Recently, during an interviewing skills workshop I conducted for student career center advisors I posed the question, “What is the purpose of interviewing?” While the students presented their responses, I was reminded of the fact that most of us become overly consumed by the “process of interviewing” and lose site of the main purpose of the interview and the role of the interviewer in achieving that purpose.
Interviewing is a data collection method whereby interviewers gain insight into the relevant criteria about a candidate, such as their background, experiences, knowledge, skills, attitudes, and communication style to inform the hiring decision. Despite the general understanding of what an interview is for, most interviewers rarely approach interviewing as a data collection activity. Instead, it is an additive process of asking a series of standardized questions. Approaching interviewing in this manner is counter to the purpose of interviewing and can lead to a poor hiring decision.
Employment Interview Triangle
An alternative approach to interviewing is to use purposeful questioning and probing model called the Employment Interview Triangle to gain more substantive information about a candidate. This approach is a simple way to conceptualize employment interviewing and provides a framework for improving one’s interviewing skills. The techniques presented can be utilized with any interview questioning method (e.g., behavioral, traditional, hypothetical). The underlying principle supporting the model is that the value of interviewing is the ability to gain depth of information about the candidate. In other words, successful interviewing is not formulaic but rather qualitative in nature. Depth comes through the communication of well purposed questioning and the probing of responses that produces rich descriptive information about the candidate.
The model displays three integrated activities: (1) elicit information, (2) active listening, and (3) sharing relevant information (Silverman, 2006) that must occur in concert during an interview to gain the appropriate level of depth necessary to determine whether or not a candidate is the right choice for the organization and/or position. The initial activity essential for a successful interview requires the interviewer to elicit information from the candidate through purposeful questioning or performance activities that provide insight beyond superficial levels that will enable the interviewer to fully assess the candidate’s capabilities. Next, the interviewer must engage in active listening for potential cues or statements that may trigger the need for additional follow up questions. Lastly, the interviewer should identify opportunities to share relevant information about the organization to improve the candidates understanding of the organization and promote the exchange of information throughout the interview.
Role of the Interviewer
Despite the best intentions of this or any model or interviewing approach, without the interviewer having clarity about their role, the potential for success will be significantly diminished. Over the past 15 years, I have determined that there are four key roles an interviewer assumes in a successful interview scenario:
First, it is the interviewer’s responsibility to create a positive environment for the candidate. I am constantly perplexed when I hear of stories from interviewees who describe an interview experience with terms such as “combative”, “argumentative”, or “uninspiring”. Generally, when candidates leave an interview with such impressions I assume that the interviewer failed to create an environment that brought out the best in the candidate. While some candidates do not perform well, I contend that the interviewer should be working to draw out the relevant information in a positive and professional manner. Failure to create a positive experience reflects poorly on the organization.
Second, the interviewer must guide the interview process and remove any uncertainty upfront. This can be done by clearly establishing expectations of the interview process, how the questions will be asked, and methods of responding, and when to ask questions. By setting the parameters of the interview early, the candidate will be more relaxed and better able to perform to their capability during the interview.
Third, the interviewer should facilitate the exchange of information. This is where interviewers will apply the Employment Interview Triangle with the goal of extracting a depth of information to inform the hiring decision.
Lastly, it is important to remember that an interviewer is the face of the organization. Hence, if a candidate walks away from the interview with a negative perception or the experience they will hold the same perception of the organization as well.
If done well, interviewing is a powerful tool for gathering relevant information about a candidate. Successful interviewers focus on depth of understanding and recognize the influence they have on the outcome of the interview process. By applying the basic techniques described in the Employment Interview Triangle, the interviewer should greatly enhance the outcomes of the selection process. Likewise, career practitioners who review this model with their clients should be able to enhance their client’s performance during the interview process.
Silverman, L. (2006). Wake me up when the data is over: How organizations use storytelling to drive results. San Francisco, CA: John Wiley & Sons.
C. Darren Brooks, Ph.D. has spent almost 20 years as an HR practitioner and performance consultant in both the private and public sectors. He has extensive experience in strategic HR planning, recruiting and staffing, instructional design, performance improvement, program evaluation, organizational development, and talent management. In addition, Dr. Brooks is a visiting/adjunct instructor at Florida State University in the College of Business and College of Education. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org .