(This article originally appeared in the Philadelphia Inquirer)
Workers have been slow returning to the job market, but there are signs that this is changing. Weekly unemployment claims have been decreasing, the nation’s unemployment rate has fallen to 4.8%,and open job listings are now off record highs. Over the coming months, many small business owners will be evaluating job candidates for desperately needed positions and a critical part of this process will be the job interview.
The good news is that many aspects of the job interview have stayed the same over the past few years. For example, interviews should be conducted consistently and involve at least two to three people from your company. Virtual meetings have become the most common way of conducting interviews because of the pandemic. But face-to-face meetings are always the best, in your office or another professional setting if possible. One other important reminder: avoid over-scheduling.
“After a full day of interviews, fatigue naturally sets in,” said Lisa Christensen, a Philadelphia-based executive leadership coach. “The last candidate may not get the same level of attention as the first, so make sure to schedule regular breaks and try not to schedule more than three interviews in a day.”
Some elements of the interview process have changed over the past years, and small business owners who don’t recognize these changes could lose out on great candidates or even get themselves in trouble.
Now, more than ever, personal questions are a no-no. Asking about a candidate’s family or even activities outside of the office can be potentially discriminatory. Our job as the interviewer is to determine if an applicant has the skills to do the advertised job. What they do off-hours is none of our business.
“Employers should avoid questions that may create stereotypes or even something that might be seen as qualifying people around something that is protected under the law,” said Teri Hartwell-Easter, a who runs T.H. Easter Consulting, a human resources firm with offices in Delaware. “For example, you shouldn’t ask ‘what are you going to do with your children if you get this job?’ which is usually a question that’s directed towards women, but not men. A prospective employee’s family status should never be a factor.”
Monica Siciliano said she has “spent many years kicking hiring managers under the table” because they ask seemingly innocent questions. “Those kinds of questions are not really adding anything to the discussion,” the Southampton-based human resources consultantsaid. From a candidate’s perspective, a hiring manager may sometimes mistakenly draw conclusions based upon information that’s been shared and that could create bias. “It’s none of our business,” she said. “The topic might come up conversationally, post hire, but anything that is personal should be avoided.”
Along those lines, make sure not to ask about prior compensation. Although Pennsylvania does not prohibit employers from asking about a candidate’s salary history, the practice is prohibited within Philadelphia as well as in New Jersey and Delaware. Doing so can bias an employer into offering a salary based on the past which can be unfair if the salary was below market rates due to the worker’s age, gender, or other factors. Use online services like Glassdoor, LinkedIn, or even your payroll company to help determine compensation and keep the topic off the interview table.
Experts also advise not to make salary assumptions about a candidate. “Don’t think that a more experienced and seasoned professional isn’t interested in taking a lower title and salary to get one’s foot in the door and start a new career,” said Joyel Crawford, a Philadelphia area leadership consultant. “Just because a person is older or more experienced doesn’t mean that they’re not interested in exploring new career opportunities. Yes, the pay may be lower but that’s for the candidate to decide.”
When you’re doing the interview, try to keep your questions open-ended so that you can give your candidate the opportunity to expand on a thought and not just answer yes or no. Jill Chernekoff, who runs a communications firmin Philadelphia said her favorite questions are things like “tell me who you are as a person, colleague, and leader.” Hartwell-Easter likes to find out how a prospective employee feels about working from home, or in a hybrid environment. Christiansen thinks that hiring managers should only talk about 30% of the time. Siciliano likes to find out about prior work experience by asking things such as “tell me how a great supervisor you had in the past brought out the best in you.”
Newer technology can also make the interview process easier. Many of the major payroll service providers like Paychex and ADP provide talent management systems for organizing the interview process. Hartwell-Easter and others like to use candidate assessment tools like Topgrading. Siciliano is keeping a close eye on some of the up and coming artificial intelligence tools like Hirevueand Mya. “AI powered engines are where we’re moving in the future,” she said.
In these times of tight labor, don’t forget to use the interview as an opportunity to sell your company. You should be prepared to answer questions like “how can I personally grow by coming to work for you?” Will that prospective employee be working with people who are great team members? Is your organization diverse and inclusive?
“It’s a two-way street,” said Siciliano. “Just like we are evaluating a candidate, they are evaluating us. Good companies want to demonstrate how their organizations work together with their people, and whether or not their cultures fit.”