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Screening and Interviewing Job Applicants

From the Government of Canada Hiring Resources

As anyone who has ever run an employment ad probably knows, screening job applicants can be exasperating. Streamlining the hiring process is difficult. It may seem obvious, but efficient screening starts with specifying clear job requirements. Write the job description carefully and include all the associated duties. Separate the necessary skills from the helpful skills, the soft (interpersonal) skills from hard (job-related) skills. If you run a job listing or a take out an ad, make sure the minimum requirements of the job and the salary range are clearly defined. Ambiguous job postings attract a broad range of candidates, many of whom may or may not be qualified for the job you need done.

Application Forms

If you use application forms, review these first to screen out applicants who clearly do not meet the requirements for the job. Make sure to compare the applicants’ qualifications to the job specifications and the job description.

Cover Letters

Applicants for both academic and administrative positions should provide a covering letter that identifies the position, provides relevant background linking their education and experience to the position, and highlights their specific qualifications. This is a good document to look at first, as it might indicate at a glance that an applicant is “completely out of the game” when it comes to meeting your job specifications/statement of qualifications.

Resumes/Curriculum Vitaes

A resume is a brief description of a candidate’s education, professional experience, knowledge, skills, and accomplishments. Curriculum vitae is an in-depth account of a candidate’s background. Resumes are common screening tools for administrative positions. Academic recruiters usually ask candidates to supply a curriculum vitae. You can have an outside firm screen resumes/CVs for you or you can do it yourself. A simple way to begin the screening of resumes or CVs is with a “three piles” approach – an initial sort that classifies applicants as qualified, possibly qualified, or not qualified. Although CVs and resumes may provide different types of information, your purpose in screening them is the same – you are looking for candidates who appear, in writing, to have the qualifications and experience you need for the position. The screening process will save you time and energy because you will be selecting only qualified candidates for interviews and job-related testing, if applicable. Following are some guidelines on how to read resumes, CVs, and covering letters. Remember that your objective is to compare the information presented against your selection criteria. Compare the following against your selection criteria:

  • What is the highest level of education completed?
  • What other educational designations does the candidate possess?
  • Examine professional experience. While there is no hard and fast rule about how far back you should go into someone’s work history, you should probably pay special attention to the past 10 years. All experiences that the candidate presents are open for exploration during the interview.
  • Explore non-traditional experiences which may have enabled a candidate to acquire the knowledge, skills, and abilities to perform the position to the desired (target) standard.
  • Look for portable and transferable skills.
  • Spot time gaps in experience and note them for future inquiry.
  • Are there any patterns in a candidate’s work experiences (e.g., promotions, career changes, employment stability, reasons for leaving positions)?
  • Identify technical skills which are testable before an interview.
  • Identify any work samples such as publications or portfolios that you may want a candidate to bring to an interview.
  • Does the candidate live out of town? Who will pay his/her expenses to travel to the interview and to relocate if hired?
  • Are there spelling or grammatical errors in the resume/CV?
  • Is the resume/CV formatted and presented in an appropriate manner?
  • Does the covering letter link the candidate’s qualifications to the position?
  • What information is still missing?

Hiring the “RIGHT” person in today’s market place is more important than ever. With increased global competition, downsized staffs, and downward price pressures, having the wrong person in a position is costly. Interviews are particularly useful for getting the story behind a participant’s experiences. The interviewer can pursue in-depth information around a topic. Before you start to design your interview questions and process, clearly articulate to yourself what problem or need is to be addressed using the information to be gathered by the interviews. This helps you keep a clear focus on the intent of each question. There are two rules of thumb for deciding how many people to interview:

  • Try to interview from three to six candidates.
  • Only interview people you think you would want to hire.

Get ready to help make the interview go smoothly by doing the following:

  • Develop an interview schedule and stick to it.
  • Try to have more than one interviewer (you risk intimidating the candidate, but you’ll make a better decision).
  • Prepare all the questions in advance, and anticipate possible answers to the questions.
  • Send the job description and/or statement of qualifications to candidates before they come to the interview meeting.
  • Review the resume and know the job description (bring both to the interview)
  • Arrange the meeting time and space – make it comfortable and private to help candidates feel at ease and more empowered.
  • Arrange to have the same interviewers conduct all the interviews.
  • Provide candidates with a comfortable, safe place to wait for the interview.

Tips for Preparing Interview Questions

  • Ask all candidates the same questions. How can you compare candidates with each other if you do not ask them the same questions?
  • Wording of interview questions should be open-ended. Respondents should be able to choose their own terms when answering questions.
  • Questions should be as neutral as possible. Avoid wording that might influence answers, e.g., evocative, judgmental wording.
  • Questions should be worded clearly. This includes knowing any terms particular to the program or the respondents’ culture.
  • Be careful asking “why” questions. This type of question infers a cause-effect relationship that may not truly exist. These questions may also cause respondents to feel defensive, e.g., that they have to justify their response, which may inhibit their responses to this and future questions.
  • Only ask questions that will give you information about past job performance, skills, and personal traits which are directly related to the position you are trying to fill. Get the facts, and then ask subjective questions which will allow you judge the person’s ability to fit your corporate culture and business situation.

Tips for Interviewing Job applicants

  • Keep notes of what each candidate answers.
  • Focus on learning about the person’s experience, ability and personal qualities that will directly affect how he or she will do the critical parts of the job.
  • Ask questions that are open-ended. For example, ask how the candidate’s education would help the person do this job better, rather than ask what education the person has.
  • Do not talk too much during the interview.
  • Do not make a decision too early. Listen carefully to what the candidate has to say through the whole interview.
  • Do not be too concerned if the applicant is nervous, unless it is really relevant to whether the applicant can do the job. For example, nervousness would matter if the person would have to make cold sales calls. For most jobs, it does not matter.
  • Do not ask leading questions, which tell the applicant what answer you want to hear. Do not use stress interviews, designed to see if you can upset the applicant. You can find out if an applicant can handle a stressful job through role-playing, situational questions, or by checking with references.

This article was written by the Government of Canada to help employers develop comprehensive job descriptions and attract the job applicants that will best benefit their company.