GMCVO: Interview Practice

People returning to work after a period of caring for someone may feel less confident in interview situations as they don’t have recent work experience to draw upon. This could put them at a disadvantage despite them having the right skills and experience for the role.

The Caring, Working, Living team suggest that best practice would be for employers to give interview candidates some preparation time prior to the interview in which they can see the interview questions before they are formally asked them. But what are the benefits to employers of adopting this approach?

Greater Manchester Centre for Voluntary Organisation (GMCVO) offers all candidates a quiet space and time to review the interview questions before their interview begins. We asked Chief Executive, Alex Whinnom why this is. This is his response.

Alex Whinnom

Is it worthwhile to hold a meeting with someone who is inadequately prepared and feeling stressed? Obviously not if you can help it.

Like a lot of employers GMCVO uses face to face interviews with a shortlist of candidates to make our final decision about whether to appoint to a position. It’s really important to our organisation that we recruit the best people we can. At the very least we want to recruit people who share our values and attitudes and are willing to learn. In more senior roles, we want people who will actively develop our work and contribute to delivering our mission. And we want a diversity of backgrounds, experiences and strengths to contribute to our team.

So how can we use the interview to decide who is the best fit?

Candidates will already have been asked in their written applications to explain why they believe they have the essential skills and knowledge required for the role. So the interview gives us a chance to talk more with each candidate in more depth to see if there is a good enough fit between the person and the work. Obviously, if we want to get to know someone a bit better in a short time, we want to put them at their ease as much as possible. So we don’t want to put off or misjudge someone based on something that doesn’t add anything to the selection process.

If we want to get to know someone a bit better in a short time, we want to put them at their ease as much as possible.

One thing that helps is to share the topics we want to cover in advance. The traditional interview, where questions can be sprung on a candidate, can be very ineffective. It makes people more anxious in what is already a stressful situation, and time is wasted during the interview whilst the candidate tries to gather their thoughts. We’ve probably all been in that kind of interview and only thought of what we really wanted to say after we came out.

So our policy is to develop a standard set of questions, which form the framework for a conversation. We give them to candidates half an hour before the interview, with the chance to sit in a quiet room with a cup of tea and make notes, have a think, or whatever they wish. People come into the interview with their minds already focused and we get to hear their best ideas and thoughts. If it’s important for a particular role that someone is able to think on their feet, we can always ask an unprepared question later in the conversation, once they are more relaxed.

People come into the interview with their minds already focused and we get to hear their best ideas and thoughts.

There is of course an equality and diversity aspect to this. I want all kinds of people to come and work here, because they will have different and complementary strengths. Nobody loses from having an opportunity to gather their thoughts before an important meeting – even those of us who are happy to respond spontaneously. And some people really need that opportunity, because they only do well when they are thoroughly prepared. Or they might have an impairment or difference which means they need ‘extra time’. And age, sex and class can also affect how easy it is for people to participate unprepared.

But I think it is easy to sell the idea for practical reasons alone. We don’t waste time on difficult silences, repeat the questions, listen to someone trying to gather their wits out loud. We don’t make people feel embarrassed or judged – which isn’t a great start to a long-term relationship. Instead, candidates are able to talk with us meaningfully. This makes it much easier to see who would, or for that matter who would not, be a good appointment.

The proof is in the pudding – just look at our wonderful team.

To find out more about inclusive interview practices, please refer to Part 2 of our Caring, Working, Living employer toolkit which you will find here.

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