Recruiting, retaining and supporting General Practitioners (GPs), Nurses and Allied Health Professionals in rural New South Wales, Australia

Preparing for the interview - employers

Preparation is the key

Hopefully, you have by now completed a Job Analysis and have an accurate Job Description (JD) to work with. The JD is always the starting point for developing your interview questions.

Remember, your interview questions should always be based on your Selection Criteria. If it is not included in the Selection Criteria then you should not be asking about it at interview.

As with developing the JD, investing time in preparation around the interview questions will serve you well. If you are assembling a panel, involve the other members of the panel in this discussion.

Putting the applicant at ease

Applicants can often be nervous before an interview and this is a natural reaction to a fairly artificial situation. A nurse who feels completely confident and competent in a ward situation can become tongue-tied and unconfident in the interview.

The best approach is to put applicants at their ease and have them relax as much as possible so that you can get the best out of them. You wouldn’t want to lose a superb clinician just because she was nervous or even unwell on the day of the interview.

Greet the applicant warmly and with a smile and exchange pleasantries about the weather or whether they had trouble finding a car park or the interview location.

Introduce all members of the panel, including what their role is.

Opening questions

Open the interview questions with a bit of an ‘icebreaker’.

People often lead in with e.g. 'tell us about yourself and your work experience to date.' However, it is better to tighten up this question to: 'Tell us why you have applied for the role and briefly tell us what key experience and skills you have that are relevant to this position.'

Firstly, this question checks for motivation – does the applicant really want this job, and why, or are they just applying for everything. ‘Briefly’ and ‘relevant’ are the other key words here – is the candidate listening to this and will they give you a brief synopsis and summarise their experience? Ideally, the applicant will have read the job description and already reflected on what they can bring to the job – further demonstrating their interest in the job.

The Behavioural Interview

This has been a popular and successful interviewing style which was developed by psychologists in the US in the 1980s. It is based on the idea that past behaviour is the best predictor of future behaviour.

As we learnt in the Job analysis tips it is important to reflect on what behaviours the right applicant for your role should exhibit.

Much research has been conducted in this area and it shows that properly developed, structured behavioural interviews can have a much higher predictive validity of future job performance than more traditional styles of interview.

Behavioural interview questions are solely based on the selection criteria you identified in the position description and the same questions are asked of each applicant. This is to reduce bias and to have an objective focus on the requirements for the job. For this reason, this style of interviewing is endorsed by unions as well as leading public and private organisations.

Ask applicants to tell you about specific situations and examples that relate to the selection criteria. The idea is to get them away from generalising or talking in the hypothetical – where people will often give you the ‘textbook’ answer. When they talk about specific examples, it can be harder to make things up and this then allows the interviewer to ask follow up questions to fully expore the example.

Structuring the questions

Use the questions to ask about accomplishments, specific challenges they have overcome, difficult people they have to encounter or working in a demanding environment. Ideally, the applicant will describe examples that demonstrate the behaviours you are seeking.

Consider the difference in the following two questions:

  1. Suppose a co-worker was not following the clinical guidelines for a particular procedure. The co-worker is more experienced than you and claims that the new procedure is better. What would you do in this situation?
  2. Tell me about a time when you observed that a co-worker was not following the organisation’s protocol for a particular procedure. What was the situation and what action did you take?

The first question is a scenario question, which can often bear no relation to how a person actually behaves in a given situation.

The second version asks them to recount a specific situation and allows you to test what actions they actually took.

Probing questions

You can follow up with questions such as:

  • How did your co-worker react?
  • Tell me more about that.
  • What was the outcome?
  • How is the relationship with that co-worker now?
  • What did you learn from that situation and would you approach it differently the next time?

STAR is an acronym used to help focus probing questions to elicit the information you are seeking:

  • S/T – Situation/Task – what was the situation or problem you had to deal with?
  • A – Action: What action did the person take?
  • R – Result: What was the result or outcome of the actions the person took?

You may also add:

  • L – What did you learn from that and what would you do differently next time?

Following through with the example above, the L question seeks to find out if the applicant has learned anything. Have they reflected on their behaviour and altered their approach since? This goes to the all important 'insight' factor. It can be very hard to work with a team member who has no insight into their own behaviour and how it affects others. As a manager one of the hardest things to manage is the person who has no idea of the effect they can have on others.

This technique greatly increases your likelihood of obtaining an honest answer and applicants find it easier to answer follow up questions about an actual example. It also helps you to better distinguish between applicants.

If you can start questions with phrases such as:

  • Tell me about a time when…..
  • Give me an example of…..
  • Describe a situation when you….

and be prepared to ask follow up questions until you are satisfied you have the fullest possible answer, you will be on the right track.

In the case of a nervous applicant, this can be the key to drawing out their experience. A good applicant is often happy to talk enthusiastically about a specific experience and this will often put them at their ease.

Keeping the interview on track

Interviewees will often go off track and start answering in the hypothetical. You need to pull them back and ask them to remember a specific example or talk about the last time this happened.

Also watch for them to constantly say ‘we’ – you are trying to get at what their particular role in a situation was and what actions they specifically took and then what results were achieved as a result of their input (think STAR L). The team, as a whole, may have achieved a great accomplishment but how much input did the individual applicant have on that outcome?

Some applicants like to talk and feel that they need to keep talking until they are stopped. It is perfectly okay to say 'Sorry to interrupt but you have answered that question adequately and we’ll move on now to the next question.'

Equal Employment Opportunity

Recruitment decisions should be based on merit and should not discriminate on the grounds of race, gender, religious belief, disability, marital status, age or sexual preference.

Basing your questions solely on the selection criteria avoids this bias and enables you to select the best person for the job based on their knowledge, skills and capabilities.

Further information

This is a very brief overview of an excellent and proven interviewing technique. If this has interested you, you could attend a Behavioural Interviewing course, especially if you recruit and interview regularly. There are many training providers offering courses on this topic and many offer one-day courses.

There are reams of question examples available on the internet to give you some ideas but be wary of extravagant claims about the power of one type of question.

Once you get into the habit of phrasing your questions in this particular way, it will become much easier for you and you will probably be surprised by your results.