How to Choose the Best Interview Format

Posted on Scientific Staffing. 12 June, 2017

Job interviews can occur in many different formats. Interviews can be conducted in-person, over the phone, or via video chat (Skype, Google Hangouts, etc.). For in-person interviews, there are a number of formats that can be used – panel, group, one-on-one, and multiple one-on-one interviews. Some companies also conduct working interviews.

In addition to differing formats, job interviews can be conducted at many different times and locations. A company that runs on shifts, for example, may find that the best time to conduct an interview is midnight if they are hiring for the night shift. A company hiring for a position that is currently filled by an employee being let go may want to do the interview at a location other than the home office to preserve confidentiality.

The optimal interview format, along with the best interview time and location, will depend on a wide variety of factors – your business, the candidate, the job duties and/or work environment for the position being filled, how much you want to learn about the candidate during the interview, availability of interviewers, timeframe for the hiring process, number of stakeholders involved in the hiring decision, etc. Given that each business, job position and candidate is different, there really is no one-size-fits-all strategy for interviewing prospective employees. Most companies, in fact, use multiple interviews and multiple formats in their hiring process. Let’s examine the pros and cons of each interview format in order to help you decide which approach is right for your business in any given situation.

Phone Interviews

The candidate and interviewer conduct the interview over the phone. This type of interview is usually just the first step in the hiring process and typically does not result in a job offer.

Pros:

  • An effective way to screen many candidates quickly with minimal expenditure for the company.
  • A convenient way for both the candidate and company to conduct a quick information exchange to see if they want to proceed to the next step.
  • May be an appropriate interview format for those that will be working remotely.
  • Difficult for the company to be accused of discrimination in its hiring practices when utilizing this type of interview.
  • This interview format may be a good way for a company to get a conversation going with a passive candidate (a candidate who is currently employed and not looking for a job) they want to court.

Cons:

  • Not able to evaluate body language and other nonverbal ques from the candidate.
  • More difficult to establish rapport between the candidate and the interviewer, with the result that the interview may lack depth.
  • Difficult to court candidates or sell candidates on the company with this interview style.

Video Interviews

The candidate and the interviewer conduct the interview over video chat (Skype, Google Hangouts, etc.). This type of interview is usually just the first step in the hiring process and typically does not result in a job offer.

Pros:

  • As with phone interviews, this is an effective way to screen many candidates quickly with minimal expenditure for the company.
  • A good way for a company to evaluate a candidate they are interested in before making the financial and time commitment to an in-person interview.
  • May be an appropriate interview format for those that will be working remotely, or for positions that require a lot of work on the phone.
  • This format will be well received by tech-savvy candidates.
  • From the candidate’s perspective, this format offers a quick and convenient way to screen a company/position to see if they are interested.
  • This interview format may be a good way for a company to get a conversation going with a passive candidate (a candidate who is currently employed and not looking for a job) they want to court.

Cons:

  • Not able to evaluate body language and other nonverbal ques from the candidate as well as with an in-person interview.
  • Not as easy to establish rapport between the candidate and the interviewer as with an in-person interview, with the result that the interview may lack depth.
  • Interviews run the risk of having technical issues (internet connection, sound and webcam issues, etc.)

In-Person One-On-One Interviews

The candidate is interviewed by a single interviewer. A single one-on-one interview may be too limited in scope for a company to make a proper hiring decision. Companies often perform multiple one-on-one interviews so that the perspectives of all those who have a vesting interest in making a good hire can be included in the decision-making process.

Pros:

  • Conducive to building rapport between candidate and interviewer. Helps to facilitate a conversational tone for the interview which can serve to provide much detailed information about the candidate.
  • The ability to create rapport with the candidate during the interview and give the candidate a company tour after the interview makes this a good option for courting candidates and selling them on the company. The company tour is especially useful for courting scientific and technical candidates.
  • Provides a better opportunity for the candidate to ask questions.
  • Allows the interviewer to form an educated opinion on the candidate, without being influenced by the biases and opinions of other interviewers.
  • Probably the best interview format to have a discussion about sensitive issues – compensation and benefits, hiring for a position currently being held by an employee who is being let go, etc.

Cons:

  • No other staff members are present to help provide perspective on (or to confirm) interviewer’s opinion. Interviewer bias may affect the hiring decision.
  • Difficult to evaluate the candidate effectively if the person conducting the interview is not a skilled and/or experienced interviewer.
  • Multiple one-on-one interviews can slow the hiring process and increase company expense.

In-Person Panel Interviews

The candidate is interviewed by a panel containing those company members who have a vested interest in making a good hiring decision. When using this format, make sure to introduce each one of the interviewers to the candidate at the beginning of the interview. Each interviewer on the panel typically takes their turn to ask a question, with the opportunity to dig a little deeper with follow up questions. A section of time towards the end of the interview is typically allotted for interviewers to ask any questions which have been inspired by the interview dialog.

Pros:

  • Saves time, as all the staff members needing to interview the candidate get to do so at the same time. Also, a panel interview provides the opportunity for all interviewers to share their impressions and ratings immediately after the interview, thereby allowing faster decisions.
  • This stressful format is a good way to test the candidate’s ability to perform under pressure.
  • Provides the opportunity for multiple interviewers to compare their perspective on a shared experience with the candidate, potentially eliminating individual bias and reducing the risk of a bad hire.
  • The strengths of one interviewer can help compensate for the weaknesses of another.
  • Different perspectives of the panel members during the interview may help to produce good follow up questions.
  • Staffing the panel with a diverse set of company employees helps prevent the company from being accused of discrimination.
  • For companies interviewing for high-level scientific positions, this format provides the opportunity to have the candidate give a presentation on their work/research to a panel of colleagues within the company.

Cons:

  • Stress of the panel interview decreases the amount of information volunteered by the candidate.
  • Tendency for “group think” amongst the interviewers (dominant interviewer’s opinion affecting hiring decision) on a panel may cause a company to miss a good candidate.
  • Not conducive to building rapport between candidate and interviewer, with the result that the interview may lack depth.
  • Not the best format to use when trying to court candidates.
  • Interviewers may become complacent with regards to taking notes, as they assume someone else is doing it.
  • Requires a little more planning and organizing, so that different panel members know who will be doing what and when. Panel interviews are a team sport – make sure you plan them well so your company doesn’t come off looking like a bunch of amateurs.

In-Person Group Interviews

Multiple candidates are interviewed at the same time. Often, a group interview will begin with a short presentation about the company, allowing candidates to get a better feel for whether they want to work there. This type of interview is often used as a screening tool to quickly thin down a large applicant pool to a smaller group of promising candidates.

Pros:

  • Saves time by allowing a quick screen of multiple candidates at once.
  • Allows interviewer(s) to determine personality type by observing how a candidate interacts with other candidates.
  • This stressful format is a good way to test candidate’s ability to perform under pressure.
  • Allows the interviewer to get some sense of how candidates work with others and potentially how they might fit with the company culture.

Cons:

  • Tends to cast introverts in a poor light.
  • Difficult to focus on a particular candidate. Tends to produce a little bit of information on a lot of candidates.
  • Not a very effective option to evaluate candidates for scientific or technical positions.

Working Interviews

In some cases, an employer may feel that a verbal interview does not provide all the information they need to make a decision on a candidate. An employer interviewing for a technical position, for example, may want to see first-hand if the candidate can perform the job duties for the position successfully. In such a situation, the employer may ask the candidate to do a working interview. A working interview is like a candidate’s first day on the job – the employer has the candidate perform actual job duties for several hours, or even an entire day.

Pros:

  • An employer gets to watch the candidate actually perform their job duties before committing to hiring them.
  • A working interview may be the best way for a company to evaluate whether the candidate fits in with their company culture.
  • Provides a good opportunity for the candidate to evaluate whether your company and the position in question is right for them.

Cons:

  • Even though a candidate in a working interview has not officially been hired, they can still be legally considered a company employee for the duration of the interview. Unless the candidate being interviewed was provided by a staffing firm, the candidate could actually file for unemployment if they are not offered the position at the end of the working interview.
  • The employer needs to have worker’s compensation insurance to cover the candidate during their working interview.
  • Federal and state laws require the candidate to be paid for his or her time in a working interview.
  • Steps need to be taken to guard the companies’ intellectual property during a working interview.

Conclusion

No one interview format is necessarily any better than another. It is really just a matter of choosing the best format to meet your needs in a given situation. As such, you should carefully consider the pros and cons of each of the different interview formats before deciding how to interview candidates. No matter which format you choose, it is important that the interview is carefully planned, and that all interviewers understand the position they are hiring for inside and out. The work you do to plan and conduct an effective interview is a critical part of selecting the best person for the job, and ultimately the success of your company.

About the Author

Renee Cummings has her Bachelor’s Degree in Chemistry and over nineteen years in Sales Management and Business Development, Sales Planning and Execution, Training and Revenue & Profitability Growth. Renee has managed Astrix’s Southeast Division since 2008 and oversees recruitment for a diverse portfolio of companies to include medical device, pharmaceutical, contract research, clinical, food and beverage, environmental and chemical industries from start-ups to Fortune 100 companies.

 

 

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