Effective interviewing vital for reducing employee turnover

October 1, 2004

Stanford, Calif. - Effective interviewing skills are the foundation for good hiring decisions that will maximize the office environment and productivity, said Kathy Kennady at "The Next Step: Mastering Cutaneous Outpatient Procedures," a continuing education program sponsored by the Stanford University Department of Dermatology.

Stanford, Calif. - Effective interviewing skills are the foundation for good hiring decisions that will maximize the office environment and productivity, said Kathy Kennady at "The Next Step: Mastering Cutaneous Outpatient Procedures," a continuing education program sponsored by the Stanford University Department of Dermatology.

"Employee turnover is a costly problem for any organization because it is associated with direct expenses for recruiting costs," says Ms. Kennady, director of human resources for Judy Madrigal & Associates, a human resource management group headquartered in San Mateo, Calif., that serves businesses primarily in the medical industry. "But, even more importantly, (it is associated) with indirect costs from time spent in the hiring process and loss of productivity while the position is vacant and the new employee learns the job," she says.

"Physicians must recognize that interviewing job candidates is unlike interviewing patients, and that they need to change hats when changing roles and learn to ask the appropriate questions that will result in a good match between your office and the new employee."

"If you are spending 60 to 90 minutes in an interview because you are talking off the top of your head, you are probably taking more time than you need. Not only does that equate with loss of revenue, but likely you are doing more talking than the candidate," Ms. Kennady says.

Ask the right type of questions Beginning with a rapport-building question is valuable for setting the interviewee at ease and thereby increasing the likelihood that he or she will open up during the meeting. As the interview proceeds, certain types of questions should be avoided, including those that force a simple response of "yes" or "no." Rather, questions should be phrased so that the answer will require some detailed explanation from the respondent.

In addition, by law, interviewers are prohibited from asking certain personal questions, including those relating to age, marital status, ethnicity, disabilities, and sexual and religious preferences. As an exception, however, interviewers may ask these types of questions if they are directly related to the qualifications needed for the job.

"For example, if the job is for a medical records clerk and there is a need to lift heavy boxes, you can ask if the person is able to lift a 30-pound load even though you cannot ask directly about a disability," Ms. Kennady explains.

Important questions that provide good insight into a person's behavior include those focusing on reasons for leaving previous positions and how challenging situations were handled.

"Don't forget that past behavior predicts future performance," Ms. Kennady says.

Difficult situations A good interviewer also needs to know how to handle difficult interviewing situations. For example, if the candidate is late, don't just assume he or she is irresponsible, but determine whether there is a legitimate reason and how the individual responded to the situation. In addition, physician interviewers should be prepared to prompt individuals who seem a little nervous and are not responding fully to questions. At the other extreme, interviewers need skills for tactfully interrupting the individual who talks too much.

"You need to let these candidates talk so that you get a sense about who they are, but it is OK to be firm about getting them back on track," Ms. Kennady says.

Physician interviewers should be on the look-out for certain red flags, which include the individual who quit a job without giving adequate notice, or who makes demands during the interview and/or comes in smelling of alcohol. It also is important to beware of individuals who misrepresent themselves. If that occurs during the interview, there is no need to waste additional time completing the process.

Checking references Careful checking of references is also essential. References should be supervisors, not co-workers or personal friends, and should have contact numbers at a verifiable place of employment.