Interviewing Job Applicants - Supervisor Briefing

Author: Linda Segall, Segall Enterprises


This Supervisor Briefing examines how to conduct an effective, lawful job interview that screens out unqualified applicants and identifies those who are a good fit to the organization. This briefing addresses:

  1. Why a Supervisor Needs to Know How to Conduct an Effective, Legal Interview
  2. What is an Effective Interview?
  3. What is a Legal Interview?
  4. How to Prepare for an Interview
  5. Questions to Avoid
  6. How to Structure a Job Interview
  7. How to Make a Hiring Decision
  8. Test Yourself

The Supervisor Briefing may be used in conjunction with this PowerPoint presentation for training purposes. The PowerPoint presentation can be customized and adapted to fit your organization's needs.

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Why a Supervisor Needs to Know How to Conduct an Effective, Legal Interview

A significant factor contributing to the success of an organization is its employees. Successful organizations attract and hire qualified, committed and engaged employees. Failing to hire these types of employees results in turnover, which adversely affects quality and productivity and increases operating costs. The key to hiring top-notch employees is identifying them through the employment interview, which must be conducted in a lawful manner in order to avoid allegations of discrimination.

What Is an Effective Interview?

A good job interview is one in which the hiring supervisor gathers sufficient information from a job applicant to find out if the candidate has the needed knowledge, skills and abilities (KSA), as well as the characteristics and competencies for a good "fit" for both the job and the organization. A good job interview not only identifies these qualifications but does so within the parameters of the law.

What Is a Legal Interview?

A number of federal, state, and local laws have been enacted to protect against discrimination in employment. The supervisor needs to know who is protected by these laws and how to respect these laws during an interview situation.

Federal laws include:

  • Title VII of the Civil Rights Act (Title VII), which prohibits discrimination because of race, color, religion, national origin, and sex. Title VII applies to employers with 15 or more employees;
  • The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), which protects people age 40 and older from discrimination because of age. The ADEA covers employers with 20 or more employees;
  • The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which makes it illegal to discriminate against qualified individuals with a disability. The ADA applies to employers with 15 or more employees; and
  • The Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA), which prohibits employers from using an applicant's or employee's genetic information to discriminate against them in any aspect. GINA also covers employers with 15 or more employees.


  • Failure to abide by these equal employment laws can put your organization at risk of a lawsuit and/or fines for discriminatory employment practices. If discrimination is found, the organization may suffer both compensatory and punitive damages. These damages can range from a limit of up to $50,000 for organizations with 15-100 employees to a limit of up to $300,000 for organizations with more than 500 employees.
  • Most states and many municipalities have enacted similar laws, which may be more encompassing than those enforced on the federal level. The hiring manager or supervisor should become aware of all applicable laws and review them before conducting a job interview.
    All employment interviews must be conducted within the parameters of the law. That is, the interviewer must not ask questions nor screen out candidates on the basis on characteristics protected by the law. A failure to abide by these employment laws can result in allegations of discrimination and lawsuits, with serious consequences to the organization.

How to Prepare for a Job Interview

Hiring a new employee is a serious task, with potentially long-term benefits when a "good" hire is made - or ramifications when a poor hire is made. If a good hire is made, the organization and the new employee both benefit. If, however, a bad hire is made - one in which the employee lacks the necessary skills, knowledge, abilities, characteristics or competencies to succeed on the job - the organization suffers, through lost time and productivity needed to replace the mismatched hire as well as to find and train a new employee. As sports coaches say, "The best defense is a good offense." In the case of hiring, a "good offense" is preparation. The hiring supervisor should take care to plan thoroughly for the job interview.

Review and Update the Job Description

The supervisor should work with the HR specialist as well as any incumbents to make sure the job description accurately reflects current and anticipated job duties, responsibilities, KSAs and competencies, and it also should identify essential job functions - those tasks or responsibilities that are critical to the job (necessary to comply with the ADA).


When you update the job description, make it "real." Go to the incumbent, watch the job being performed, and ask the incumbent to document what he or she does.

Develop a Set of Standard Questions

Interviewing, unfortunately, is never a completely objective process. To remove as much subjectivity as possible, caused by a halo effect (bias influenced by first impressions, such as appearance, attractiveness, or education), stereotyping or even acquaintanceship, the hiring supervisor should develop a list of standard interview questions designed to assess not only KSAs, but also the competencies required to do the job.

These questions should be used in conjunction with a rating form, so that at the end of the interview process all candidates can be assessed objectively. Questions should be phrased to require candidates to talk about their actual experiences (not to answer hypothetically). Some suggested interview questions (with competencies indicated in parentheses) include:

  • Tell me about yourself. (Communication skills, business knowledge, job knowledge);
  • In five minutes, walk me through your work history. (Communication skills, job knowledge);
  • Why was your last job important to the company? (Job knowledge, business knowledge);
  • Tell me about a problem you solved in your last job. (Problem solving, communication);
  • Describe to me a time when you had to deal with an angry customer. (Customer relations, problem solving, communication);
  • What were your department's goals? How did they relate to the company's goals? (Business knowledge);
  • Tell me about a time when you had a conflict with a co-worker or a supervisor and how you dealt with it. (Conflict resolution, problem solving, communication);
  • Tell me how you set up xxx machine. (Job knowledge);
  • What was the most satisfying part of your last job? Why? (Job knowledge, motivation);
  • What was the most frustrating part of your last job? Why? (Job knowledge, motivation);
  • Are you more detail-oriented or "big-picture oriented"? Give me an example to illustrate. (Detail orientation);
  • Describe examples of projects you initiated on your own. (Initiative);
  • What kinds of things at work get you really excited about your job? (Initiative, communication; job knowledge);
  • Describe a team experience you found rewarding. Why? (Teamwork, communication);
  • Describe a team experience you found frustrating. Why? (Teamwork, communication);
  • What kinds of questions do you have about our company and the job? (Detail orientation, job knowledge, business knowledge, planning skills); and
  • Tell me why we should hire you. (Persuasion, communication, job knowledge, business knowledge).


Rating the KSAs of each candidate helps to make the hiring decision objective. Create a rating sheet that lists each of the questions, with the KSAs and competencies it focuses on identifying. Rate each answer and each KSA and competency, using a scale of 1-5, with 5 being the best. Compile ratings from everyone involved in the interview process to build consensus about the best candidate. Save a master copy of the rating sheet for the next time the same job opens up.

Questions to Avoid

All questions asked in the interview should be job-related - not personal. The supervisor should never ask questions about an applicant's marital status or child care arrangements; age (other than "Are you over 18?"); religious affiliation and beliefs; ethnicity or national origin; disabilities; arrests; or other areas that might be construed as discriminatory.

Some examples of questions to avoid, along with their alternatives, include:

Questions to Avoid An Alternative Question Would Be

Do you have child care arranged?

Are you able to meet the attendance requirements of this job?

Do you have a disability or medical condition that would prohibit you from doing this job?

Can you perform the job as described with or without a reasonable accommodation?

When did you graduate?

Are you a high school (college) graduate?

What is your religion?

Are you available to work weekends?

Do you have a green card (work Visa)?

Will you be able to verify your eligibility to work in this country?

You have an interesting accent. What nationality are you?

(Don't comment on speech patterns or ask about ethnicity or country of origin.)

How old are you?

Are you over age 18?

What kind of work does your spouse do?

(Do not ask about marital status in any way.)

How old are your children?

Are you able to meet the attendance requirements of this job?

How to Structure a Job Interview

An interview with a prospective employee is more than a casual conversation. Before the applicant arrives, the supervisor should review the job description, all advertisements (in print and online) for the open position, and the applicant's resume and job application. When the applicant arrives, the supervisor should:

  • Make an introduction, including his or her role in the hiring process as well as at work;
  • Outline the parameters of the interview, including the time allocation and that he or she will be taking notes;
  • Describe the job and its qualifications, and ask if the applicant has any questions prior to beginning the interview;
  • Begin the interview, using the prepared list of questions and making notations on the rating sheet;
  • End the interview with an explanation of the next steps the applicant can expect.

Although the interviewer has a set of questions to ask and a time frame within which to conduct the interview, he or she should attempt to make the interview a conversational exchange, by encouraging the applicant to ask questions as they occur. The aim is to gather information that will allow an objective assessment of the applicant's fit into the organization and the job - not to interrogate and make the applicant uncomfortable.

Did You Know?

It pays to employ engaged employees. The 2008 Towers Perrin Global Workplace Study found that businesses having a workforce of highly engaged employees outperformed their peers by as much as 28 percent. The survey also found that companies whose employees are not highly engaged experienced a decline in operating income of more than 32 percent. Results from this survey suggests that it pays off to take the time to find the right employees.

How to Make a Hiring Decision

The supervisor should complete a ratings sheet on each applicant interviewed. Once all interviews are completed, ratings from everyone who interviewed the candidates should be compiled and compared. The candidate with the highest rating should be considered for hire, assuming background checks and references support the interview results.

Test Yourself

  1. The best way to interview and make a hiring decision is on "gut" feeling - that is, you just "know" when you find the right person.
    1. True
    2. False
  2. An obviously pregnant woman applies for a job. You are looking for a long-term employee. Can you refuse to hire her because she is pregnant?
    1. Yes
    2. No
  3. Why should you avoid asking an applicant about arrest records?
    1. An arrest record does not mean a person has committed a crime.
    2. Using arrest records to screen out candidates can limit opportunities of some protected groups and therefore would be considered discriminatory.
    3. Both (a) and (b).
  4. An applicant comes into a job interview wearing a gay-rights pin. You know some of your employees have strong feelings about homosexuality. You refuse to hire him because of his sexual orientation and keep harmony in your team.
    1. True
    2. False


  1. b. False. Relying on "gut" feelings or because the person is "likeable" to hire is subjective. Instead, the hiring supervisor should prepare a list of questions, ask each candidate the same questions, and evaluate each candidate on the basis of those answers, which should reflect KSAs as well as fit into the organization.
  2. b. No. Refusing to hire a pregnant woman is a form of sex discrimination, provided that she can perform the essential functions of the job.
  3. c. Although no federal law explicitly prohibits asking about arrest and conviction records, doing so could have an adverse impact on a protected group and thus lead to allegations of discrimination. It should be noted that arrest records do not mean that a person has committed a crime. Even a conviction is not necessarily cause to eliminate an applicant, depending upon the circumstances of the crime, such as how long ago it was committed, what occurred, the age at which it was committed and if the crime is relevant to the job.
  4. b. False. Sexual orientation and sexual identity are not protected under federal law. However, many states and local communities have laws barring discrimination on sexual orientation and identity. It should be noted that wearing a gay-rights pin does not mean that the individual is gay, nor is sexual orientation a job-related factor. A hiring decision should be made on the KSAs of the applicant, not on the bias on the supervisor or the workforce.