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Sept 1993

Successful interviewing techniques. (The CPA Manager)

by Walley, Edwin N.

    Abstract- Employment interviewing involves evaluating the candidates for the position that needs to be filled and persuading the interviewees to work for the organization. To help managers narrow down the list of applicants who are worth interviewing, they should set a criteria that will be compared to the resume and conduct a telephone interview. In preparation for the actual interview, they should develop a list of questions to be asked, read the resume immediately before the interviewee is called in, clear the calendar and conduct the interview outside of their offices, preferrably a private room. During the interview, managers should evaluate the candidate in terms of how well they will perform on the job and not on their performance on the interview. They should also make the interviewee relax during the session.

Sources of Candidates

Resumes are a source, if your firm is list in a career opportunities handbook that many state societies prepare, you are assured of a steady flow of resumes. However, for a more specialized position, advertisements, search firms, or networking may be more effective methods. In an ad, you can spell out the specifics of the position. The downside ris a large number of resumes you may receive that don't match your needs.

A common failing in finding a person for a position is that too many people are interviewed. An interviewer candidates overly involved with interviewing candidates who are not right for the position. You need to come up with a set of criteria, such as what the position pays, the specific skills needed, and years of experience desired. With the proper set of criteria, you can sort the resumes of candidates into three piles, yes, no, and maybe.

Without a defined set of criteria, a situation could occur where someone walks into your office and says "I need a controller." You reply, "What kind?" "A good one" comes back the response. If you ask, "What salary?" the answer is sure to be, "As little as possible."

Once the resumes have been sorted, more weeding out can be done by a telephone interview. This telephone conversation often eliminates a large number of candidates. Many resumes overstate qualifications in response to the needs of the position. Often, the resume alone can not narrow the choices. Another way to weed out some of the candidates is to request that the candidate supply a full salary history and the nature of the business for all former employers. If they don't answer these questions on their resumes, they could go into the "no" pile.

Preparing for the Interview

A number of things should be done before interviewing the candidates.

* Read the resume right before you see the person. This will help you to remember the candidate's background and experience so you don't have to keep looking at the resume throughout the interview.

* Clear the calendar. Try not to schedule interviews at the start of your office day and if possible, turn the phone off. This allows for you to interview the candidate without the interruptions which might turn the person away from the position.

* Conduct the interview out of your office. This is the best way to avoid interruptions.

The employment application is a very important part of the recruitment process. A standard application from a business forms supplier or catalog is fine. There are two statements on the application which, when signed by the applicant, become very significant.

1. Everything in the application is true, and if not the candidate can be released. The form should also say that the position is employment at will (the employer or the employee can terminate employment at any time for any reason or no reason).

2. Permission is given to check the references.

Checking references is very important, but it requires a skill level on the part of the reference checker to get the facts. Your chances of getting the true story are improved when speaking with a person you know. It is good idea to circularize key people in your organization with the names of the organinizations with whom you will be checking references. Maybe someone in your firm knows someone at the company. If a candidate says they are certified, or they had outstanding grades, mak sure the facts are correct. Hiring a CPA and findings out the person never passed the exam can be both embarrassing and damaging to your and your organization. Ask for evidence of everything you think is important. If you don't get the evidence, chances are the applicant does not have the qualifications he or she stated.

The Interview

When and where to conduct the interview is very important. A private room for conducting interviews is a good idea, since it is usually much neater. In a regular office, piles of work on the desk do not create a good impression. You could be interviewing Mary Smith for a position and Johnny Jones' resume is sitting on the desk in front of her.

A common mistake is to evaluate the candidate in terms of how they performed on the interview, not on how they will perform on the job. The purpose of the interview is to learn about the candidate's experience and abilities, not the niceties of interviewing for employment.

Be aware of the applicant's status. If you are interviewing someone who is unemployed, you have a very different situation than for someone who is employed. The out-of-work candidates are extremely nervous because you are playing with their life, they know that. If you want to know what a person is about, you need to get them to relax, almost forgetting the first few minutes of the interview. Get the applicant talking about things that interest him or her and not the fact that the next minutes determine whether they will work for the organization or not. Once you get them relaxed, you can really find out what sort of person you have, which is the real point of the interview.

Control of the interview relates heavily to the questions that you ask. Try to develop a list of questions to ask during the interview. You should not talk more than half of the time, less if possible. Try to get the person to talk more. Asking what an applicant likes to do when they are not working is a good way to learn about a candidate without the questions you are not allowed to ask.

Make sure the interview is conducted within all the legal restraints. But be careful not to ask questions about age, marital status, religion, sexual preference, etc.

Try not to schedule more than three or four interviews a day. It is very demanding to see more, and towards the end of the day you may not do as well in selling your organization or in evaluating the candidate.

When you are on campus, you are in a different situation, on a given day you may have to see 12 people. Therefore, keep a list of the questions you want to ask. This will keep you from asking the same question twice or failing to ask that one critical. (It happens to the best of us.)

The applicant will want to meet other people within the organization. When selling the candidate on the job, finding the right person to meet the candidate is very important. Try to train the people who will meet candidates in the same techniques you use in your evaluation. Get some of the organization's "personality" people involved. Try to have the same people in your organization see all the candidates competing for a position. Create a "recruiting team" within your firm, people you feel will sell candidates on the idea of coming to work for your organization.

Sometimes it is the person you bring the candidate to see that breaks the mood or otherwise cause the hiring process to go awry. They might ask the questions you are not supposed to, not be available at the appointed time, be on the phone, or any number of things that will turn the applicant off to the position.

When asking people for their evaluation of the applicants, try to stress the question of how they will perform on the job. Also be careful to not let the pressure to fill the position affect the decision of whom you will hire. You may require a second interview to propoerly evaluate the person.

Make the Offer

When all the interviewing has been completed, the tough part comes, making a final decision. Trust your instincts and experience. Having narrowed the field to the two or three finalists, you have done the best you can. Now pick the one that in your opinion best fits the position.

After deciding who want, it is your job to get the candidate to accept. It rests in your ability to influence the candidate that your firm is the best place for them. The salary and benefits package are important, but how the candidate feels he or she fit in be accepted will weigh heavily in the decision.

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