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Interviews - What you should know

Introduction
Every one of us will approach the process of replacing staff or taking on new staff completely differently. The following is an overview of the interview process, it is not the 'Holy Grail' of how to, merely a basis for reliable procedure which can be adapted to suit each persons needs, and an indicator of the key legal points to remember.

You already know the intended role you require filling, but look to the future also. If your company is expanding and if it's a driver you're interviewing it may be that you will be looking for a future Junior Manager/Supervisor within (say) the planning office. If this is a possibility, look objectively at your existing staff and decide whether you have a potential future candidate among them. If not, consider whether one of those applicants for interview could potentially fill this future role.

Before the Interview
The interview is just one part of the recruitment process. Before you get there, you will hopefully have prepared a person specification setting out the details of the role and the skills and qualities you are looking for. You will also have advertised the role, received application forms or CVs, and shortlisted candidates for interview. At all stages in the recruitment process you should be mindful of the legal position and in particular the need to avoid unlawful discrimination. If your organisation has an Equal Opportunities policy, this should be adhered to. If you do not have one, then we strongly recommend that you implement one - it can prove crucial in defending discrimination claims.

Planning the Interview
You should already have digested the content of all the applications you have shortlisted. Use this information from the candidate(s) to prepare a set of questions. Look for any gaps in education or employment, or things that don't seem to add up. Beware of possible discrimination in the questions you ask, which could mean you miss the best candidate and may result in a claim (there is no limit on the compensation for a discrimination claim). Know the job description and person specification really well so that your questions help you compare candidates.

If two or more people are interviewing, decide who will deal with what topics. Think about what information candidates may want about the job and your organisation. Finally, prepare some open ended questions - those questions which need more than a 'yes' or 'no' to answer - to ask all candidates, for example:

When making arrangements for interview, you should consider the effect such arrangements may have on your candidates. For example, for those candidates who have a disability you should consider whether the venue has wheelchair access? Ask successful applicants whether there are any special arrangements which you should make, as even the most prudent employer cannot cover all bases if they are not informed about what adjustments to make.

Ensure the interview room is properly prepared, with drinks and stationery available. It's best not to hold the interview sitting behind a desk, or to use a higher chair than the person being interviewed - as this gives out the wrong body language; the aim is to make the candidate feel at ease and comfortable which will get the best from them, therefore (if possible) sit at a round table. Ensure there will be no interruptions, and ensure that mobile phones are switched off.

Inform other members of staff, such as receptionists, to expect the candidate. Allow enough time for the interview so you don't have to rush. Finally and most importantly, undertake each interview with an open mind.

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Interview Process
Prepare your questions in advance of the interview. The object is to get quality information from the person you're interviewing to enable you to assess them fairly and fully based against the requirements of the job, the staff the candidate will work alongside and you as the department head.

Back up interviews with a detailed record of the procedure, written as soon as possible after the interview. Be aware that candidates who later make a complaint to an Employment Tribunal have the right to ask for copies of any notes made during the interview, and that you may need them for defending any possible discrimination case relating to the process. Ensure there is a paper trail to document the entire procedure, including the job description, selection criteria, short listing process, interviews questions and notes. Data that is kept should be securely stored; all data that will no longer be required should be destroyed effectively.

Having Selected the Successful Applicant
Whatever else you do, ensure that procrastination on your decision making doesn't affect the process. Having undertaken any test, or second interviews, don't (under any circumstances) keep candidates waiting, it will reflect not only upon you, but also on the organisation you work for. Your professionalism throughout the whole process is paramount.

It is up to you how you wish to formalise the offer of employment - you may wish to send an offer letter for signature which can also be the employee's contract of employment or otherwise, you may send a formal contract for the candidate to sign. Either way, you must ensure that the intended contractual document contains all the relevant terms and conditions of employment. As a minimum you must include all points required to comply with a section 1 written statement of particulars. It may be a good idea to take advice to ensure the document deals with your requirements.

If the offer of employment is subject to any conditions, for example satisfactory references, CRB checks, work permit etc. then you should make this very clear in your offer letter.

Finally, you will need to prepare for the successful candidate's start date with your company. This will mean:

Unsuccessful candidates and feedback
You should decide beforehand whether you are going to provide feedback or not. If you opt to do so, then it is advisable that feedback is given only in written form. You should avoid providing verbal feedback as this runs the risk of entering into general conversation which may result in the wrong thing being said. Feedback should be sensitive and relate only to the candidates' inability to meet the requirements of the job description or the person specification.

If you have a general policy to not provide feedback then you must remain consistent in your approach and refuse to provide feedback requests to all unsuccessful applicants, including those who make individual requests. Providing feedback inconsistently could lead candidates to think that the decision to reject them was taken on a discriminatory basis.

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