This is Part II of a two-part blog post about hiring the right person. Its focus is on the interview, the reference check and decision-making. Part I of this blog post dealt with the first 8 steps leading up to the interview, to help you recruit the best pool of candidates possible from which to shortlist for an interview.

Your goal is to have a hiring process that helps to find a good match and to eliminate those who will have difficulty succeeding in the position (Note that this blog post represents management advice only. Check with H.R. and/or legal expertise to ensure your recruitment practices are compliant with human rights and employment standards legislation.)

Think about the qualities of the star workers you currently employ. Likely, they have:

  • the core skills required in the position so they can do the job,
  • the desire to do the job in a way that fits with your organization’s vision and values, and
  • the internal calm to effectively handle the stresses and challenges of the work.

You are now looking to verify these qualities in your candidates by going through the next 3 steps involving the interview, reference checks and decision-making.

1. The Interview

It used to surprise me that 50% of the time, the candidate who rated highest on their resume did not do well in the interview. There are varying reasons, related both to the candidate and to the interview process, which account for that discrepancy. Your goal is to ensure that you have done all you can to provide the environment and process that allow the candidate to express themselves in the interview to the best of their ability.


Assign someone to meet the candidate as soon as possible after they arrive. Confirm with them the interview time and, if possible, take them to a place to wait where they will not see others who are being interviewed.


It is almost standard these days to have 5 or more people on interview panels or hiring teams, all assembled in the room at once with the candidate ‘welcomed’ and escorted to the ‘hot seat’. There are some introductory comments, and then each hiring team member asks a question. Given that interviews typically last 45 minutes to an hour, and allowing time for answers, you may have 5 – 10 minutes at the end for the candidate’s questions and general discussion. My concern is that this provides an artificial and highpressure atmosphere that limits information flow. If this is not how your organization normally functions, you may wish to try something new.

My suggestion is to try to replicate the interactions in your normal work environment (except for the interruptions that invariably are part of the normal workday). Determine the type of interview process that makes sense for the position and your organization.

The candidate should start and end with you as leader of the hiring committee. Your role includes telling the story of the position and how it fits in your organization. Also explain how the interview will run.

One possibility is for the individual to meet one-on-one with team members for 10 to 15 minutes each, and then have everyone converge for 15 minutes at the end to hear the candidate share their impressions of your organization, the team and their potential contribution. You can then spend 10 minutes after the person leaves to share your own impressions of the candidate with each other.

Selection Criteria and Sample Questions
Assess the candidate’s level of self-awareness

Look for clues to how the candidate thinks about and describes their work in relation to being part of a team and/or organization. For example:

Tell me about the work you are currently doing?

  • Do they have a sense of the world around them, and how they work effectively within it?

Tell me why you are interested in this job?

  • Look for their level of interest and how this position fits in their career path. Assess if it is too big a leap from their previous level of expertise and experience.

How have you had to reinvent your job in light of your organization’s changing needs?

  • Assess how they perceive and respond to change.

What makes you stand out among your peers?

  • Assess their perception of their unique contribution and their appreciation of the contribution of others.

Who do you look at as a model for how you like to style your own approach to your work? Describe their qualities.

  • Assess their own criteria for success in the work they do, and how that compares to yours.

What is the job you enjoyed the most, and why?

  • Assess their fit for the position you are recruiting into.
Look for how they respond to making mistakes and criticism

Everyone, from the front line to those in the executive suite will make mistakes in their work. What’s important is 1) the kind of mistake they will make, and 2) how they will handle it. For example:

Tell me of a time when you recognized you made a serious error and what you did about it.

  • Consider if they take responsibility for their errors and appropriately address them.

Tell me of a time you received criticism. What was that about, and how did you respond?

  • Assess if they perceive and are responsive to criticism as constructive feedback.
Look for compatibility, not likability, in how their work habits suit your environment

We all tend to establish immediate rapport with people who are like us, but it is important to look beyond immediate chemistry. For example:

Describe your general workday. What pace do you like to work at?

  • Assess how their preferred pace fits with your organization’s reality.

Describe a time you needed to consult with your boss on an issue.

  • Assess their level of initiative and judgement.
Assess the candidate’s level of desire for your position

Has the candidate researched your organization? Do they know what your organization is known for?  For example:

Why would you want to work here, and what do you know about our organization?

Look for the potential win-win while you are judging their fit with your organization

Be sure to make a memorable impression on the candidate. Explain the amazing things your organization does, and be honest about areas you believe you need to develop and in what way you hope the successful candidate will contribute.

Be sure to thank the candidate for the time they have committed to the hiring process, and, in return, consider whether the candidate follows up with a thank you note.

A follow-up from the candidate is reflective of their continued interest in the position. They may also show initiative by sharing additional thoughts they had about the position, or seek to clarify something they said.

2. Reference checks

The reference check is the way to verify what the candidate has shared in the resume and interview. It is important to include a referee who has supervised your potential hire.

Send an e-mail requesting a reference check and schedule a time for the call.

  • Describe the position for which you are hiring so that the referee can tailor their responses to the particular knowledge, skills and experience you are seeking.
  • Share specific information provided by the candidate, and ask the referee to verify the details; for example the mistake the candidate said they made, and their follow-up.
  • Ask if they would hire this individual You can also phrase this questions as, ‘what kind of job do you think fits this person best?’
  • Finally, ask ‘is there anything else I should know about this person that we haven’t covered?’

3. Decision-making

It may seem strange to consider on-boarding while you are still making your decision about whether to offer a candidate a position. However, it helps you to summarize your reasons for choosing this particular individual and how you think they will fit the role, fit with others on the team and fit the organization as a whole.

Draft your welcome notice in your organization’s newsletter; what would you say about your new employee to your current employees? Assess if it still makes sense to you to hire this person.

How to handle hiring issues

As much as we set out to plan and conduct an effective hiring process, many things can go wrong. Here are some examples and tips on how to proceed:

The hiring committee doesn’t agree on the best candidate

Though the leader of the hiring committee is the one who makes the decision, it is my rule of thumb to seek consensus. Take time to explore the rationale behind disagreement. It may be necessary to call someone back for a second interview to check out the concerns of the dissenting hiring committee member.

The candidate won’t consent to having you call their previous supervisor as they left on bad terms.

I do not agree with a request to not call a previous employer, and I seek the candidates consent to make the call. I ask the candidate to describe the concern they have, and assure them that I will fully consider their perspective in my evaluation of the employer’s feedback.

Candidate wants to be paid more than your policy/guideline limit

It is important to achieve consistent salary administration across all positions, including the CEO, especially in the not-for-profit sector. There may, however, be reasons why you need to consider exceptions in cases where it is hard to find people who have certain credentials, skills or experience. Be sure that the reasons you would use to justify an exception are not related to characteristics such as gender; for example, one might give a man more money but turn down the same request from a woman, though they are in the same position.

It is always worthwhile investing the time up front to gather the best pool of candidates and take them through a matchmaking process that works for you both. Wishing you good fortune in your next hiring.