Woman in an interview.

Advances in technology have made the hiring process so efficient. Instead of reviewing stacks of resumes and conducting initial interviews by phone, candidates can be easily screened and interviewed digitally, saving significant time and resources.

• Computer programs comb through resumes for relevant words, deciding who makes it to the next round.

• Automated video interviews, where candidates answer recorded questions into the tiny lens on their computer or phone, allow employers to hit “fast forward.”

• Rejection letters are automatically generated by email.

The downside is that the interview process has become so impersonal. Candidates can apply, interview, and be rejected, without ever meeting a human being.

Part of the interviewer’s job is to bring back humanity to the interview process. It’s a great opportunity to get to know candidates better — their personality, sense of humor (or lack of) and any quirks of character. Here are some reminders of interviewer etiquette, which will help do just that.

Put your interviewees at ease.

Most interview candidates will be a little anxious or nervous. Put them at ease. I remember an interview where I had a scratchy throat from a cold. The interviewer had a cold, too, so he offered me a lozenge, then took one himself. That little show of humanity calmed my nerves.

• Offer your candidate a beverage, such as water or coffee.

• Designate where your candidate is to sit and make sure the seating is comfortable.

• Shake hands at the beginning and the end of the interview.

• The firm handshake is the only touch you should have with the interview candidate. Don’t touch the person on the arm or leg as you’re talking. Don’t touch the candidate on the shoulder or back as you’re showing that person out.

Be attentive to the interview candidate.

An in-person interview is the time to focus on your candidate and make them feel welcome.

• Put away digital distractions. Silence your phone and any email alerts on your computer. Have your staff hold calls.

• Prepare for the interview. Review your candidate’s resume and social media profile and create a list of relevant questions.

• Don’t just stick to a list of questions. Listen to the candidate’s answers and ask follow-up questions based on the answers. (Follow-up questions are one advantage of the in-person interview over automated video interviews.)

• Take notes to show you’re interested in what the candidate has to say.

Represent your organization well.

Remember, interview candidates are there to interview you, as much as you’re there to interview them. Represent your organization well.

• Whether the interview is in your office or a conference room, clear away any clutter and make sure the room is clean.

• Introduce the candidate to your assistant or any other colleagues you encounter, while you’re with the candidate.

• Whether you give the candidate a tour of your workplace depends on where you are in the interview process and how much you’re trying to win them over. Don’t lead on a candidate with a tour, if that candidate isn’t being seriously considered.

Follow protocol when hosting interview meals.

Represent your organization well, even in interviews outside your workplace. The topic of interview meals is riddled with stories of interview candidates behaving badly. But sometimes it’s the interviewer who behaves badly.

A man at a Chamber of Commerce event told me about a lunch interview where his interviewer didn’t leave a tip. “Would you like me to leave the tip?” he asked the interviewer. “Nah!” said the interviewer, “They make enough money.”

The candidate said he was embarrassed by the situation and when he received an offer for the job, he turned it down. He didn’t want to work for someone who would treat the waitstaff so poorly.

As the host of the interview meal, the interviewer has certain responsibilities:

• Offer the interviewee the best seat, which is the one that faces out into the dining room, has the best window view, or is away from the line of traffic.

• Allow the interview candidate to order first. The interviewer orders second.

• Pay attention to what your candidate orders. If the waitstaff brings the wrong thing, you’re in charge of getting it corrected.

• Make sure your candidate has time to eat, in between questions. A college student told me about a lunch interview she had with three interviewers. They finished eating, while she hadn’t had a bite. One of them said, “Go ahead and eat now.” She felt awkward with three interviewers watching her eat.

• Be kind to the waitstaff. How you treat them is a reflection of how you treat people in your organization.

• The interviewer picks up the check. Even if the candidate offers to pay, the interviewer should still pay the bill.

Be ethical and avoid legal issues.

Because there are so many legal landmines in the hiring process, it’s important to be honest and ethical.

Target Corporation was recently sued for discrimination by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), on behalf of a deaf candidate who was refused an interview after he had initially been deemed qualified for one. It was a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act, because a qualified candidate was rejected on the basis of a disability. 

• Avoid inappropriate questions. According to the EEOC, an employer may not discriminate against candidates on the basis of race, color, sex, national origin or religion, under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

• Title VII was further amended in 1978 by the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, which makes it illegal to discriminate in hiring on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical condition. While it is not illegal to ask questions about marriage, family or pregnancy, if you do ask those questions, it may be used as the basis for the case against you. Consult your legal department or the EEOC website for more information about inappropriate questions.

• Also, don’t use the interview process to steal ideas from candidates, especially if you have no plans to hire them.

When will you be making a decision?

Have a defined interview process and timetable. Don’t be vague about when you’re making a decision. Never assume you’re the only organization where your candidates are interviewing. The best candidates may be weighing multiple offers.

Candidates who aren’t being considered should at least receive an automated response that they are not being considered. Candidates who came in for an interview should get a slightly more personal response, such as a phone call.

Thank candidates for their interest in your company. You aren’t obligated to tell candidates why they weren’t selected for the job, and because of legal issues, it’s best to say as little as possible.

Keep it professional.

Behaving like a professional means that you’re attentive to others and behave in a courteous manner. Bring back a little humanity in the interview process by being attentive to your interview candidates. Represent your organization well, in interviews in and out of your workplace. And most importantly, be ethical.

About the Author

Callista Gould has spent over 11 years as a certified etiquette instructor, speaking at universities and businesses across the United States. Her new book, The Exceptional Professional: What You Need to Know to Grow Your Career, is an entertaining read, filled with true stories of etiquette triumphs and disasters in the world of business and nonprofits. She can be reached at cgould@cultureandmanners.com or on Twitter @MannersThatMove. She offers a free Etiquette Tip of the Week by email. Learn more at www.cultureandmanners.com.

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