In this issue

Early Career Psychologist Column

Tips on techniques for interviewing potential employees.

By Kelly Dunn, PhD, and Sarah Tragesser

Techniques for Interviewing Potential Employees

Upon completing your graduate training, many ECPs are hired into positions that require them to demonstrate mastery of several business-related skills, including hiring employees and managing/supervising staff. However, few of us have direct training in these areas and therefore may feel lost when trying to meet these new and often unanticipated demands. This column will address one of those issues, techniques for interviewing potential employees that have been associated with good employee outcomes.

Prior to posting your job advertisement, it is important that you thoughtfully consider the tasks for which your new employee will be responsible. Make a detailed list of these responsibilities and of the skills necessary to complete them. Making this detailed list in advance of the interview helps you avoid the cognitive bias that often occurs during the hiring process. For example, research has shown that employers often make up their mind about an employee prior to the actual interview based on superficial data like CV style or first impression, which have little predictive power. Creating a detailed list in advance of the interview will help you to more fairly select the candidate who is best for your available position.

A formal interview style consists of a brief greeting and introduction, data gathering (e.g., the interview itself) and an opportunity for the candidate to ask the interviewer questions about the position. Be prepared for the interview and plan to speak to your candidate for 30-60 minutes.

Unstructured vs. Structured Interview

Interviews are generally classified into Unstructured and Structured types. Unstructured interviews are informal discussions that can lead employers to ask candidates a different series of questions, thereby complicating comparisons across candidates once the interviews are completed. Structured interviews are more formal. These interviews are preplanned to ensure all candidates receive the same presentation of questions, and may employ rating scales and checklists to record impressions obtained during the interview. The use of structured interviews permits easier comparison across candidates once the interview is completed. Perhaps because of their more formal design, structured interviews have shown greater predictive validity for future employee performance.

Designing your interview

A good structured interview can be generated from the detailed list you created to identify necessary job responsibilities and employee skills. This list can help you create questions that target specific employee skill sets and identify additional skills that each candidate might offer to your laboratory (etc.). Different jobs will require different job skills; therefore you may need to design several structured interviews. For example, one position may require a candidate to be very energetic (e.g., recruiting for clinical trials) while a second position may benefit more from precision (e.g., data management).

Potential areas to discuss during the interview:
  • Work history: Look at most recent job first. Evaluate the significance of job in organization
  • Education: Evaluate choice of subjects, performance, causes of success/failures
    Aspirations: Does he/she have goals? How realistic are they?
  • Interests: To what extent is the job an outlet/barrier for his/her interests?
  • Circumstances: Do circumstances exist that might affect his/her job performance?
  • Energy and Drive: What is his/her general level of work output, persistence, motivation?
  • Work Discipline: Is he/she efficient, able to plan and control, able to monitor work and time?
  • Decision Making Skills: What is his/her quality of judgment on personnel/technical matters?
  • Intellectual Skills: What is his/her analytic ability or speed of thinking?
  • Flexibility: Is he/she able to adapt to new people, is he/she responsive to change?
  • Emotional Stability: Is he/she work able to work under pressure, respond to setbacks?

Reference: The Psychology of Personnel Selection (2010). Cambridge University Press.