HR clinic: Interviews must be firm but fair

How do we conduct job interviews in a way that is both useful to us and fair to the candidates?

Of course, you want to give all candidates the chance to display their individual strengths, but you've heard that it is unfair to ask different candidates personalised questions.

The sole purpose of job interviews is to find the best candidate for the job. The only fair way of doing that is to focus on the real job requirements and limit your questioning to establishing the candidates' credentials and whether they meet those requirements.

Consider the key elements of the person specification and formulate open questions that are designed to probe their abilities, such as "tell us about a staff management problem you have faced and how you went about resolving it".

That's a question you will want to ask every candidate, but they will all come up with rather different answers. So it is perfectly legitimate and very useful for you to probe more deeply, seek clarification or explore gaps and contradictions. In those cases, you'll be asking different questions of each candidate, but all based on the same theme.

Then there are circumstances that are unique to individuals. If these circumstances are relevant to the job on offer, then it's perfectly fair to ask candidates different questions, provided they help you assess suitability. So a question such as "did your sabbatical year make it difficult for you to re-enter the world of work?" could provide useful information. But questions that could raise doubts about the validity of work experience or qualifications from abroad, for example, are out of bounds.

If everything you ask is directly relevant to the job requirements and you explore all the key issues with all the candidates, you will not only be acting fairly, but also getting all the information you need to make an informed decision.

 - John Burnell is director of Personnel Solutions

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