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How to Effectively Communicate With Potential Hires

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With businesses ramping up their human capital and rebuilding their teams, it’s likely that you will have your share of applicants coming in for interviews in the coming months. Employers and hiring managers are typically seen as having the upper hand, since it’s the interviewee who needs to prove that he or she is the best person for the job. In truth however, employers and hiring managers should take just as much care as interviewers for two key reasons.

First, the same interview question can easily be seen as either valid or discriminatory, depending on how it is phrased. Second, an interviewee who feels at ease with you is bound to be more open – not only when answering your questions, but also in voicing questions of their own.

Keeping Your Line of Questioning In Line
Even the most casual and innocuously intended interview questions can be taken the wrong way. While the purpose for and the necessity of an interview remains the same, the parameters have changed dramatically over the years. “We all know how litigious our society has become in the area of employment-related issues,” says HR risk management expert Michael Poskey. “Asking the wrong interview questions or making improper inquiries can lead to discrimination or wrongful-discharge lawsuits, and these suits can be won or lost based on statements made during the interview process.”

The good news is the majority of the applicants out there still see interviews as an opportunity to prove themselves to potential employers. Still, it never hurts to err on the side of caution, particularly when preventive measures are as simple as knowing what not to say, or how not to say things. For examples of pertinent as well as discriminatory interview questions, please consult this table. As you will see, the very same topic can be addressed in a way that can be seen as either legal or pertinent, or as discriminatory.

Putting Candidates At Ease
Since the interview is typically your only chance to have a face-to-face conversation with the candidates, it’s ultimately to your benefit if they feel at ease. In addition to making the experience more pleasant for both yourself and the interviewee, making candidates feel comfortable during an interview increases the likelihood of them showing their true personality and being straightforward about their skills. Consequently, this will help you when it’s time to decide which of the applicants would best meet your needs in terms of skill, abilities, and even temperament, as each workplace has a culture in which some personalities thrive better than others. Below are some pointers from Interviewing Job Applicants by Mary L. Bryant that you can use to make interviewees feel more at ease:

  • Make the candidates feel welcome – and more at ease – by greeting them at the reception area.
  • Treat job applicants as if they are your best clients. An applicant may be perfect for the job, but you’ll never know that if he or she is not at ease.
  • Open the interview with a non-controversial question, such as: “Did you have any trouble finding my office?”
  • If the applicant was referred to you by a friend or business associate, talk about that person a bit.
  • Ease into the discussion of the applicant’s resume; ask casual questions at first, such as “I see you attended the paralegal program at Georgetown. How did you like Washington, D.C.?”
  • When the applicant has relaxed, you can begin to ask questions that are more directly related to the job, but be wary of questions that are challenges, such as “What can you bring to this job?” You’re likely to get a rehearsed answer, which will give you little insight into how well the applicant may be able to perform the job.
  • Avoid asking close-ended questions that can be answered by a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’.
  • To get in-depth information about an applicant’s background, use open-ended questions, such as “Tell me about how you handled preparing client billing.” Then probe for details. Don’t be satisfied with a vague response.
  • Listen carefully to answers and ask follow-up questions.
  • Ask the applicant about specific accomplishments. For example, if the applicant claims to have implemented a new billing system, ask what the previous system was like, why it needed to be changed, and what problems were encountered in making the change.
  • If the job requires grace under pressure – telephone dealings with dissatisfied customers or anxious field personnel – ask the applicant a series of tough questions and observe how rapidly he or she responds.
  • If the job includes analytical research, ask the applicant questions that require some thought. In this case, a quick answer may be a bad sign. Don’t be discouraged if the applicant can’t answer your questions; a good candidate may be one who simply has some ideas on how to research the topics and find the answers.
  • At the end of the interview, the applicant may wish to ask you some questions. That, too, is a good sign – you don’t want the applicant to take the job without being clear about what it entails.

The key is to do your best to be sensitive and considerate to your interviewees’ feelings during the interview. By taking care not to intimidate or alienate potential hires, you will not only be able to safely navigate through the interview process, you might even find precisely the employee you’ve been looking for.

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