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Training Staff to Be Better Interviewers

A woman sitting at a table in front of a group of business people.

​Many organizations take a team-based approach to hiring and for good reason. Gaining perspectives about job candidates from their potential co-workers can help avoid bias and blind spots. But it's rare for the non-HR employees participating in these panels to actually have experience in, or aptitude for, the interview process.

"Many organizations do not have a formal system where interviewers cohesively and completely share what they have learned in the interview, crippling the selection process," said David Lewis, CEO of OperationsInc., an HR consulting firm in Norwalk, Conn.

That's a situation, fortunately, that HR can change.

[SHRM members-only toolkit: Interviewing Candidates for Employment]

Why Interviewers Should Be Trained and Coached for the Role

Aside from one very practical reason to train those who will be involved in any interview process—to avoid unlawful and possibly discriminatory questions—there are other important reasons to provide this type of training. Even most hiring managers, Lewis said, have never had interviewing skills training. "The only experience they have in these situations is when they themselves were interviewed for a position."

If staff haven't participated in an interview panel before, they need information about what will happen and what is expected of them, said Brandi Britton, district president of staffing firm Robert Half. This can be done informally by HR or their managers, who can "talk them through the process and offer pointers." Or, it can be part of a more formal training process that takes place throughout the year or when key roles are being filled.

Closing the Gap

Robert Moses is founder and editor at The Corporate Con/noisseur, a resource site for job seekers and employers. Team-based interviews of potential candidates have helped keep the company's culture intact, Moses said.

"Our employees feel that they are a part of the process, and it definitely brings a sense of unity across the company," he said. But, he added, "we are uniquely aware of the potential consequences in allowing non-HR or hiring managers to attend the interview process."

The Corporate Con/noisseur requires all interested staff to attend training on interview tips and etiquette. "In addition, we require that the hiring manager meet with staff members who would like to attend the interview before it is conducted," Moses said. It's an approach that has added great value for the company. "We have found great employee engagement and participation since the introduction of this process," he said.

DigitalOcean, a cloud platform company, takes training a step further. It implemented a program called Sailor Certification in 2017, said Loren Boyce, director of talent acquisition. It's an interview training initiative that also includes time discussing unconscious bias and ways to remove it, she said.

The Sailor Certification starts with a short e-learning module that prepares people for the 90-minute instructor-led class. "We cover everything from who should be on an interview panel to what formats work best, and, most importantly, how to design a structured interview process to ensure candidates are evaluated in a standard way," she said.

Since the program was implemented, over 300 employees have completed the training. "The impact has been very positive—100 percent of survey respondents either agree or strongly agree that they now have more knowledge about DigitalOcean's hiring process and philosophy and feel more confident and experienced in conducting effective interviews," Boyce said.

Best-Practice Advice

Michele Mavi is director of coaching services at Atrium, a workforce management and talent acquisition firm in New York City. When developing a training program and process for employee interviewers, Mavi recommends focusing on: 

  • The importance of the candidate experience, including respecting candidates' time.
  • The types of questions to ask, such as open-ended and behavioral-based questions.
  • What should and shouldn't be asked during the interview process.

Initially, it's important to ensure that the right people have been asked to participate in the process, Britton said. These participants should be "those who will work directly with the employee or have background on what it takes to be successful in the job." They should also be provided with a copy of the job description and the candidates' resumes, she advised. 

She raised an important point about the role that employees can play in the interview process: "Interviewers should be prepared to answer questions about corporate culture. It may even be helpful to provide staff with some sample questions about work environment that they may hear from candidates."

Prior to an interview, Mavi suggested having a kick-off call with everyone who will be involved. This offers an opportunity for everyone to go over the job description, skills and attributes for the position. "HR can lead a review of the types of questions interviewers can pull from for each skill set and review the scorecard process."

The use of a common rating sheet can help members of the interview panel keep track of their impressions of each candidate and provide a quantitative way to reflect on each member of the candidate pool after interviews have been completed. 

Finally, Boyce suggested including employees when developing interviewer training. "It should be the company's interview process, not the talent acquisition team's interview process," she said. 


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