Conducting an 'on-the-fly' job interview

By ALAN SAVAGE, Tektronix Inc.--The key to conducting a successful interview is remembering your objective: develop an understanding of the candidate's skills and background, provide the candidate with information about the job and company, and leave the candidate with a positive impression of the business.

Tektronix Inc.

As a manager, it's likely that at some point, with little or no preparation, you will interview someone for a position. Maybe another manager has discovered a schedule conflict and asked you to fill in for them, or the scheduled interviewer did not show up.

Suddenly, it's up to you to jump in ahead of schedule or just plain forgot about it. The following steps will help you conduct a professional interview and get the information you need with little or no preparation time.

The key to success is remembering your objective--develop an understanding of the candidate's skills and background, provide the candidate with information about the job and company, and leave the candidate with a positive impression of the business.

Here are some helpful techniques for conducting that on-the-fly interview:

Establish rapport--Establishing rapport only takes a few seconds and is time well spent. Typically, a candidate, having to talk about himself or herself with strangers is under a lot of stress in an interview. By taking the time for "small talk," you can start to develop a relationship with the candidate, significantly reducing the stress level and enabling the candidate to open up and provide more significant work history information.

Ask candidates if they found the building all right or if the flight was okay. If you are the first interviewer, review the schedule and share something about each of the other interviewers. If you are the last interviewer, ask how the other interviews went or if they have any questions. If you are in the middle of the interview schedule, ask how the candidate is holding up.

Just these few sentences establish trust and demonstrate that you care about what the candidate is experiencing. The candidate will be more open to your questions and likely feel less defensive.

Another important step is to confirm what position the employee is interviewing for--you don't want to find out midway through the interview that the person is interviewing for an accounting position, not an engineering position as you thought. This is especially important if you are being asked to interview someone at the last minute.

Summarize work history--Ask the candidate to give you a background summary. This is a very good tactic if you have been rushed into an interview with no preparation time. Having the candidate provide a career overview will allow time to organize your thoughts, and provide you direction for the interview.

Remember to take notes. Note taking helps you remember key points and questions about the candidate, and it is a compliment to the candidate that you are writing down what he or she tells you.

If the candidate gives too broad an overview, providing little detail, stop the candidate early in the summary and ask questions about relevant positions. This will signal that you are looking for more detail. Candidates will usually provide more detail as the interview continues.

If the candidate takes excessive time by providing too much detail, use questions to redirect the interview into more relevant areas. Closed-ended questions help you speed up or slow down the candidate's summary and maintain control of the interview.

Describe the job--This helps frame the rest of the interview and provides the candidate with much-needed information on the position and how it relates to the company.

Ask the candidate what he or she knows about the job. Describe how you would work with the person. It is valuable for the candidate to get your perspective and understand how you interact with the position. This helps him or her understand what background information is relevant to you.

Review skill sets--Knowing a candidate's job history is only one piece of the interview. You also need to know what skills he or she possesses. This is where you can ask specifics on job strengths. Once you have outlined the job, ask the candidate to describe the skills that would best be used to accomplish it.

If you know the job, you can ask for specific process descriptions that were used in previous positions. If you don't know the job, ask what the candidate perceives as important skills needed to be successful. Based on available time, you can probe further into the skills sets described.

Ask about work environment--Aside from the technical aspects of a job, it is important to know what type of work environment the candidate needs or expects. Ask the candidate what type of work environment and management culture is preferred and what should be avoided.

Though many candidates will say anything to get a job, most will usually be honest about what type of environment and management style works for them. Once you understand the candidate's view, describe the culture of the company and the group to which the position reports.

Close the interview--As a courtesy, remember to ask the candidate if he or she has any questions for you. Most likely, you will not be able to discuss specifics regarding job duties and compensation, but you can answer questions regarding the company, and your perspective about working there. Thank the candidate for his or her time, and then help facilitate the next interview in the process.

This isn't the most efficient way to conduct an interview, but in those circumstances where you have not been able to prepare, it will get you through the process. A minimum amount of preparation time can really pay off when interviewing. A few moments spent with the hiring manager before an interview discussing needed skill sets and areas of focus for the interview will help the manager, but also increase the contribution you are making in the interview process.

Alan Savage is a human resources business partner in the manufacturing division of Tektronix Inc., headquartered in Beaverton, OR. He may be reached via the company's Web site at

More in Home