reif uses test scenarios like the ones suggested by Winkworth. For example, in one scenario an insurance company calls a doctor’s office to verify a patient’s diagnosis. The test asks the job seeker what they would do.
“Many people would simply verify the information. We don’t want those people,” she says.
The correct way to handle the situation would be to verify the caller’s identity, she added. Word of tennis star Arthur Ashe’s AIDS got out when a caller posed as an insurance representative.
Kavanaugh-Reif says job interviewers often must ask difficult questions.
“I think too many interviewers are too polite. They don’t ask the burning question in their mind. I go after them like a little devil,” she says. “I listen to what they say and see if it makes sense.”
For example, she says, a person will tell her they quit a job because it didn’t pay enough. Yet, they have not worked in the two years since then. She questions the person about the discrepancy. She also tries to spot trends in an applicant’s employment history, such as claiming they were treated shabbily in every previous job.
She points out, however, that “nothing carries more weight than skills.”
Both Kavanaugh-Reif and Critchley say interviewers must diligently check references and facts. A national survey of executives by Accountemps, a division of Robert Half International, found that one-third of job candidates lie or omit relevant information in their resumes. This represents an increase of 6 percent over a similar study three years ago. Company officials say hiring managers must thoroughly scrutinize the facts about every job applicant.
Beyond asking the right questions and using the best techniques, interviewers must avoid illegal questions.
“It is becoming more complex, and employers have to become more aware of what they can ask,” says Peter Smith, co-chair of the Disability/Labor Law Committee of the Monroe County Bar Association.
Smith, an attorney at Harter, Secrest & Emery, is an expert in employment-related matters.
He recommends that interviewers obtain two key documents: Rulings on Inquiries from the State Division of Human Rights and the Equal Opportunity Employers Commission’s guidelines on disabilities under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Smith also says companies should consult their attorneys to review job applications and interview questions. In addition, anyone who conducts interviews–from human-resource people to line supervisors–should receive training on legal issues. Most interviewers from human-resource departments understand the legal constraints. Often, however, supervisors and line experts also conduct interviews and may not know the laws.
“Just because (an application) passed the muster five years ago, doesn’t mean it is OK now,” he says. “It used to be fairly common to ask about any disability that would reasonably interfere with the (job). That’s clearly prohibited by the ADA.”
The New York State Human Rights Law prohibits pre-employment and certain other inquiries as to race, creed, color, national origin, sex, age, disability, marital status and arrest records, unless based upon a bona fide occupational qualification.
“If you can’t ask it in writing, you can’t ask it orally,” Smith adds. “You can’t ask questions that would indirectly reveal prohibited information.”
A new state law, Labor Law 201-D, effective January 1993, protects people from being discriminated against based on recreational activities ranging from scuba diving to the legal use of consumable products, such as cigarettes and beer.
While such laws force employers to be more careful about what they ask, interviewers say it makes the hiring process fairer.
“It’s more focused on the objective than on the subjective–whether they’re a good match, how will they perform and will they stay with you,” Critchley says. “That’s the way it should be.”
(Mike Dickinson is a Rochester-area free-lance writer.)


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