In light of March madness, it seems appropriate to think about your job interview techniques in terms of effective offensive and defensive moves. Best way to start? Put the ball in the job applicant's court. This month's guest author, Attorney Helene Horn Figman, is an employment law attorney who provides legal counsel to small and mid-sized businesses. She writes:
Start with the job description. Present a copy to the applicant and have one in front of you. Go through the description, discussing the requirements of the position. During this review, ask open ended questions, allowing the prospective employee to share information about his or her work style as it relates to the job functions. Using the job description ensures that you are asking all applicants the same questions and having each prospective employee review the functions of the open position. Do not ask personal questions; questions should all directly relate to the requirements of the job.
You can, for example, point to the hours set forth in the description and ask if the individual can work those hours. You can also state a requirement, such as, "Our sales managers often hold team meetings on Thursdays at 4:30 p.m. and that is a requirement of this job." However, there are questions that will clearly get you in "foul trouble," such as whether someone has childcare issues in the afternoon or has difficulty getting up in the morning (which might indicate a health issue). You can ask, "In previous jobs, do you find that you called upon your customers in the afternoon? Were morning appointments more successful for you? In what way?" List this advice under playing good defense against discrimination claims.
On the other hand, don't be afraid to play a little offense either. For example, if you only ask questions with a yes or no answer it is not going to be very useful. If you ask a question like, "Did you meet your sales goals at your last position?" most candidates will say yes. Okay. Yes, he met his goals. But what did you really learn? In the alternative, ask him about the types of sales goals that were in effect at his two most recent employers. Then follow with a three-point shot: ask whether those goals were related to company numbers, individual sales or team efforts. Then engage the applicant in a discussion as to whether he or she would have revised the calculation of those goals and what suggestions he would have in making the goals tied to his own sales, and why.
In this age of neutral references, it is unlikely that you will learn much from your "scouting report," i.e., an applicant's references from prior employers. You will receive a confirmation of the title of the position held, the duration of employment, and sometimes the salary. The applicant is usually under some confidentiality or proprietary agreement and cannot discuss specifics of accounts and sales. However, you can ask the applicant if she has any e-mails or letters from her former supervisor praising her for exceeding her last year's sales goals. Just make sure that ALL other information (names of accounts; amount of commission, etc.) is redacted to avoid any issue of impropriety (more foul territory).
Be creative and know the rules. Play the interview game like a winner and you may end up with another star on your team.