Employee Recruitment and Selection

8 Conducting the Interview

Interviews may be conducted by telephone or in person. Telephone interviews are often used as a first step to assess whether a candidate may be suitable for a further face-to-face meeting. They are also useful when a candidate lives too far away for a face-to-face meeting because of cost and time restraints. In this case, interviewing by Skype (or similar software) can bridge the gap between having a telephone interview and an in-person interview.

However, whenever possible, telephone interviews should not take the place of personal interviews. Some personality traits and behaviours may be more evident in person, and the more time you spend with a potential candidate in person, the better your hiring decision will be. In-person interviews are sometimes held in conjunction with a performance-based interview (see below for more information on performance-based interviews).

Telephone interviews

If you choose to conduct a telephone interview consider the following tips:

  • Contact the candidate either by email or telephone to arrange a mutually convenient time to conduct the interview. Let the candidate know the estimated length of the interview and confirm the best number to call. This courtesy allows the candidate time to research the position and operation and arrange the time for the interview adequately. During the interview, you can then assess whether the candidate is adequately prepared.
  • Call the applicant at the confirmed time and introduce yourself. As an interview is is a highly confidential process, be sure to confirm that he or she is available and feels comfortable to talk at this time. Once you and the candidate have agreed that the interview can continue, ask whether he or she is still interested in being considered for the position.
  • Let the candidate know who else is in the room with you, especially if you are putting the call on speaker phone.
  • Listen carefully for tone of voice, energy, and enthusiasm in the candidate’s answers.
  • Ask qualifying questions to determine whether the candidate possesses the basic skills and experience necessary. Try to determine the person’s attitude, work ethic, professionalism, and telephone manner. Pick two to three key questions to ask all candidates, such as:
    • What interested and motivated you to apply for this position?
    • Can you tell me what you know about this company and what we do?
    • What is your most memorable customer service experience?
  • Avoid questions that allow yes/no answers. Using open-ended questions (questions that require more than just a yes or no or single word answer) will provide you with the information you will need to determine if you would like to move to the next step with the candidate. Starting questions with the word “what” will help you ask open-ended questions.
  • Whenever possible, consider offering face-to-face interviews to all candidates who do well in a telephone interview.

Face-to-face interviews

Face-to-face interviews are an invaluable tool to determine if a candidate is a suitable fit for an organization and the best opportunity to ensure that the person’s characteristics, values, and experiences fit with your needs and overall corporate culture. Face-to-face interaction gives the interviewer the opportunity to properly communicate, read the applicant’s body language, and understand if the applicant uses professional mannerisms, seems sincere, and makes eye contact.

The interview process

Before you invite any candidate to an interview it is important to have a plan. You want to have developed your interview questions prior to the interview, and the questions should come from the job description you previously completed.

It is important to ask the same questions of each candidate, although some side questions may arise during conversation. Asking the same questions of each candidate will help you fairly compare candidates.

Spend time thinking about what you want to ask in an interview, and what answers you expect back. It may be helpful to make a list of some responses you are looking for to match with the responses of the candidates. Also, it is helpful if you determine the criteria for which responses exceed, meet, partially meet, or do not meet what you are looking for with the answers. It is helpful to create a template of the questions with some responses you are looking for and a space to indicate if the response meets those criteria. (An interview question template, including sample questions, is supplied in Appendix 3.)

Finally, consider what type of attitude and personality will fit with your team. For example, do you need someone with a new perspective to come in and shake things up in a positive way?

You may want to involve others within your organization in the interview and selection process. Having other managers and/or colleagues spend time with potential employees can complement your assessment and help further determine the qualifications and fit of individuals you are considering. Everyone’s perspective will be different, and a collective and collaborative approach to interviewing and selecting candidates can help assess suitability to both the job and the overall operation.

Once you have your plan, you need to prepare for the process of the interview:

  • Introduction
  • Questions
  • Wrap-up

1. Introduction

To begin the interview, introduce yourself and any others who may be present and involved in the process. State your role(s) and make the applicant feel at ease. Let the applicant know how long you expect the interview to take and what to expect. For example, you might explain that there will be about 30 minutes of question followed by a short facility tour. Giving the applicant this kind or orientation to the interview will help make them more comfortable.

During the interview, let the candidate do the majority of the talking. The 80/20 rule is a good rule of thumb to follow (i.e., the candidate talks 80 percent of the time, and you ask questions, or answer the candidate’s questions, 20 percent of the time).

Tell the candidate about your company, your philosophies, the products, and the services offered. You can do this either at the start of the interview, or at the end. Some interviewers wait to describe these details of the position and organization until after they have asked all of the main interview questions to lessen the tendency of leading the candidate to the answers you may be seeking. For example, if you tell a candidate at the start of the interview that you are looking for someone who is very energetic, forward thinking, and embraces change, that may influence the person’s answers to your questions. However, you may reduce the risk of guiding the applicant’s responses by asking a behavioural descriptive question (see below).

2. Questions

The most effective type of interview question is one that encourages candidates to describe what they have actually done in the past, as opposed to focusing on hypothetical “what would you do if…” questions that are speculative at best, or closed questions requiring a simple yes/no answer.

A question asking how a candidate has done something in the past is a behavioural descriptive question. The principle behind this type of question is that the best indicator of a person’s future behaviour is his or her past behaviour. Additionally, behavioural descriptive questions give better insight into how well the candidate understands the situation and topic, as well as his or her knowledge base and learning abilities. You can formulate behavioural descriptive questions simply by asking about past behaviour instead of about hypothetical future behaviour. The following examples illustrate the difference between the two forms of questioning.

  • Behavioural descriptive question: “Can you describe a situation where you dealt with a really angry customer who was waiting too long for food? Describe how you handled the situation, specifically what you did and said, and what the final outcome was.” (You might also ask, “What did your learn from this situation?”)
  • Situational question: “How would you deal with a really angry customer who was waiting too long for food?”

The two questions are very similar, but can lead to very different answers. The first asks about a real situation and allows the candidate to explain something he or she actually did in the past, whereas the second question is situational and could be answered with any number of responses, depending on what the applicant thinks the interviewer wants to hear.

Not all questions need to be the behavioural descriptive type. Some issues do not lend themselves to this type of question, such as confirming education and experience qualifications. But keep in mind that the best indicator of a person’s future behaviour is their past behaviour.

Also remember that some of the questions may be difficult to answer, or if you ask about a situation in the past, it may take time for the candidate to recall a specific incidence. Let the candidate know that it is all right to take time to think of the answers before answering. This will make the person feel more comfortable if there is a moment of silence while he or she thinks. As an interviewer, do not be tempted to “help” candidates with answer or interrupt them.

3. Wrap-up

The best time to tell the candidate more about the job and what you are looking for is after asking all your predetermined questions. Lastly, but importantly, the candidate should be given the opportunity to ask questions. Encourage each candidate to ask any questions they may have about the specifics of the job and the company.

If a candidate has no questions, be sure to tell the person when you expect to make a decision. For example, if you have a week of interviews and then need approval from someone who is on vacation, say so. Nothing is worse for the candidate than waiting days for a phone call and not knowing when to expect it.

The interview is also a time when you can promote your company, encouraging candidates on the benefits of working there. But remember to stay professional; the interview provides a lasting impression of what the company is all about and will serve as a starting base for the impressions of your new hire. It can be helpful to consider that the candidate might be interviewing you, to determine if he or she wants to work for you, as much as you are interviewing the candidate.

Finally, always remember to thank all candidates for their time. Put yourself in a candidate’s shoes; interviews can be stressful and demanding.

Consider adding a performance-based part to the interview

Depending on the position available, it may be useful to ask the applicant to demonstrate his or her skills, knowledge, and attitude according to the comprehensive job description. Combining this performance-based interview with appropriate face-to-face questions greatly increases the chances of putting the right person in the right job.

For example, you might ask candidates for a cook position to demonstrate knife skills or to create a dish given some parameters. Or you might ask a server to demonstrate opening a bottle of wine table-side. Adding a performance-based component to an interview requires more time and effort to design, but it can pay off in the long run. If you are going to include a performance-based part to the interview, make sure to tell candidates ahead of time so they come well prepared.

Tips for effective interviewing

  • Listen to your intuition, but do not settle on your first impression: Try to avoid basing your decision on a first impression without giving the candidate ample time to answer the questions. Another trap to avoid is having such a specific response in mind that it prevents you from considering a different response. As an interviewer, you must remain objective throughout the meeting, and even if the candidate makes a statement you disagree with, do not interrupt, dispute, or express judgment. Keep an open mind during the interview. Listen to your intuition, but ensure it is supported by what you have heard and seen during the interview. Avoid making a hiring decision simply based on “having a good feeling” about or liking a candidate.
  • Be consistent: Use a consistent list of questions for all candidates to ensure you can make a fair comparison after the interviews are completed. Of course, you can still naturally follow a particular line of question based on the answers individual candidates provide to specific questions, but be sure to cover all the same basic lines of enquiry with each candidate. Take notes for every candidate so that you remember who said what during each interview. (It may help to have a designated note taker so you can concentrate on the candidate, or consider having several people on the interview panel who take turns with note taking.) As part of each interview, strive to identify candidates’ strengths and weaknesses as well as their plans and career aspirations.
  • Practise active listening: Observe the 80/20 rule: the candidate talks 80 percent of the time. and you ask questions or answer the candidate’s questions the other 20 percent of the time. Give the candidate an opportunity to ask you questions about your company and business philosophies. The questions the candidate poses will give you insight into the person. When you are listening, be aware of how the candidate is responding. What is the tone of voice? What facial expressions and gestures is the candidate showing? Does the candidate sound excited about the experience and the opportunity to work in your organization, or does he or she seem to be just going through the motions of a job interview? Listen carefully to the words as well and ask for clarification of any points you don’t understand. The best way to get the best employee is to find out as much as you can about each candidate.
  • Evaluate the interview after it is over: After each interview, evaluate each candidate based on his or her answers to your interview questions. For each question you asked, determine whether the response exceeded, met, partially met, or did not meet your criteria. Based on this rating, you can evaluate and compare the candidates more objectively. In addition to a candidate’s skills and experience, evaluate how well the individual would fit into the organization’s environment and culture. It is important that you are aware of what you are looking for in a candidate. Talk with others within your organization, such as the person who greets the candidates upon arrival, to get a sense of the candidate’s personality when not being formally interviewed. You can learn a lot about applicants by asking how they interacted with a front-line employee like the person at the reception area.

Always follow-up with each candidate interviewed, regardless of your final decision. This simple step will help leave a more positive lasting impression with the candidate and may prove beneficial in the event another employment opportunity arises in the future for which you may wish to consider a previously unsuccessful candidate.



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Human Resources in the Food Service and Hospitality Industry Copyright © 2015 by The BC Cook Articulation Committee is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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