From screening resumes to sending an offer letter, here’s everything you need to structure and streamline your interview process
Remember back when you weren’t responsible for hiring candidates? You heard terms like structured interview or offer letter and thought, “Meh. Sounds simple enough,” right?
Now that you’re on the front line — maybe as a hiring manager, maybe as a new recruiter, or maybe on a small startup team where everyone plays a key role in hiring — things look a little less peachy. Who should you bring in for an interview? Which questions should you ask on a phone screen? Do you need one? How do you develop questions that give you real answers? Who does what during an on-site interview? What goes into an offer letter?
Today, I want to equip you with the tools you need to properly shape and simplify your interview process, and then to capitalize on the time you have with candidates. Since you’re already bringing the high-achievers in for interviews, I’ll show you how to design a process that not only engages and impresses candidates, but also gives your organization the best chance to evaluate them for the position at hand.
This is a comprehensive guide, so here’s a handy way to jump to the information you need most, right now:
- Screening Resumes
- Screening Tools
- Interviewing Settings
- Interview Questions
- Interview Plan
- Background Checks
- Offer Letters
Every organization is different, every role is different, and every hiring manager has their quirks, so don’t feel like you need to follow every piece of advice I outline here. The goal is to give you options for a more structured, streamlined interview process that helps you to identify the best candidates, makes them feel welcome, and ultimately leads to faster, easier hires for you and your team.
Big fat heads up/disclaimer: Before implementing any selection process, understand your specific governing bodies’ requirements and seek legal counsel to ensure that you’re providing a fair process for all applicants. Seriously.
Ok, first things first — who makes it to the interview stage in the first place? If you’ve posted an awesome, accurate job description, you’re probably looking at hundreds of resumes to sort through, and you can’t possibly interview everyone with any sort of cost-efficiency. In a perfect world, all of these resumes would fit your stated qualifications, but in reality? Plenty of unqualified applicants will flood in, and we want to avoid your sorting through each and every one of them.
Start by determining the top priorities for the job at hand — is it licensing? Years in a similar position? Certifications or schooling? With modern recruiting software like Breezy HR, you’ll be able to automatically disqualify applicants coming in that don’t meet any of these standards, effectively allowing you to pre-screen applicants with hardly any human effort.
Not using a simple ATS like Breezy? Set your application up with things like checkboxes and multiple-choice options as much as possible, so you can manually scan for those qualifications exactly the way a computer would, and immediately disqualify all of the folks that don’t meet the minimum standards your organization outlines. It’s the fastest way to get your applicants down to a manageable level without needing to read through book-lengths of text.
For some positions, an appropriate second screen would be grammar, spelling, and general accuracy checks on a cover letter and resume. Glaring mistakes like misspelling the company name or citing the wrong position would disqualify the applicant, cutting down your applicant pool yet further.
If you’re still looking at a ridiculous pile of great-so-far applicants, take a look at the following four areas to help you gain a better understanding of the candidate fit for the job:
- Work objective or career summary,
- Relevant skills and qualifications,
- Employment history, and
- Industry experience
Are they looking to grow into something that the company has available? For example, if the candidate’s work objective states that they’re angling for a managerial position and all you’ve got open are entry-level roles, they may not be willing to wait it out on a lower salary and less responsibility for the years it’ll take for a managerial role to open up.
Ask yourself if they meet every one of your relevant skills requirements; for instance, are they expert level in both Photoshop and InDesign, or do they only have passing knowledge of Salesforce? Your organization probably listed the perfect skill set in the job description, so it’s worth checking out in order to cut down your resume pile. It seems harsh and a little picky, but if you’ve still got scores of candidates in the running, toss the ones that don’t possess this ideal skill set now, and avoid wasting the hiring team’s time later.
Is it spotty? Do they have a few different positions that they need to explain for? Are they switching roles every six months, while you’re looking for a long-term employee? Every situation for every candidate is unique, and you’d ideally listen to candidate explanations for these kinds of quirks to determine if these red flags that indicate a problem employee or just a string of bad luck. If you’re in a position to be choosy, though, don’t choose to go out on a limb.
Last but not least, opt to disqualify the candidates that are new to the industry, if applicable. Someone who sells life insurance may very well have the transferrable experience to sell software, but we’re being fussy, here. Toss out applicants whose industry experience doesn’t align with your organizational needs off the bat.
Bonus screening tools:
Video Assessments: In Breezy, you can include a video assessment as part of your initial application (or at a later stage). For a video assessment, candidates will record videos of themselves answering questions that you outline, so it’s an awesome opportunity to make quick judgments about their presentability, language fluency, or selling skills. You can even share the videos among your teammates, making it easy to decide, as a team, who should go and who should move forward.
Work samples: For a higher-level or highly competitive position, consider adding a work sample requirement to your application. For marketers, writers, video editors, designers and even engineers, asking the candidate to solve a particular problem or create a product can showcase both their skill level and their desire to for the position.
Interviewing Basics and Building Questions
Pick your interview setting
Face to face interviews are by far the most common interview type of interview, but they’re not the only tool in your shed. After a thorough screening process, consider a few pros and cons of cost-efficient phone interviews:
- Pro: Fast! And cheap, too — it’s less time out of yours or another employee’s day to hop on a 10 or 15-minute phone call than to book a room and use it for 30 minutes to an hour, or to drive to a mutually agreeable lunch spot, etc. If speed is your priority, dialing is the way to go.
- Con: You won’t be able to evaluate all that you might want to over the phone — studies tell us only 7% of verbal communication comes from the words we speak, while the majority of our insight comes from nonverbal cues.
Phone screens work best when you want to:
- dig a little deeper the individual’s background and experience,
- clarify details from their resume or application, and
- get an understanding of their verbal communication skills.
By contrast, face-to-face interviews will give you plenty more to work with in assessments, including the applicant’s social cues and body language. Plus, if you invite your candidate into your office for an interview, they can get a preliminary feel for your office culture and environment.
In a competitive market, in-person interviews can win out over phone screens for the personal interaction alone.
If you’re planning to run a panel interview, face-to-face is a pretty safe bet, but don’t discount the popularity and promise of video interviews. For remote roles, or relocating employees, or distributed companies (or even just a really busy team!), video interviews let you jump the cost and time hurdles of trying to get everyone in the same room at the same time.
With Breezy’s video interview tools, everyone on your team can review the candidate’s resume and the job requirements on the same screen as the interview itself, then take notes right on the candidate’s profile inside Breezy.
It’s a streamlined and collaborative way to run your video interviews, but it’s definitely not the only one. Your organization probably already uses video conferencing software that you could use for interviews, which would still give you time and cost savings over a traditional panel face-to-face.
Notes on video: It’s going to be easy to get distracted by surroundings on a video call, both for you and for the candidate. Remember what you’re looking for in the candidate — keep the job description handy, or the candidate scorecard and interview guide — so you can make sure you’re focusing on their answers to your questions. Sure, I could give you that recommendation for every interview (and consider it done!) but it can seem especially hard to follow-up on the applicant’s leadership abilities when they’ve got their giant rooster plate collection in the background, you know?
Build your questions
I’ve spoken at length about the superiority of structured interviews, and even explained how to write out structured interview questions to garner your best shot at hiring a successful candidate. Study after study shows that structured interviews give you the best chance to overcome a number of different interviewing biases and hire a more successful candidate. To top it all off, they’re efficient and repeatable, and feedback is easy to understand and then to report higher up.
A truly structured interview process has two dimensions:
- Consistent interview questions (you’ll ask every candidate the same question)
- Consistent scoring of those questions (you’ll grade every candidate on a predetermined rubric, like Breezy’s Scorecards)
I’ll start with the questions, which we can broadly describe as behavioral (in the linked posts above, you can find other categories of questions, if you’re so inclined). As HR folks, we like behavioral interview questions for the same reasons we like looking at work history: the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior. Keep in mind that you can use work samples and other tests to look at technical ability; reserve your behavioral questions for the more difficult soft skills like leadership and teamwork.
To start building effective behavioral questions in order to assess soft skills, try using the STAR acronym as a tool:
It works like this: Let’s say that one of the main soft skills you’re looking for in a stellar candidate is the ability to work as part of a team. Put your candidate into a situation where that team spirit was required:
Tell me about a project where you worked with a team — how did you balance the tasks to meet the project goals?
This may be all you need to ask! An extroverted, experienced candidate will fill you in on the tasks they needed to accomplish, the actions they took or tools they used to ensure those tasks were completed by the team, as well as the final result of the project. But a less seasoned candidate might need more probing, so be prepared to follow up with questions like,
What project management tool or technique did you use to manage the tasks among your teammates?
In a structured interview process, you’d continue with your follow ups until you’ve satisfied each point of the STAR for that question on teamwork, then you’d grade the candidate’s competency in that area on a scorecard, or rubric.
You’re welcome to develop your own internal system for grading candidates (scales of 1–5 are common), but here at Breezy, we give you a simple thumbs-up/thumbs-down/neutral rating for each skill area you’d like to see in your perfect candidate. We’ll calculate a score for the candidate after each interviewer fills out their scorecard, and present you with a final score for every applicant that goes through your interview process.
Scorecards (and their accompanying Interview Guides, which ensure your newly-fabulous behavioral interview questions are prepped for every interviewer) make hiring decisions a snap — as simple as checking out which candidate has the highest score. Even if you’re using your own system, while the process may be a bit more laborious, it’s still a vast improvement over reams of comment-style feedback from interviewers that only lead to long, roundabout discussions.
Building an Interviewing Plan
So, at this point, you know who you’re going to interview, you have a good idea of the skills necessary for the job at hand, you know the questions that you’ll be asking each candidate, and you know how you’ll be rating their answers. Now you’ll need to spread the word, because you won’t be making this hire in a vacuum, right? You’ll need to provide each person on your team with the foundation they need to run their own interview effectively, while staying well within legal and organizational guidelines.
In concert with your team, you’ll assign different sets of questions — designed to appraise different criteria –to different team members. In Breezy, we provide custom Interview Guides for just this reason, but it’s a simple task to build out a matrix of questions for each member of your hiring team to ask.
An example will be helpful here, so think of it this way: You’re hiring a new social media manager. After sorting through resumes, you decide it’s a good idea to put a dozen candidates through a phone screen. Here’s what your Interview Plan would look like:
- You assign the phone screen to a Human Resources team member — you’ll ask them to assess the candidates’ managerial and communication skills.
- In the next phase, you may have the candidate come to meet with another manager on the marketing team to assess role-specific skills and experience, like familiarity with analytics tools and online etiquette.
- Then, maybe you have the candidate meet with their possible fellow teammates to assess the candidates’ ability to work within a team, as well as their leadership skills.
- Last but not least, you might have the prospective social media manager come in to speak with your CMO, who’s primarily going to look at their creativity and vision for the brand’s online presence.
Giving your hiring team at least 48 hours notice, a copy of the resume, and a detailed outline of your expectations for their portion of the interview process is critical to a successful interview process — nothing scares off interested candidates like drawn-out or hectic interview processes full of the same standard questions from everyone at the company. In Breezy, it’s easy for everyone on the hiring team to stay on the same page during interview rounds, but even if you’re not using collaborative recruiting software, you can still equip your team with the tools they need to perform their specific interviews properly.
Making a public company resource that documents sample behavioral questions, providing access to the matrix of who’s-asking-what-questions via email or internal server, and putting the interviewees’ names and interview times on a public calendar can all streamline the interview process for both yourself and the candidate.
And while we love collaborative hiring, it’s best to discurage your team from talking to eachother about the candidates until every candidate is finished with their interviews. This way, no way goes into their first meeting with someone else’s opinion on a candidate’s skills or qualifications. In Breezy, Scorecards are private to the hiring managers, and I suggest keeping similar boundaries in place with whatever system you come up with.
A note on candidate experience: If you’re bringing a candidate in for a day-long on-site — maybe because they’ll be meeting with a number of different teammates, maybe in order to show off the perks of working for your company — be sure to prep the candidate as well as your teammates. Send them an agenda for the day, with names and LinkedIn profiles for the people they’ll be meeting. Greet them with a tour so they know where things like the bathrooms are, and make them feel welcome and comfortable with little extras like snacks and bottled water or coffee. They’ve got a long day ahead, and you want them at their best the whole time!
After the Interview Rounds
Sweet! You’ve successfully conducted a series of interviews with a number of qualified applicants. Your feedback is simple to analyze, either in rubric form or on Breezy’s scannable scorecards. You might also have Notes from your hiring team that supplement the Scorecard, which you can use to make your final decisions.
Once you’ve selected your finalist, it’s time to run the background check. Determine what’s actually important to follow-up on, since background checks can run the gamut of information and get more expensive the more info you gather. Are you only interested in criminal history, or do you need to confirm licensing? Driving record or drug screening? Educational background or salary history? Limiting the scope of your background check is a smart move, both from a cost standpoint and from a legal one, but in Breezy we give you clear options that allow you to run any kind of background check you choose …right from your hiring workflow.
After you’ve decided what you’ll be checking on, confirm with legal counsel that it’s appropriate for your state and industry, and then inform the candidate and get their consent to run the check. Stay as transparent as possible, here — let them know that this is just a standard part of the process that helps ensure everyone at the company enjoys a safe, honest working environment.
If the check turns up any discrepancies, you can discuss those with the candidate right from Breezy, or set up a call to discuss what’s going on outside of your recruiting software. And I’d be remiss not to mention that all of the background information you gather should remain private — avoid any legal issues by confining the information you gather to the smallest group of people possible. If you’re unsure what to do with any issues that turn up, do not hesitate to seek legal counsel and avoid getting into hot water.
If you’re not comfortable getting into a full background check, consider running a reference check at this point. From Breezy, you can send standard reference-check questions to references that the candidate provides on their application, asking simple questions about the applicant’s performance, re-hireability, and behavior.
Writing the offer letter
Hurdles cleared! Candidate selected! In most organizations, your HR representative will be responsible for drafting the offer letter with the approved components, but here’s a quick rundown of what that entails in case the task falls to you:
- Statement that the organization is presenting the offer to the finalist
- The position that’s being offered, and in most cases, the name, title, and department of the person that the position will report to, should he or she accept the position
- The employee’s start date and if the position is limited in duration, the estimated end date
- The status of the position (full time, part time, temporary, exempt, non-exempt, etc.)
- For a non-exempt position, the rate of pay usually listed as an hourly rate, plus any overtime provided
- For exempt positions, include a salary or dollar amount to be paid per year, month, or pay period will be specified. Add compensation components provided here, too, including verbiage to describe the bonuses, commissions, short-term or long- term incentives that are offered, and provisions for stock grants or options, if applicable.
- Information on the benefits program — these may include benefits like medical, dental, vision, 401K, or other retirement participation, plus the included time off like vacation, sick, and holiday time.
- If your organization won’t provide benefits — like for a part-time position that isn’t eligible — it’s a good idea to state that in the letter as well.
- If you have specific work hours or on-call expectations, note those.
- Most U.S. employers include a statement that the employment is at will and a disclaimer indicating that the offer is contingent on the applicant’s ability to meet the final selection requirements (like any checks or screens that have not returned, yet).
As with the Background Check (and honestly, the entire selection process), you might want to check with your legal counsel before you send the offer to the new hire, since your state may require some caveats or specific language in the offer. Better safe than sorry, of course 👍
With the checks completed and the offer letter sent, your recruiting job done! Now, wasn’t that easy?
As you can see, the recruiting process has a thousand moving parts.