The Art of Effective Employee Interviews
Have you ever interviewed someone for a job? It’s been my experience that employers often feel as nervous and intimidated by the interview process as the job candidates they are interviewing.
Whether you are interviewing your first job candidate or your 20th, these simple rules, tips, and practical ideas will give you a reliable system to help you feel more confident, fair, and in control as you identify the best candidate for your veterinary practice.
Know What You Want
You will greatly improve your chance of getting what you want if you clearly identify the skills for the position. You will also be more objective when you interview if you list the skills first and then seek the candidate. The problem is that humans are programmed to favor people they feel comfortable with, rather than people who have the skill sets the practice needs to round out its team.
There is a real danger that an interviewer will be tempted to “adjust” a job to fit the candidate when a strong rapport is established, which means that employers often end up hiring people like themselves: analytical types tend to hire analytical types and social types tend to hire social types.
Before you can start asking candidates good questions, it is important to create an objective list of skills needed to be successful in the position. For instance, if you were hiring a technician, what “hard” skills and competencies would the job description suggest? Would you expect a candidate to be able to do anesthesia monitoring? Dental cleaning? Blood draws? Client education? Now is the time to identify the ideal skill set, rather than settle on something less than satisfactory.
In addition to “hard” skills, think about the other skills and aptitudes you want in your ideal candidate. These will usually fall into one of the following categories:
• Patient care skills: These are skills similar to those described above.
• Professional skills/aptitudes: Educational level, current license (if required for the position), special training or degrees, computer skills, as well as professional demeanor and appearance. The last two criteria should be openly discussed at the time of the interview. What if you find yourself interviewing a talented, qualified individual who is visibly covered in tattoos? Discussing the practice’s dress code and expectations for professional appearance gives all candidates, including this one, an opportunity to think through whether he or she is willing to cover up body art to comply with your employee manual before you offer the job.
• Production/productivity: How many in-hospital patients and outpatients a day should a person in this position be able to manage? Is surgical assisting or dental cleaning an expected part of the job? Defining productivity expectations helps ensure a good fit with your practice’s tempo and pace. A person who enjoys a slower-paced practice may not be able to function well in a fast-paced environment, and vice versa.
• Other responsibilities: This is the place to identify expectations that may not be obvious from the job description. For instance, does your practice participate in community events? If so, the expectation might be that employees participate in at least 3 events per year on behalf of the practice. Whatever is important in your culture should be stated so that it can be discussed during the interview (eg, teamwork, continuing education, participation in staff meetings, flexibility in scheduling).
• Physical requirements: Do employees in this position have to be on their feet for 8 to 12 hours? Do they need to lift patients and supplies? Asking performance questions about the requirements of the position are appropriate and should be addressed during an interview. In this case, the question might sound like: “This position requires lifting patients and sometimes pet food and other supplies that can weigh up to 50 pounds. Can you and are you willing to meet those requirements?” Clearly stating your expectations allows you to ask better questions so that both you and the candidate can determine whether the job is a good fit.
3 Types of Questions to Avoid
• Illegal questions. It is also important to know what type of questions not to ask a potential employee. Certain types of questions are illegal and may not be asked of job candidates. It is imperative to avoid questions that might imply discrimination based on age, sex, religion, race, or medical condition. For instance, it would be important not to ask a female what her plans are for having a family, if she is pregnant or trying to get pregnant, or if she already has children.
• Leading questions. Avoid phrasing questions in a way that reveals the answer you expect, such as, “You can keep calm in stressful situations, can’t you?”
• Theoretical questions. It is a common mistake to ask a “what if” question. For example, asking, “If you saw a coworker doing a procedure incorrectly, what do you think you would do?” forces candidates to speculate on behavior. While theoretical questions might be interesting, they are of questionable value in an interview. No one knows what he or she really would do in a “what if” situation.
Questions to Ask
Using all of the information above, make a list of questions to ask each candidate you interview for the job opening. This simple step will help ensure fairness and objectivity during the interview process.
Just as important as the type of questions you ask are the way that you phrase them. Aim to phrase questions to elicit information on the candidate’s actual performance based on past experience.
This questioning technique is predicated on the belief that the best predictor of future success is past performance. Let’s say that you want to find out if a candidate is a good team player. Rather than asking the candidate to list the characteristics of a good team member, ask “Tell me about a time you were on a work team or any kind of a team. What did you do to demonstrate good teamwork?”
Performance-based questions almost always start with a “Tell me about” something—an accomplishment or a mistake made, a disagreement with a boss or a coworker—and then ask the question, “What did you do in that situation?” Probe as needed to find out the details of what the individual did—what was the outcome? Did he or she ask for help, involve others, or go it alone?
Candidates reveal much about themselves in their answers if you phrase your questions to learn about past performance. Their answers will tell you much about maturity level, approach to problem-solving, and ability to communicate—all things that are difficult to determine based just on skills and skill testing.
Performance-based questions are not the only type of question to ask, however. When a candidate first arrives, it is nice to ask “ice-breaker” questions to put the interviewee at ease, such as, “Did you have any trouble finding our hospital?” Or, “How did you hear about our opening?”
It is also good to ask why the candidate is looking for a job. If the candidate didn’t like the hours, the boss, or something else about his or her current employment situation, probe to find out more. You may be talking to a slacker or someone with an entitlement mindset and unrealistic expectations about the workplace.
Before you start the interview, be sure to look over the candidate’s resume. Note any inconsistencies, such as periods of time that indicate employment gaps. Always ask about gaps and other inconsistencies (eg, a manager at a previous practice took a job as a receptionist at the next practice). Ask the reason for the inconsistencies: Going back to school to complete a degree might be a good reason for a gap or to step down from management responsibilities; other explanations might not be acceptable. In either event, you need to know. | EVT
Helpful Interviewing Tips
1. Ask the same questions of every candidate you interview to ensure fairness and consistency and to avoid unintentional discrimination.
2. Listen 3 times longer than you talk. Resist the urge to start talking when there are long pauses before a candidate responds. You will learn much more with active listening and observation than by talking to fill an uncomfortable pause.
3. Rate each candidate after the interview on a scale of 1 to 5 (1 being a poor fit and 5 being an excellent fit for the job). Note any helpful additional information, for example, “10 years of experience working in a veterinary practice; can start immediately; has a teaching background and would love to help with staff training.” Do not record information that is legally restricted (age, race, sex, religion, health status information) even if the candidate has volunteered it. Use the interview ratings to help determine the top candidate(s) to invite back for skills testing and/or a work-with at the practice.
4. Involve team members in the interview or work-with so that you can get other opinions of the prospective hire to weigh in with your own.
5. Finally, in addition to preparing for the interview, make sure that you have the time and a private place to conduct the interview so you can give the candidate the attention he or she deserves and are not distracted by interruptions.