Interview Timing


The act of the job interview, in terms of timing, is a little bit like baking a cake. Too much time, and the cake is overdone—burnt. Too little time, and the cake is raw—unfinished. In both cases, the final product is unsatisfactory and, potentially, inedible. The same rationale applies to the time required for candidate interviews. On the one hand, sufficient time must be allotted to ensure that the fundamental job requirements are thoroughly assessed. On the other hand, too much time has the potential to leave both the candidate and the interviewer with an unsuccessful and, potentially distasteful, result.

In this video clip from the Canadian HR Reporter, we are provided with the view that extending the job interview beyond a typical one-hour time frame should be a recommended practice. From an HR perspective, Shane Creamer, the associate vice-president of talent acquisition at TD Bank Group, advises that a lengthier interview provides more insight and a broader understanding of a candidate’s future potential and level of talent. In particular, he advocates for this lengthier approach when considering candidates for positions that are at the senior leadership level.

While Creamer speaks to the valid need to invest the time to ensure proper candidate selection in the form of an extended interview, the application of a two- to three-hour interview process comes with some significant risks. If candidate responses to behavioural questions are “canned,” as noted in the video clip, it is up to the interviewer to probe appropriately to seek further insight. When there is nothing provided by the candidate beyond the canned responses, then they may not have anything more to say. There is nothing more awkward than sitting in an interview with a candidate who is flailing about trying to fill the empty interview silence with irrelevant information. One would argue that this may not be the fault of the candidate’s preparedness; rather, it falls on the skilled interviewer to know when and how to guide the conversation.

There are additional risks that arise from a lengthier, freewheeling, or unstructured interview approach that comes from the ‘let the candidate talk’ school of thought. Extending lengthy interviews to allow for a possibly intrusive personal evaluation goes beyond the idea of a reasonable assessment for cultural or organizational fit. If not handled well unstructured approaches end up being almost excruciatingly painful for all of the parties involved. Many candidates will ramble on incessantly if there are no cues from the interviewer to make them stop talking. This results in the risk of unexpected bias if the interviewer becomes annoyed by or with the candidate, and it has nothing to do with the job at hand.

Do we really need to have a deep understanding of the candidate’s personal characteristics that may come from an extended and lengthy interview process? What if the result is that the candidate is perfectly suited for the job, but based on an extended (and annoying) interview, the interviewer just does not like them? The consequences of poor timing, which comes from poor planning, on the part of the interviewer, can be disastrous for all involved.

When it comes to the end result, a successful interview has to be based on the premise that a ‘just right’ timing is, indeed, everything.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Identify three possible HR benefits and risks of engaging in a lengthy unstructured interview with a candidate for a senior-level position.
  2. Do you agree or disagree that an interview focusing on organizational fit is the best determinant for candidate selection? Explain your rationale.
  3. How would you prepare yourself for a lengthy (more than one-hour) interview with a potential employer?

Don’t Forget Your Manners

There are so many elements that go into making an interview process successful.

From the HR side, the planning and preparation focuses on making sure all of the procedural elements are in place, which include asking the right questions. From the candidate side, the planning and preparation focuses on making sure that they are ready to answer all of the possible questions that will come their way.

Sometimes, what gets missed in the midst of all of this planning and preparing, is for both the HR and the candidate side to review the unspoken and yet expected etiquette that is inherit in any interview scenario.

Anna Post provides some practical tips for candidates in the following TedTalk:


While the tips Ms. Porter provides target an audience of perhaps a ‘younger’ job seeking candidate group, the message for any candidate is about meeting the expected expectations that HR recruiters are looking for.

Candidates are told to be prepared; to dress professionally; to be on time; to shake hands; to show respect by standing up when being greeted; to put their phones away during the interview; and to send follow up thank you e-mails after the interview.

If this is this is the expected etiquette which candidates expect to receive, what is the HR professional/recruiter doing to ensure that they are fulfilling these expectations?

Any interview process is a two-way interaction that reveals as much about the organization through the actions of HR professional with the candidates they meet.  It should go without saying that the organizational recruiter, the HR professional, should also be prepared; dress professionally; be on time; shake hands; follow up with candidates to let them know the outcome of the interview; and most importantly show respect by focusing their full attention to the candidate in the room. There is no place for distractions, such as a smart phone, when the purpose of an interview is to engage in conversation which is ultimately, a process of mutual respect.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How often to you shake hands with others when meeting them in a formal setting – is it a comfortable thing for you to do?
  2. What do ‘manners’ mean to you?
  3. How will you model interview etiquette as an HR professional?
  4. Thinking of your own interview experience as a candidate, which of Anna Post’s six interview tips do you need to work on in order to improve your professional image?

Is the Salary Question Awkward or Inappropriate?

Sergey Fatin/Shutterstock

Should candidates be asked about their salary history as part of the screening and hiring process?

A recent article posted in Human Resources Director Canada cites an American push, in certain states, to ban asking candidates questions about their recent salaries as part of the recruitment process.

Click here to read the article.

It seems a curious thing to be asking about, in the first place.

From a best practice perspective, asking candidates about their salary history comes loaded with difficulties, especially in a Canadian HR context. As we have learned from our Recruitment and Selection studies, our focus as Human Resources practitioners is to ensure that the end-to-end hiring process is as neutral and objective as possible.

While the article speaks to the benefits of assessing a candidate’s monetary expectations, asking the question about how much money the candidate makes now is, in the opinion of this HR blogger, completely irrelevant.

Candidates are better served by having a clear and transparent understanding of the position requirements, the duties, the responsibilities, the expectations and the compensation range that will apply to the successful applicant in the position. It is the value of the position that pays the wage, not the value that is placed on the person applying for the job. This is why we have compensation related legislation in place including the Pay Equity Act of Ontario, the Employment Standards Act and, of course, the fundamental principles of equality and fairness outlined in the Ontario Human Rights Code.

If a candidate chooses to apply for a position that is at a lower compensation level than their current situation, that is their choice. The employer is not obligated to over-compensate the applicant, if they are hired, for making that choice. Similarly, if a candidate applies for a position at a higher rate than their current wages, the ethical employer will not (should not) pay lower than the pre-determined compensation level if that person is hired into that position as a result.

When there is a salary range linked to a position, that range should be the only determinant that sets the wage in order to ensure a fair and equitable assessment of mutual values.

Bottom line, some questions are just not worth the asking.

Discussion Questions:

  1. As a candidate, how would you respond to a question that probes your salary history during the interview process?
  2. What are the benefits to the HR practitioner in asking about candidate salary history?
  3. What are the perils to the HR practitioner in asking about candidate salary history?


The Art of Listening

How do we, as Human Resources professionals, learn to listen?

Concept of Communication. Listening closely and mindful with empathy is an important rule

In the practice of the Human Resources profession, interviewing is part of the job. We spend an enormous amount of time talking about the process of interviewing candidates. Our studies focus on the systems of interviewing tactics that are used to screen in and screen out candidates for a particular position.

We are trained to focus on ‘how’ to interview the right way. We learn the importance of asking the right questions. We learn to rate and evaluate responses. But do we know how to listen to what a candidate is saying when the interview is taking place?

As part of the preparation for interviewing candidates, we also need to focus on how we are prepared to listen.

In a social media world that is filled with sound bites and Twitter blasts, the ability to listen seems to be decreasing in both practice and preparation. It is something that we think we do every day, but many of us could stand to refresh these skills in a world where we may have less of the patience needed for really listening to each other.

In a recent Ted Talk, Celeste Headlee provides us with a reflection on how to listen in a way that provides learning and value.

Click here to watch and listen to Celeste Headlee’s Ted Talk.

Even though Ms. Headlee’s reflections are based on an American perspective, as a professional interviewer she provides some key messages that are applicable to the on-going practice of the Human Resources professional. We can use the skills of listening for understanding to learn more deeply about the person being interviewed and the experiences they bring with them.

When we are able to improve our own listening skills, we can move beyond the skills needed during the event of the interview  Listening is a process, not an event. If we are able to embed active listening into our daily interactions with others, we become better Human Resources professionals both in preparation and in practice.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What steps do you take to ensure that you are listening actively to another person?
  2. Why is active listening so difficult?
  3. Describe a recent conversation you had with someone where active listening did not take place? What was the result?

Interview Do’s and Don’ts


Man with large eyes holding his head
Source: Everett Collection/Shutterstock

Thanks to expansive social media and internet tools, employment candidates are able to access a plethora of materials to prepare them for a job interview.  The amount of detail and scope of information can be overwhelming.  There are valuable insights to be gained, if candidates are able to sort through all of the available internet advice.

A common theme for candidate interview preparation is knowing what questions will be asked and how to to give the ‘real’ answer in response to those questions.

A recent article, provided by Workopolis’ editor-in-chief, Peter Harris, identifies what hidden meanings are behind typical interview questions and how candidates should respond to avoid the traps of what is really behind these types of questions.

Click Here to Read the Article.

If read this article from the perspective of an employment candidate, it seems that the set up for the interview process is just that, a bit of a set up.

If, however, we read this article from the perspective of a Human Resources professional, there is a clear message that the questions we are asking candidates in interviews are not the right ones.

We need to do a much better job in preparing ourselves, as Human Resources professionals, for the interview process. We can do so by preparing questions that are straightforward and clear in purpose.

Human Resources professionals have excellent skills in many areas.  We are not, however, gifted with super-power mind-reading insights that allow us to discern what interview candidates are meaning to say in response to misleading questions which appear to be full of hidden meanings and tricks.

Let’s stop asking the questions that give us the answers we don’t want and start preparing questions that give us the answers that clearly identify what we do want.

This way, we can leave the super-power mind-reading skills alone, for now.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What are typical interview questions that, as a candidate, you think should not be included in a job interview process?
  2. What types of questions, from an HR perspective, do you think could be used more effectively in an interview process?
  3. What types of prompts can the HR professional use during an interview that encourage candidates to answer the questions in the ‘right’ way?