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Hiring & Recruiting

HR How-To Pamphlets

Interview Guide

Identifying Competencies

You advertised for a vacant position and now you have a stack of resumes on your desk. What do you do now? The first thing you and/or the hiring committee should do is determine the competencies to be assessed. The next step is to assign a weight to each competency. Different competencies may carry the same weight, but the purpose is to determine the relative importance of each competency. For example, management experience may or may not hold a higher importance than state experience.

Sample Competencies

Planning and Organization: Ability to plan work and manage one’s time. Ability to identify the most efficient or convenient order in which to do assigned tasks.

Communication Skills: Ability to understand what people mean when they give spoken instructions, ask questions or discuss issues. Ability to communicate clearly when giving instructions, asking questions or discussing issues.

Flexibility: Ability to make changes in routine to meet work demands, willingness to learn new procedures/equipment.

Attendance: Ability to come to work on schedule.

Cooperation: Ability to work with and get along well with others in work settings. Ability to work effectively and cooperatively with coworkers, subordinates and management.

Responsibility: Follows through on commitments, completes assigned work, determined, reliable, conscientious, follows rules and orders, willing and able to work without direct supervision.

Job Specific: May include a wide range of competencies based on the job duties. i.e. Web experience, specific systems, financial experience, etc.

Once the competencies have been identified, you can use them as a guide to screen the resumes. A very common, yet simple, method is to create a yes, no and maybe pile.

The next step is to develop the questions associated with each competency and schedule the interviews. The goal of any particular question is to measure competency in one or more areas. Open ended questions generally cannot be answered by a simple yes or no response, rather they encourage dialogue. Closed questions require narrow answers to specific queries and allow specific facts to be obtained quickly.

Four Major Types of Interview Questions:

1. Credentials: Length of past experience in various areas. Educational and training experiences, degrees and certificates.


What courses have you taken concerning mechanical engineering?
What experience do you have in operating forklifts?

2. Opinions: Opinions about work-related topics.


What do you think is the best approach to getting along with others who are very different than you?
What is the best way of organizing work?

3. Knowledge: Technical knowledge required for job performance.


What are the major steps in performing a system checkout of a programmable logic controller?
What are the primary safety considerations in operating a power sweeper?

4. Situational/Behavioral

Situational: What would you do if …


You and another coworker are jointly responsible for completing an assignment. Your coworker is not doing his or her share of the work. What would you do?

Behavioral: What have you done when …


Describe a time when you and another coworker were jointly responsible for completing an assignment and your coworker did not do his or her share of the work. What did you do?

Behavioral questions are generally followed by probes.


When did this happen?
How did you try to resolve the issue?
What was the outcome?

Interviewing New Teaching Faculty?
Try these sample questions:

Questions about teaching:

If you have a student who is doing poorly in your class, but has not missed classes and appears to be a good student, what would you do?

How do you assess your students’ performances?

If you could teach your dream upper level specialty course, what would that be?

Tell us about your industry experience (if you have any)? How would you bring that experience into the classroom?

Questions about department and community involvement:

Why do you especially want to teach at NOVA? How do you see yourself contributing to our department?

We conceive of our campus as one community. What non– or extra-academic activities would you be interested in sponsoring or participating in?

You’ve seen our mission statement. How would you see yourself contributing to our mission and campus atmosphere?

Questions about career and personal choices:

Where do you see yourself professionally in five years? In 10 years?

What are some of the specific things you would like to address/learn in your own professional development? How is this connected to your work as an academic?

What is the last book you read for fun?

If you get more than one job offer how will you decide between them?

How did you go about researching and preparing for the interview for this position?

Questions about research:

Describe your current research. Will you be continuing in this research track? What are your future research plans?

Can you explain the value of your work to an educated layperson?

Tell us how your research has influenced your teaching. In what ways have you been able to bring the insights of your research to your courses at the undergraduate level?

If you were to begin it again, are there any changes that you would make in your dissertation?

How would you manage to stay current in your teaching field and develop and teach 30 credits per academic year?

Federal law regulates the types of questions that can be asked during an interview. For example, Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act prohibits discrimination based on race, sex, color, national origin and religion. The Age Discrimination in Employment Act prohibits questions about a person’s age. The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, among other things, protects qualified individuals with disabilities from discrimination in employment.

Questions relating either directly or indirectly to age, sex, race, color, national origin, religion or disabilities should be avoided. If information that you need about an applicant potentially infringes on any of the above categories, be sure that the question relates to a bona fide occupational qualification.

One overriding principle should be remembered during any interview, “What is the purpose of the question?” If an interviewer focuses solely on information necessary to reach a decision, the interviewer greatly reduces the chance of a lawsuit.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964

Employers, unions, employment agencies, and joint labor-management committees controlling apprenticeship or training programs are prohibited from discriminating on the basis of sex, race, color, religion, or national origin by Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Title VII prohibits discrimination in any employment condition, including hiring, firing, promotion, transfer, compensation and admission to training programs. Title VII was amended in 1972 and 1978. The 1972 amendments strengthened enforcement and expanded coverage to include employees of governments and education institutions, as well as private employers of more than 16 persons. The pregnancy amendment of 1978 made it illegal to discriminate based on pregnancy, childbirth or related conditions. The most critical portion of Title VII ia Section 703(a), which states:

It shall be an unlawful employment practice for an employer ...

To fail or refuse to hire or to discharge any individual, or otherwise to discriminate against any individual with respect to his compensation terms, conditions or privileges of employment, because of such individual’s race, color, religion, sex or national origin.

To limit, segregate, or classify his employees or applicants for employment in any way which would deprive or tend to deprive any individual of employment opportunities or otherwise adversely affect his status as an employee, because of such individual’s race, color, religion, sex or national origin.

ADA Enforcement Guidelines

Under the Americans with Disability Act of 1990 (ADA) an employer may not ask disability-related questions and may not conduct medical examinations until after it makes a conditional job offer to the applicant. This helps ensure that an applicant’s possible hidden disability (including a prior history of a disability) is not considered before the employer evaluates an applicant’s non-medical qualifications. An employer may not ask disability-related questions or require a medical examination pre-offer even if it intends to look at the answers or results only at the post-offer state.

Although employers may not ask disability-related questions or require medical examinations at the pre-offer state, they may do a wide variety of things to evaluate whether an applicant is qualified for the job, including the following:

Employers may ask about the applicant’s ability to perform specific job functions. For example, an employer may state the physical requirements of a job (such as the ability to lift a certain amount of weight, or the ability to climb ladders), and ask if an applicant can satisfy these requirements.

Employers may ask about an applicant’s non-medical qualifications and skills, such as the applicant’s education, work history, and required certifications and licenses.

Employers may ask applicants to describe or demonstrate how they would perform job tasks.

Once a conditional job offer is made, the employer may ask disability-related questions and require medical examinations as long as this is done for all entering employees in that job category. If the question or examination screens out an individual because of a disability, the employer must demonstrate that the reason for the rejection is “job-related and consistent with business necessity.”

ADA Key Definitions

According to the ADA, disability means:

A physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities. For example, walking, breathing, seeing or hearing.

A record of such an impairment. For example, a person who has recovered from cancer.

Being regarded as having such an impairment even when no limitations exist. For example, a person who is scarred from burns.

The term “qualified individual with a disability” means an individual with a disability who, with or without reasonable accommodation, can perform the essential functions of the employment position that such individual holds or desires, and possess the prerequisite knowledge, skills, abilities, education, licenses, etc.

II. Conducting the Interview

The Stages of the Interview

1. Opening – Establish rapport with the candidate and help the candidate relax and feel welcome. The rapport between the interviewer and the applicant contributes substantially to the effectiveness of the interview. This is particularly relevant when using a selection committee, as interviewing with several people can be intimidating. Following the greeting, a friendly exchange creates an atmosphere that allows communication to develop more freely and rapidly than it would otherwise.

2. Agenda – This puts the interviewer in control of the interview by establishing a road map.

3. Body – Obtain necessary information about a candidate’s education, experience, aptitude, and attitude needed to make a hiring decision. Here is where the skills of listening, probing, reflecting, summarizing and evaluating come into play. The interviewer’s job is to listen and evaluate, ideally talking no more than 25 percent of the time.

4. Job and Organization – Provide sufficient facts about the position, department and organization in a straightforward manner so that the applicant can make an informed decision on the acceptability of the position. In discussing the details of the position, topics regarding specific salary, promotional opportunities, tenure or other job security are to be avoided.

5. Questions – Allow the applicant to gather additional information about the job and institution and to sell himself or herself.

6. Closing – Ensure the candidate has all the information necessary to make an employment decision. Thank the candidate for coming in and inform them about the next steps in the process.

III. Post-Interview Procedure

Common Pitfalls in Hiring Decisions

First Impression – This problem results in the candidate being evaluated during the first minutes of the interview. Thus, the evaluation is based upon first impression data (smile, eye contact, handshake, etc.).

Contrast Effect – This is a problem when comparing two or more people. If an interviewer sees a very weak person first, the second candidate the interviewer sees, who is average, may be rated higher than average due to the contrast between candidates.

Compatibility – This is a tendency to give a higher rating to people whom we find pleasing of manner and personality. For example, those who agree with us, or have pleasant verbal and nonverbal skills, may get better ratings than their performance justifies.

Blind Spot – Occasionally, an interviewer may not see certain types of defects because they are just like his/her own. For example, the interviewer who ‘thinks big’ may not appreciate a detailed-oriented person.

Halo Effect – If a person is very strong on one dimension, he/she may then be viewed strong on all dimensions of evaluation.

Leniency Effect – In this situation the interviewer is unrealistically nice and sees everybody in a positive light.

Toughness Effect – In contrast to the leniency effect, the interviewer’s expectation level is so high that he/she is often disappointed and rates all applicants lower than deserved.

High Potential Effect – In this situation, the interviewer often judges the applicant’s credentials rather than his/her past performance, experiences or behaviors.

Hiring Decision

Interview evaluation information, in conjunction with other information gathered during the selection process, should form the nucleus for the final selection. Be sure to evaluate candidates only against selection criteria.

A formal job offer should not be made until references and credentials are reviewed. A minimum of two professional references should be contacted, preferably a supervisor, and if possible, a supervisor or colleague from the candidate’s current employer. In today’s litigious environment, some companies are hesitant to give references, however you should still try to get as much information as possible. Most candidates will provide references that are willing to give a personal reference. If a candidate provides references that are not willing to disclose information, you should go back to the candidate, explain the situation, and ask if they can provide additional references. In addition, if a degree is required for the position, then education and other credentials should also be verified.

Starting Salary

Several factors are considered in determining an employee’s starting salary. Factors include internal equity, market data and candidate’s current salary. Please contact Human Resources for assistance in determining starting salary.

Hire Paperwork

Prior to extending a formal offer to the candidate, all associated paperwork must be completed and approved. You can talk to your candidate of choice and inform them that you are recommending them for the position, but you cannot extend a formal offer until the hire package is approved.

Applicant Follow Up

Finally, it is a courtesy to send a brief note to the candidates who were interviewed, but not selected. This is not a requirement, but if you choose to send a note to the candidates, please send a copy of the letters to HR. Appendix A is a sample letter format.

Appendix A

Applicant Rejection Letter

Date: _______


Dear _______:

Thank you for taking the time to interview for the position of __________________.

While your background and credentials are impressive, we have selected a candidate who more closely matches our selection criteria.

Thank you again for your interest. We wish you success in your job search.


[Interviewer/Hiring Manager]

Northern Virginia Community College

cc: Human Resources