So Your Employee has Given Notice
- Submit Recruiting Documents
- Selection Process
- Search Committee/Interview Panel
- During the Interview
- Reference Checks
- Making Hiring Decision
Don't let panic set in. Whether your departing employee was a strong or mediocre performer, this is your opportunity to analyze and revise the position description, and determine the qualifications, both technical skills and behavioral factors, you will seek in a new employee. Is this a time to reorganize, reclassify, or make other major changes? Perhaps the position description needs only a few adjustments. Once you are sure that the position description reflects accurately the responsibilities of the position, consider the qualifications you will seek in a new employee. What technical skills will the employee need to carry out their job duties? What type of job behaviors will they need? Think about past employees in the position. If they were outstanding, what made them outstanding. If they were marginal employees, identify their weaknesses. Talk with co-workers or other managers. What skills and qualities do they value in this position? Make a list. This information should guide you (and the Employment Manager) in preparing job postings, newspaper advertisements, and planning the overall selection process. Time invested in thoughtfully planning the recruitment and selection process can make the difference between a good or poor hiring decision.
The Employment Manager in Human Resources coordinates the hiring process for classified employees; to initiate a search, you must submit a Request to Hire form and an updated position description. The Employment Manager will prepare a job posting and a newspaper ad for your review based on information from the job description, and can advise you on other parts of the recruitment and selection process.
If you have an unclassified vacancy, you should follow the academic appointment process. These procedures are available on the web at http://ups.uoregon.edu/. For administrative positions, the Employment Manager is available to assist you in preparing postings and advertisements and in designing a selection process.
Once you have identified the technical skills and job attributes you are seeking in a new employee, you should consider the most effective way to identify and assess these in candidates. Go over the position description, point by point, and ask yourself, "How best can I learn about the applicant's ability to perform this function?"
The job interview will be a primary source of information about applicants. However, it may not be the best source for some information. A job reference may be the most effective way to learn about dependability, follow through, and ability to get along with coworkers. Written application materials may provide insight into educational background and general written communication skills.
Consider using work samples to ascertain specific job skills. For an office position, applicants can be asked to complete a word processing exercise in which they prepare, edit, and/or print documents. The supervisor evaluates and documents the quality and quantity of work completed in the time allotted. Other examples include setting up a spread sheet, creating a database, preparing correspondence, or prioritizing a list of tasks to complete a project. For maintenance positions, applicants could be asked to identify repairs needed in a room or to actually perform a repair. One supervisor, hiring a Plasterer, asked applicants to mix and apply plaster to a wall. The supervisor evaluated and documented the results and used this information in determining the most qualified candidate. In setting up a work sample exercise, as with other parts of the selection process, you may need to make reasonable accommodations for applicants with a disability. The Employment Manager can assist you with the reasonable accommodation process.
As you review applicant qualifications, eligible veteran and disabled veteran applicants must be given a 5% (veterans) or 10% (disabled veterans) preference.
The academic appointment process requires the use of a search committee. For classified searches, it is optional, but recommended. Supervisors may ask a committee to participate in the overall process including evaluating written materials and serving on an interview panel, or they may choose to evaluate written materials themselves and convene a panel to participate in interviews only. Panel members are valuable because they can provide different perspectives on the qualifications of candidates. The search committee/interview panel could be comprised of other staff members, managers in other departments on campus, or "customers" from campus departments. You may want to include an individual who holds a similar position to the one being filled. It is recommended that panel members include both men and women and, if possible, members of different racial or ethnic groups.
It is your responsibility to give the committee or panel members information about the position such as the position description, the essential functions of the job, and the qualifications you are seeking. You should also charge the committee with advancing the university's affirmative action goals.
The purpose of an interview is to elicit information from an applicant to determine his or her ability to perform the job. Successful interviewers learn how to ask the right kind of questions, how to keep the applicant talking about relevant information, and how to listen.
Much of what is learned about applicants in an interview is based on their past experience. Past performance is our best indicator of future performance. This does not mean that someone who had performed poorly in the past cannot improve in skills and attitude. Generally, however, you can see a trend in performance through several jobs or assignments. Sometimes interviewers assume that a candidate who has done something has done it well or that longevity on a position is a sign of success. These are not well founded assumptions! A reference check can verify the quality of the work performance.
Non-Directive and Directive Questions
How you phrase a question can affect the type and amount of information you get from the candidate. The main characteristic of non-directive questions is that they do not give the applicant any indication of the desired answer. Structurally, the questions are in the news reporter's style of who, what, when, where and how. Often they begin with the words "describe" or "explain". Examples of non-directive questions include:
... What do you consider to be the most important responsibilities of an office manager?
... Why does this position interest you?
... How has your background prepared you for this position?
... What types of equipment did you operate regularly on your job at XYZ Company?
... Describe your experience with word processing on your last job.
You may need to ask follow-up questions if the responses to your questions are unclear or incomplete. Clarify and verify any piece of information you do not understand by asking the candidate to explain his or her answer again or to elaborate on the given answer.
... Can you tell me more about that?
... Could you give me an example of what you mean?
... What makes you feel that way?
Directive questions are useful for drawing out specific information. In direct questioning, the interviewer asks, directs, or guides the applicant to specifics. Often, these questions result in a "yes"; or "no" response. Examples of directive questions include:
... Do you currently have a Limited Maintenance Electrical license?
... Are you still employed at XYZ Company?
... Can you set up a computer spreadsheet using Excel?
There are several types of questions that can elicit important information as well as add interest and variety to your interview.
A good technique to learn about an applicant's problems solving skills and judgment is to ask "situation-problem" questions. Create a scenario that is common on the job, and ask the applicant how they would handle it. As a follow up, ask if they ever faced this situation on a job before. An example of this type of question:
... Assume you are hired as a receptionist in our department. Our front desk is very busy with walk-in traffic and phone calls. There are several people waiting at your desk for assistance and you are on the phone with someone who is very upset because of an error on her transcript. This phone conversation seems to be going on and on. How would you handle this situation? Have you faced this situation on a previous job?
Another type of information that is frequently asked of applicants is self-evaluative information. One type of question asks about the applicant's likes and dislikes. Self-evaluation questions are also a good way to learn about an applicant's perception of their strengths and weaknesses. Keep in mind, however, that the answers are highly susceptible to different interpretations. Examples of self-evaluation questions include:
... What did you like best about that job (class, teacher, supervisor, etc.)?
... How would your last supervisor rate your ability to deal effectively with the public?
... What do you see as your strengths? Weaknesses?
... Why were you the one promoted to lead worker on that job?
"Behavior description" questions can be a powerful tool in an interview. This type of question asks the applicant to describe as closely as possible the actual behavior that went on in a particular situation. The use of superlative adjectives (i.e., most, least, best, worst, toughest, etc.) tends to stimulate specific events in the mind of the interviewee and therefore makes it easier to respond. As with other types of questions, these should be based on essential functions of the job you are filling. An example of a behavior description question would be:
... Tell me about your best accomplishment in your last job. Start with where you got the idea, how you implemented the plan, and how you dealt with any obstacles to your idea.
It is imperative to evaluate the same criteria for each of the candidates, however, this does not mean that you have to rigidly stick to the same control questions. Some applicants may be forthcoming with information but you may need to ask follow-up or directive questions of others. Some candidates may provide (or withhold) information that raises concerns or issues that should be investigated more fully in your questioning.
After you have developed the questions you will ask of each applicant, it is recommended that you develop a form that includes the questions, interviewer name, date, name of applicant, position being filled. The form should have plenty of room for noting responses to questions, follow-up questions, and space for additional comments. Each interviewer should have an interview form for each applicant.
Some interviewers find that they spend a lot of time in interviews describing the position and providing general information for applicants. Think about what you want applicants to know about the job, your department, the University as a whole, UO benefits, and so forth. Instead of sharing information verbally in each interview, it may be more efficient to provide written materials for applicants. The focus of the interview can then be on the applicant and their qualifications.
When calling applicants to schedule interviews, let them know who will be present during the interview and the approximate duration. Schedule the interview in a room that is accessible to people with disabilities and free of interruptions or other distractions.
The first step of a successful interview includes building rapport with the applicant. Introduce interview panel members including their title and relationship to the position being filled. Let the applicant know that they will be given the opportunity to ask questions at the end of the interview. Give a time frame (e.g., "We expect the interview to last about 30 minutes and have questions for you").
A good interviewer will be an active listener and use both verbal and nonverbal cues to encourage the applicant to divulge pertinent information. Nonverbal skills include smiling, nodding your head, or leaning forward in your chair. Another nonverbal cue is silence. It is an effective tool to indicate to the candidate that more information is desired. If the candidate does not offer additional information, you should provide verbal cues or ask for the information directly.
Verbal cues can be interjected when you wish the applicant to continue a discussion of a particular subject. Positive verbal cues can also be used to assist an applicant in talking about matters that may be embarrassing or produce other emotional responses. Examples are: "Oh, I see," "Of course." The tone of voice used should be appropriate for the situation. In an embarrassing or emotional situation, your tone should be supportive and understanding and the voice low-keyed. If additional information is desired, your voice should be lighter and the tone interested or quizzical.
Controlling the Interview
Sometimes an applicant may digress in their response or may start to repeat what they have said previously. In these instances, it is important for the interviewer to take control of the interview. When an applicant starts to digress, it is generally a good idea not to cut them off immediately. The applicant may be using this time to relax. In addition, this rambling may provide valuable data by giving some indication of the person's ability to organize his or her thoughts or communicate effectively. If the candidate strays too far afield, or begins repeating, it is your responsibility to bring them back on course. This should be done when the rambling is no longer job-related; this is especially true if the applicant divulges personal information. A good way to handle this situation is to acknowledge the applicant's comments and direct the conversation back to the original question. An example of this technique:
... An applicant is complaining about the disorganization of a previous employer and is beginning to repeat information. Wait for a slight pause and interject something like, "I understand that that can be a frustrating environment. However, I would be more interested in learning more about your experience with _____."
Sometimes an applicant is so interested in the position that he or she begins to interview you. If the applicant begins asking questions and interrupts the flow of the interview, an effective response is to acknowledge their interest, indicate there will be time for questions at the end of the interview, and return to the original question.
Good listening skills are an essential part of good communication and thus are very important in interviewing. Since the purpose of an interview is to determine the applicant's knowledge, skills and abilities as they related to the essential functions of the job, it is important for the applicant to do most of the talking; you cannot listen while you are talking. There are several techniques to enhance your listening abilities.
... Empathize with the other person. Try to put yourself in the applicant's place.
... Ask questions when you do not understand.
... Concentrate of how something is said. We frequently concentrate so hard on what is being said that we miss the importance of emotional reactions and attitudes. A person may be communicating more through emotions than the actual content of the words.
... Do not interrupt too soon. Give people time to express themselves.
... Focus your attention on the other person's words, ideas and feelings related to the subject.
... Look at the person and attune yourself to their nonverbal communication. Watch face, eyes, hands and posture.
... Avoid distractions. Put down any papers, pencils or other items that can distract your attention. Try to control outside noise levels and interruptions when you are trying to listen.
... Be aware of your emotions and prejudices. Push your worries, fears and problems outside the meeting room. Control your anger or other emotional reactions to the other person.
... Avoid jumping to assumptions. Do not assume that others use words the same way you do; that they did not say what they meant, but you know what they meant; that they are avoiding looking you in the eye because they are telling a lie.
A good way to improve your questioning technique is to experiment. Practice your phrasing of questions prior to conducting interviews. Add some special questions to your interviews and evaluate the types of responses you receive. Critique each interview to determine how to improve your style. Good questioning skills can definitely enhance your interviewing success.
Completing reference checks is a critical part of the selection process. Information you have received in an interview is biased and typically includes only what the applicant wishes you to know. A thorough reference check may produce additional information to help insure that the most suitable candidate is hired. It is a way to clarify, verify and add data to what has been learned in the interview and from other portions of the selection process. Never reveal the information received from a previous employer to the candidate. This information should be kept confidential or your sources for references will dry up quickly.
Legality of Reference Checks
In Oregon, in most instances employers who provide employment reference information about current or former employees are protected from liability for their comments. Employers are protected if the information they provide is offered in response to a request by the former employee or a prospective employer and is not knowingly false or misleading and is not biased by prohibited discrimination, including prohibited retaliation.
It is legal and important for a prospective supervisor to consider job-related information learned from a reference check. However, as in all employment decisions, information related to race, marital status, age, disability, religion, color, national origin, veteran status, citizenship, sexual orientation and sex may not be considered and should not be requested. Also, federal law establishes requirements for employers using outside parties to conduct reference checks on their behalf. If you are considering using an outside entity to conduct reference checks, you will need to comply with those laws.
Type of References
Your best source of information on any candidate is a former employer. On-the-job performance is the most useful predictor of future success. Personal references (relatives, teachers, and clergy) generally have limited value. Information available from a human resource office is usually limited to dates of employment and reason for leaving. HR people generally do not have enough day-to-day contact with employees to rate their on-the-job performance and ability. The supervisor can specify the quality and quantity of work, reliability, potential problem areas and job behaviors. Do not rely on written references presented to you by candidates. Many are written at the time of termination and some employers may over-inflate the applicant's qualifications.
When reference checking, the primary reference may extol the virtues of the employee. There is a chance that you will become so satisfied with the positive comments that you may decide not to explore the person's background any further.
The primary reference may have felt sorry for the well-liked, but inept, former employee and might be willing to do anything to help that person land a good job. Realizing that, it pays to be prudent and exercise some caution.
Don't be overly anxious to hire. Sometimes there is a tremendous anxiety to fill a job and prospective employers may disregard anything negative said by the interviewee. Sometimes references may be checked using questions that are unconsciously created to encourage the kind of answer the manager wants to hear. For example: "Do you think he could handle the job"; or, "Is she a hard worker, loyal and honest?" The way these questions are worded encourages only "yes" answers. It is to your advantage to avoid putting words in the mouth of a reference.
It is recommended that you check with at least two past employers to find consistent trends in the applicant's past performance. Do not limit yourself to references listed by the applicant; make sure you talk with the most recent supervisor or those who employed the person in a position most clearly related to your own. Calling several employers will also help balance the information you receive and may guard against making a decision based on an unfounded reference. For instance, current supervisors may mislead you because they want the applicant to get another job. Sometimes applicants request that their current employer not be contacted for a reference. It is recommended that you honor this request until such time as the candidate is a finalist for the position. There is cause for concern if an applicant does not want a current employer or supervisor to be contacted when they are a finalist.
If you are unable to contact a former or current supervisor, consider getting a reference from other managers, supervisors or personnel in the organization who may be in a position to evaluate and comment on an applicant's experience and qualifications. In some instances you may not be able to get a reference from any source. You must rely on information you learned in the other parts of the selection process in making your hiring decision.
Planning: a Key Part of Reference Checking
As with other stages of the selection process, it is important that the solicited information relates directly to the applicant's ability to carry out the responsibilities of the position. If you check the reference of more than one finalist, it is important to plan the general questions you will ask of the references of each applicant; however, you should also include specific questions that will help clarify possible problems you perceive with each of the different candidates.
To facilitate a uniform, structured approach and create an easy means of record keeping, it is a good idea to develop a reference form. It should include: your name; date; name of applicant; position applied for; name, title, and company of the reference; basic questions you will ask about each applicant. This form should have plenty of room for noting responses to your questions and space for additional comments.
To begin a reference check, identify yourself and the applicant and briefly describe the position. Assure the reference that the information they provide you will be held in confidence. Ask the reference if he or she is willing to talk with you and if this is a good time. Use good questioning techniques to make sure you are getting complete and accurate information. A key to good reference checking is the ability to identify and utilize any verbal cues during the conversation. The tone of voice and delivery (pauses or hesitancy) may indicate that additional questioning is necessary. Your objective is to obtain more than superficial opinions.
Ask questions as you would in an employment interview. Identify key responsibilities of the position and ask questions related to the applicant's ability and/or experience in that area. Ask about their scope of responsibility, quality of performance, general output, and their ability to get along with supervisors, subordinates, and coworkers. Keep in mind that the purpose is to elicit information from the past employer about the applicant's ability to perform the essential functions of the job. Non-directive questioning should encourage this type of information. Use directive questions to follow up, especially if the response is vague. Often a former employer will not disclose negative information unless asked directly. Make sure you have a clear picture of the applicant's strengths and weaknesses before you end the reference call.
As a standard practice, the following areas should be explored:
... confirmation of employment dates (month and year);
... job titles (formal and informal);
... dependability and follow through on assignments;
... reason for termination;
... possibility for rehire; (A former employer's reluctance to rehire should be cause for concern, however, some firms have a general policy prohibiting rehires. If this is the case it should be noted.)
... performance problems.
To find the truth, you have to ask probing questions.
... How does the candidate compare to the person who is doing the job now? Or, what characteristics will you look for in the candidate's replacement?
... When there was a particularly urgent assignment, what steps did the candidate take to get it done on time?
... Since none of us is perfect at everything we do, please describe some of his or her shortcomings.
... Have you seen the candidate's current resume? Let me read you the part that describes his or her job with your organization. (Stop at each significant part, and ask the reference for a comment.)
... Not all employees like everyone with whom they work. What kind of people did the candidate have problems with?
... Did you ever have to talk with the candidate about performance problems? If so, please indicate what the issues were. Was the employee ever disciplined?
How to Evaluate References Effectively
Whether the initial reference is favorable or unfavorable, always get a second opinion.
Be objective. Neither longevity on the job, nor promotions and raises, are necessarily proof that an employee was much more than adequate. Sometimes incompetent people who were very well-liked have been known to not only survive on the job, but also to advance.
Take the time to check references. It's worth it. Checking references can be a time consuming task and some managers have abandoned the idea of doing little more than a cursory verification of a few facts. Because the cost to an organization of a hiring mistake is high, it is preferable to take the time to make the correct selection decision in the first place.
After completing the selection process including evaluation of written materials, interview, work samples (if used), and reference checking, it is now time to review all information gathered about your applicants. It is your task to rate job-related skills and the candidate's fit with your department. Match applicant data with the skills and qualities identified at the beginning of the selection process. In most cases, the basis for selection decision should be guided by the candidate's predicted skill in doing the job. As you review applicant qualifications, eligible veteran and disabled veteran applicants as defined in ORS 408.225 must be given a 5% (veterans) or 10% (disabled veterans) preference. If two candidates are equally qualified, affirmative action should be considered. The UO affirmative action policy states: "If among the finalists there is a woman or minority candidate, that candidate shall be chosen unless another candidate is demonstrably better qualified." For classified positions, another factor to consider with two equally qualified finalists is whether they are current classified employees. In this case, select the person with greatest seniority.
If it is impossible to make a selection at this point, you may want to consider scheduling an additional interview or conducting additional reference checks. If you feel none of the applicants are qualified, you may choose to re-recruit. The Employment Manager is available for consultation.
Once you have selected a top candidate for a classified position, you should notify the Employment Manager. If hiring an academic position, a compliance statement should be completed and submitted to the Office of Affirmative Action & Equal Opportunity for approval.
Supervisors are responsible for maintaining all documentation related to a job search. Under current UO archive rules, these records must be maintained for three years. This documentation helps protect the University and your department in cases of complaints or charges of discrimination and also provides the framework for your next search.
Documentation should include items related to the vacancy: position description; recruiting announcement; copy of ads (including where and when they were placed); list of recruitment sources; names of search/interview panel members. Documentation must also include things related to all applicants: applications; resumes; reference letters; supplemental questionnaires and rating forms; interview notes (include the names of note takers); reference check notes; documentation of work samples. In short, document everything you take into consideration when making the hiring decision.