Interviewing and Evaluating

The first goal of an employment interview is to find the best candidate for the position.  However, we need to be aware that while we are interviewing the candidate, they are also interviewing us.  Therefore, it is important to make the interview and the campus visit as positive as possible. 

The academic recruitment market is a competitive one so we should ensure that all aspects of the candidates’ visit are considered.  In the next section (The Campus Visit) we consider facets such as accommodation, transportation, scheduling, meals, activities for the candidate and partners, and activities for accompanying partners/family members.

The process of the campus visit and the interview requires a significant time commitment from search committee members and therefore it is important that all involved are well-prepared for the interview.  Below we discuss some activities that are necessary to prepare for the interview; some considerations on conducting the interview; and an outline of questions to ask and to avoid as determined by the Canadian Human Rights Commission and the Ontario Human Rights Code.

Preparing for the Interview

In preparing for the interview, the search committee should organize a set of questions that assess the applicants against the selection criteria which have been determined for the position.  While follow-up questions to candidates may differ, it is important for the purposes of equity that a specific list of questions is asked of all candidates.

Questions should test the skills, experience and knowledge that are required for the job.  If the candidate’s presentation has preceded the interview you may be able to test their knowledge on the subject by raising questions about aspects of the presentation.  It is also useful to get a sense of the candidate’s experience in carrying out tasks that are relevant to the established criteria (e.g. ‘tell us about an instance when you had to deal with a difficult student?’).  Asking questions about a candidate’s behaviour in different circumstances requires them to respond with examples which support their answers.  These can be followed by probing questions to verify behaviour and/or performance.  You may also want to review departmental policies that may be relevant and include questions from this source.

It is useful to discuss how you will ‘rate’ candidates against the answers that they give to questions.  Employing the use of a scaling mechanism, can be helpful in ensuring that each candidate is assessed in a similar way.  For instance, Dalhousie University uses a grid similar to the following:-

Criteria

Rating

Comments

Teaching: Suitability of teaching style for undergraduate teaching

 

 

Suitability of teaching style for graduate teaching

 

 

Research: Research training and experience

 

 

Research plans

 

 

Supervision of research and theses

 

 

View of research area and potential contributions to field

 

 

Administrative experience:

 

 

Departments can adapt the criteria as necessary and a rating of marginal, acceptable, very good or excellent is provided in each instance.  A template is provided in the Resources at the end of this section.  Scaling and note-taking such as this has been shown to be an effective means of remembering and evaluating candidates.

Consideration should also be given to how you will present the University of Toronto and its local community.  While it is inappropriate to ask the candidate about their age, gender, race, family status, cultural background, sexual orientation (see below) in the interview, it is appropriate to indicate to candidates that the University is an inclusive campus that values the intellectual richness that results from the inclusion of a diverse range of interests, abilities, life experiences and world views.  Students at UofT represent a broad range of ethnic, social, economic and cultural backgrounds.  It is important that faculty are able to respond to the range of experience and needs of the students.  Therefore, it is significant that a candidate can address the ethnic and gender diversity of the University and its surrounding community.  You might want to describe the demographics of a typical class in terms of gender, ethnicity, etc.  You could ask the candidate about their experience teaching students of diverse racial and cultural backgrounds or the strategies that they have used for the inclusion of subject matter regarding gender and ethnocultural aspects.  Be sure to ask these questions of every candidate in a similar way.

The Canadian Human Rights Commission and the Ontario Human Rights Code

The Ontario Human Rights Code provides protection from discrimination on the basis of race, ancestry, place or origin, colour, ethnic origin, citizenship, creed, sexual orientation, age, record of offences, marital status, same-sex partnership status, family status or disability.  Asking questions in interview that relate to these areas is generally inappropriate unless it relates specifically to an essential job requirement.  Any information that is sought in the interview must be relevant to the position, moving beyond this may let discriminatory elements creep into the selection process. 

Let’s consider some examples.  It is not appropriate to ask a candidate about their age or their health, but it is reasonable to inquire of all applicants whether they will be able to fulfill the regular duties laid out in the job description.  If their response indicates that they may require accommodation (e.g. building accessibility or specific religious holidays), the members of the interview panel should make it clear that the University is willing to make reasonable accommodation.   It is very important that similar questions are asked of all the applicants.  As the Academic Administrative Procedures Manual indicates a question that can allow a discussion of accommodations and remains within the bounds of the Code might be ‘This position generally involves (identify features like hours, teaching load, location of classes and meetings, luncheon meetings, travel, etc. as appropriate).  Is there any reason that you can not perform these basic functions?’

A helpful guide to appropriate and inappropriate questions is provided by the Canadian Human Rights Commission at the following link:-

http://www.chrc-ccdp.ca/publications/screening_employment-en.asp

In addition, each search committee member must be provided with Information for Search Committees which outlines the obligations of search committees under the Ontario Human Rights Code.  You may also find the following resource entitled Hiring? A Human Rights Guide useful (http://www.ohrc.on.ca/english/publications/hiring-guide.shtml#employment).

Conducting the Interview

Prior to the interview the chair of the search committee (or interview panel if these individuals are different) should decide on the order of the questions and allocate specific questions to each committee member.  They should be reminded to avoid long, wandering questions and to allow the applicant to do most of the talking.  If they have not done so beforehand, it is important that any committee member indicate if they have prior knowledge of the applicants and, where appropriate, excuse themselves from the interview.  Members should review the Ontario Human Rights Code and the University of Toronto Employment Equity Policy.

At the beginning of the interview, the chair should introduce the applicant to each of the members – even if they have met before.  Time should be taken to explain the purpose and structure of the interview and indicate that some people will take notes (be sure all notes continue to conform to the Code and do not differentiate according to prohibited grounds e.g. ‘black woman, 45ish’).

Your first question should aim to be an ‘ice-breaker’ that will put the candidate at ease.  You may want to begin by reviewing relevant details of their CV and invite them to add anything new (e.g. publications that have been accepted, conferences attended).   Ensure that you question all applicants against the same criteria and use the same core questions – probing questions may vary in each interview and are determined by context.  The interview form provided at the end is useful to make sure that each candidate is being weighed against the same criteria. Search committee members should be encouraged to listen actively and to seek clarification if they are unclear about a candidate’s response.  

The chair and Decanal Assessor/Provost’s Assessor are responsible for preventing discrimination during the interviews and that sufficient information is obtained from the candidates for an accurate decision to be made.   In particular, they should make certain that the same questions are asked of each candidate and that no new criteria are introduced.

Before concluding the interview ask the candidate if they have any further questions or would like to discuss matters that may not have emerged in response to the core questions. 

After the Interview

When the interview is finished, committee members should be encouraged to complete their assessment notes (or form if this is used).  It may be helpful to return to the candidates CV, teaching portfolio and letters of recommendation.  Committee members should be cautioned against ranking candidates – each should be considered individually in relation to the established criteria rather than compared to the others at this stage.  You might like to reflect on the particular qualities the candidate would bring to the department or faculty.  

A number of factors can affect how the information that has been gathered about the candidate is evaluated and the way in which selection decisions are made.  They are:-

  • Contrast Effects – The assessment of the candidate is often dependent on the other individuals who are being rated at the same time.  Rather than comparing candidates to the job description, person-to-person comparisons are made.  While this may result in hiring the ‘best of the bunch’, if the rest of the ‘bunch’ weren’t very good, there may be concerns about the candidate’s quality.
  • Pressure to Select – When interviewers are placed under pressure to make a decision and to evaluate a candidate on a range of criteria, it has been found that the average level of ratings increases regardless of the quality of the candidates.
  • Intuitive Decision Making – Interviewers are asked to base their decisions on the objective evidence which they receive through the interview and in the materials that the candidate has provided.  Nonetheless, there remains a constant temptation to make over-judgments based on intuition.  Neither ‘gut feelings’ nor ‘I can spot them a mile off’ are good recruitment methods.
  • Structured Interview Guide and Note-taking – There is some evidence which suggests that structured interviews which allow the interviewers to take notes provide for more accurate recall of applicants after the interview.

Some suggestions to avoid these difficulties are provided by SHL UK an academic employment consulting agency (www.shl.com):-

  • Record the Evidence – Note-taking during the interview should be supplemented by additional note-taking after the interview.  It may not be possible to take detailed notes during the interview so the committee should take the time afterwards to supplement their notes.  Notes and records should be structured against the pre-determined selection criteria.
  • Evaluating the Findings Effectively – Clear descriptions of the selection criteria, with benchmarks encourage the interviewers to evaluate specific aspects of required performance instead of making generalized judgements such as ‘I like the person’.  Ratings should be completed after the interview on each candidate, together with written evidence to support the rating.  You may choose to employ a chart like the one discussed above (a blank template is included here).
  • Use Other Assessment Techniques – The more information you can gather about the individual, the better informed is your decision.  Give weight not only to the interview but also the materials sent in by the candidate, the letters of reference, the candidate’s presentation and your informal discussions with them.