Q: I’ve been asked to be part of an interview panel for my new member of staff. I haven’t done this before. Can you give me some pointers?

Q: I’ve been asked to be part of an interview panel for my new member of staff. I haven’t done this before. Can you give me some pointers?

A: I am glad that you want to play an active part in the panel and not just turn up and ask a few questions. So many employment problems that develop can be traced back to selecting the wrong person for the job, or possibly the right person for the wrong job. When you are part of the selection team, you have a real opportunity to avoid these unnecessary future problems simply by preparing properly.

First, understand the job you want the successful candidate to do. Scrutinise the existing job description and person specification at least two weeks before the advert goes out. Do they make sense to you? If not, how do you expect the right person to apply for it? If they don’t describe exactly what the main roles and responsibilities of the post are, and what skills and experience someone needs in order to do the job well, re-write them before they get sent out to applicants.

Once you know what skills and experience you are looking for, you can design questions and tests that will evidence that the successful candidate can do the job well. Evidence is the key word here. All your questions should start with one of seven words only: “when” (for example, when did you do x?) “what” (for example, what would you do differently?) “who” (for example, who did you work with?) “how” (for example, how exactly did you do it?) “why” (for example, why did it happen?) “where” (for example, where was this?) and “tell” (for example, tell me about x?). Check the answers match the application form or CV.

Avoid the use of closed or leading questions, starting with “Did you x?”, or “I see you did x”. I, for one, have answered those with a bold “Yes” hoping that I wouldn’t then be asked to prove it.

Next, play an active part in the shortlisting process. You know the skills and experience you are looking for, and a good candidate will match their application to your needs. Ignore the fact that they are young/old/been made redundant/would have to relocate, or any other non job-qualified reason for them applying. They’ve applied for your job – judge them on their potential ability to be able to do it, and to do it well.

Prepare for the possibility that none of the applicants can do the job to your expectations and to appoint no one. Re-advertising is cheaper in the long run than appointing the wrong person who happened to score more than the rest of a bad bunch. If you don’t appoint, spend some time going over the content of the advert, where and when it was placed, and plan what you will do differently if you re-advertise. And if you only have one applicant who has been shortlisted, do not keep him/her on hold and re-advertise – they might be your dream team member.

Alison Sanger is a social care HR consultant

A: The last job interview I went to was a sham – the “panel” had obviously not bothered discussing (or at least had failed to agree) what the job they were recruiting for was and what sort of person they needed. This made for a disjointed process and was a waste of everybody’s time. Make sure you and your colleagues agree beforehand what you’re actually looking for!

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