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September 19, 2020
When Hiring, Interview Fairly and Thoroughly
By Jennetta Hyatt

Jennetta Hyatt
Nonprofits depend on having the right people in the right jobs. After identifying and screening potential candidates, the next step—interviewing them—may be the most critical.

Effective interviews allow candidates and the organization to evaluate each other and determine whether there is a match between them.

Several interview formats can be used, such as the telephone interview, behavioral interview or case interview. The interview format selected by your organization should afford every applicant fair and equitable treatment while obtaining facts and pertinent employment information from candidates that will allow you to make an informed hiring decision.

Depending on the situation, you may want to conduct more than one interview, and if so, the purpose of each interview should be clearly differentiated.

For prescreening purposes, a telephone interview may be helpful, but not suggested to take the place of a face-to-face interview. A behavioral interview can follow the telephone interview. Behavioral interviews are based on the belief that, in similar situations, past behavior is a predictor of future behavior. Interview questions are then designed so that the candidate provides details on how past situations were handled or resolved.

Unlike the behavioral interview, a case interview introduces the applicant to an actual or perceived organization dilemma that she or he may face if in the open position. It usually requires the applicant to analyze a situation, address the actual work involved and problem solve.

A panel or group of interviewers can be valuable in an interview to alleviate bias. As a suggestion, when possible, more than one person should be involved in interviews. We all have a tendency to be biased, and the impact of a bias during the interview process can be disastrous to the applicant and the organization. Blatant bias is illegal.

Tip: Craft open-ended interview questions to illicit the maximum amount of useful information from candidates. Avoid questions like, Can you make a decisions? Instead ask, Can you describe a time in which you had to make a difficult decision? What was the outcome? Would you have done anything differently?

Interviewer’s Role
The role of an interviewer in the hiring process is crucial and should not be underestimated. The interviewer helps to:
  • Set the tone of the interview.
  • Develop questions for candidates in order to obtain facts.
  • Ensure that all candidates are treated equally and fairly.
The interviewer and others that participate in interviews should:
  • Possess good interpersonal skills, be good listeners and be able to build relationship with candidates.
  • Help set the tone for the interview, making candidates feel welcome and comfortable.
  • Possess some knowledge of all employment laws that are relative to a hiring process to eliminate inappropriate or illegal questions and comments directed at candidates.
  • Avoid all biases and judge candidates solely on job related criteria.
  • Be sure not to make promises or convey false information to a candidate.
  • Be familiar with the requirements of position in order to appropriately assess candidate.
  • Help keep the interview on track.
  • Evaluate candidates' responses.

Tip: During the interview, allow the candidate to do most of the talking. It may be difficult to get the information you need if you are doing most of the speaking.

Compliance and Interviewing
During the hiring process, the area of compliance is often taken for granted. Many organizations fail to put the necessary mechanisms in place before the hiring process begins to ensure that their process complies with employment laws. A proactive approach in this area may save your organization money in the long run.

To start with, because we live in a litigious society, caution should be exercised not only in the questions asked, but also comments made during an interview. An inappropriate question or comment during an interview, regardless of whether or not the hiring decision was based on this information, can be cause for a disgruntled applicant to seek a lawsuit.

Often taken for granted, some organizations can do more and take measures to ensure that everyone involved in the interview process has knowledge of antidiscrimination employment laws. A simple unintentional slip of the tongue can even be costly to an organization. You can avoid grounds for a lawsuit by conducting legally compliant interviews.

If, during an interview, an applicant reveals information that you, as the potential employer, deem an inappropriate inquiry, the information should be ignored, and the interview should be kept on track. Do document that the applicant revealed this information independently.

As an employer, you are generally required to accommodate the special needs of disabled candidates. During the interview or even after it begins, if the candidate realizes they require an accommodation, the organization must allow the candidate to return after the accommodation has been provided.

Do not reject an otherwise qualified disabled person. They should be judged only by whether they are able to perform essential functions of the job with or without reasonable accommodation. During an interview with a disabled applicant, you can only inquire about this and whether they have the prerequisites for the position.

Be sure to document each step of your hiring process, and retain all documentation. I tend to document everything, and some of my colleagues often joke about how much I write. However, I suggest you document everything, too. In the event that a job applicant or candidate logs a complaint with a regulatory agency and you are questioned about it, you will appreciate having this information handy.

Tip: A matrix that includes your interview questions and your rating of each candidate response can be developed and serve as documentation in the event of an inquiry regarding the criteria your hiring decision was based on.

Jennetta Hyatt is Human Resources Manager for Fiscal Sponsorship and Employment at Third Sector New England, which provides support, training, and management resources to build capacity of progressive nonprofits. Call her at 617-523-6565.
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