Over these last couple of weeks, I have been thinking about a LinkedIn message I received from one of my connections. He had read my article about asking questions as an interviewee and wanted to share his views. He, like I, believe that interviewing is a two-way street, and told me that he had tried to establish rapport with recent interviewees by asking them to tell him about their interests outside the office. He was discouraged that each of them responded only with work-related information—even after he shared his outside passions.

While sharing personal information may be common in private sector interviews, from a federal perspective, I urge hiring managers to be very careful about not stepping over the line which may result in a disclosure of potentially discriminatory information that you do not want to know—information about church, children, marital status, and the like. I often hear from the private sector clients that they think federal interviews are cold and impersonal; while being cold is certainly not the point, being fair is. While your intentions may be good in asking personal information, this information, once disclosed, is not job-related and could put you at risk for a potential EEO complaint.

Here are some best practices for conducting an interview:

  1. Prepare in advance; so that you can plan and conduct a structured interview where you ask all candidates the same questions in the same order. You’ll need to prepare job related questions, create an objective approach to scoring interviews, and review candidates’ resumes and any other application documents ahead of time.
  2. Put together your interview panel (if using one); brief them on the questions, scoring, timeframes, and any “house rules” you have created to conduct the interview.
  3. Welcome each candidate; describe the organization, position, and the interview process.
  4. Ask your questions and of course, take notes on the answers. Be sure that your notes are appropriate and do not contain inappropriate information such as comments on appearance, military status, disability, sexual orientation, and the like—even if the candidate raises these issues.
  5. Provide the candidate with an opportunity to ask questions.
  6. Thank the interviewee for their time and provide information about next steps and timeframes.
  7. Evaluate the candidate against your predetermined criteria and watch out for any hidden biases (like me/not like me, pressure to hire, relying on first impressions, gut feelings, etc.)
  8. If using an interview panel, discuss individual interviewers’ ratings and address any discrepancies.
  9. Before making a final decision, don’t forget to check references!
  10. Be sure to document your decision process in case you are challenged.

Interviews are concerned unreliable for hiring decisions (because so many of us use our “gut” to figure out who the best candidate is). If you follow these interview best practices; you are likely to hire the best qualified candidate and decisions based on job-related criteria, not irrelevant information.

Great Interview Questions for Both Hiring Managers and Candidates

How Long Should It Take to Get a Federal Job?

Virtual Interviews – 10 Ideas to Ace Them!

Federal Career Series Bundle: Resume, Interviewing, Transition

Nancy Segal is a federal human resources training and job search expert. Following her own 30-year federal HR career (much of it at the senior level), she founded Solutions for the Workplace LLC in 2003 to provide an HR management perspective to both federal managers and astute applicants to U.S. government positions. Nancy has unmatched federal career management insight, high standards, and respect for people’s time, and her clients use this to their advantage.