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6. Interviewing Applicants

Purpose of an Interview
Getting Started

Guidelines for Conducting Interviews
Interviewing Tips

Purpose of an Interview

An interview aims to gather information about an applicant, present a realistic description of the position, ensure a fair selection process, establish adequate records in the event that the hiring decision must be justified, and determine whether the candidate would succeed in the position.

Types of Interviews
  • Competency-based interview approach: Identifies the criteria for job success and searches for the applicant whose past work experiences, skills, abilities, and talents best match these criteria.
  • Panel interview: An interview conducted by a small group of managers and/or campus representatives (faculty, staff, students) that allows for various perspectives on the competencies required for the position. This approach may provide a more objective measurement of the applicant’s ability to do the job.
  • Individual interview: An interview conducted one-on-one. In some instances, the Human Resources representative may conduct the first round of interviews and select one to three finalists for final interviews with the hiring manager.
  • Sequential interview: An interview that consists of a series of panel or individual interviews. The goal is to give different individuals and groups a chance to interview and assess a candidate.

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Getting Started

After reviewing the cover letters, applications and résumés for all applicants who meet minimum qualifications, select those who most closely match the job criteria for an initial interview. The Jobs At Columbia (JAC) System will help screen out any applicants who do not meet the minimum qualifications.

A number of variables affect the size of the initial or first round applicant pool. Some variables include the number of applicants in the pool, the quality of the pool, the budgeted salary versus the applicants’ salary requirements, and whether or not intensive outreach is required.

There is no required number of applicants who must be interviewed. However, the University is expected to give fair consideration to all highly qualified applicants to ensure an unbiased and nondiscriminatory search process.

Unless intensive outreach is required, you may want to narrow your initial candidate pool to three to six applicants.

Before contacting applicants to verify their continued interest in a position, prepare one set of interview questions directly related to the job requirements. All those involved in the interview process should have a copy of this set of questions.

For information on competency based interviewing and a list of competency based interview questions, click here (Word).

Interviewers are prohibited from asking applicants questions pertaining to race, color, sex, gender, religion, creed, national and ethnic origin, age, citizenship, status as a perceived or actual victim of domestic violence, disability, marital status, sexual orientation, status as a Vietnam-era or disabled veteran, or other legally protected status. Interviewers should also avoid questions involving child-care or health-related issues.

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Guidelines for Conducting Interviews

Be mindful that this outline will vary depending upon the nature of the open position and the number of interviewers involved.

  • Schedule the interview so that the applicant and interviewer have adequate advance notice. Allow 30 to 90 minutes for the initial interview, depending on the type of position. Always allow a time-out between interviews.
  • Make certain that each scheduled applicant has completed an online employment application in the JAC System.
  • Whenever possible, have the interview in a private, quiet space. Avoid interruptions and phone calls. You may want to keep the door open or ajar for safety reasons.
  • Arrange seating to allow for easy eye contact. Other than handshakes, interviewers should not make physical contact with applicants.
  • Consult with HR and the Manager of the Return to Work Program if an applicant needs reasonable accommodation in order to be interviewed. Visit the Workplace Accommodations page under Working at Columbia for more information.

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Interviewing Tips

Use the following as a basic guide for preparing interview questions and planning the flow of the interview.

  • You should always introduce yourself to the applicant at the start of the conversation, and should consider following the 80/20 rule—the applicant speaks for 80 percent of the time and the interviewer(s) for 20 percent of the time.
  • As a courtesy, you may want to advise the applicant at the start of the interview that you will be taking notes.
  • Open the interview by asking the applicant to take several minutes to provide an overview of his or her background and the reasons he or she decided to apply.
  • Ask open-ended questions which require a response other than “yes” or “no.”
  • Be prepared to ask appropriate follow-up questions for clarification if needed.
  • Ask “what if” questions to assess how an applicant might respond to an on-the-job situation.
  • Ask questions to ascertain the applicant’s perceived strengths and areas for development.
  • Share information about the position.
  • Ask the applicant to take 3 to 5 minutes to provide any additional information.
  • Allow the applicant time to ask the interviewer several work-related questions.
  • Close the interview by explaining the next steps in the process, which may include background checking, reference checking and testing for finalists. Follow-up or second interviews are often helpful to narrow the field of finalists, to allow for an exchange of additional information, and to have the finalists meet with colleagues.

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