The best way to rate candidate interviews at your NFP

So you’ve advertised a job, shortlisted candidates and done your interviews. Now which candidate should you hire?

How do you differentiate between good candidates who might have different skillsets, experience and personalities?

While it’s tempting to rely on ‘gut feel’, this is a risky – and potentially costly – approach.

That’s where a good interview rating system is invaluable, helping you confidently determine the quality of each interview, compare candidates and reveal frontrunners.

There are three common approaches to rating candidates:

  • Rating individual responses to pre-planned questions;
  • Rating job-related competencies that may or may not be linked with questions asked during the interview; and
  • Rating the interview overall.

Which one is best to use?

Anne Sandberg is an HR expert with 25+ years of experience across HR, training and management consulting. She shares these insights on her blog about how to approach one of the most important decisions you’ll ever make as a manager: which person to hire.

1. Per-question ratings

This approach involves rating individual responses to each question, and is often used by more bureaucratic organisations or those with very structured human resources practices.

A typical five-point scale looks something like this:

Well-qualified (5): The candidate provides a thorough, well thought-out and well presented response and shows a comprehensive understanding of the relevant issues beyond the job requirements. Their response addresses all aspects of the question and needs no further clarification.

Qualified (4-2): The candidate provides an acceptable response to the question. Their understanding of the relevant issues is equal to or slightly below the job requirements. Response may not be quite complete, but addresses the question and clarification questions are minimal.

Not qualified (2-1): The candidate fails to provide an acceptable response and does not convey an acceptable level of experience, knowledge or judgement for the position.

But while this approach to assessing candidates may appear quite comprehensive and well thought-out, it has a number of flaws.

Firstly, it can be quite rigid and limiting in its insistence on asking all planned questions in order to complete the rating process.

It also assumes the candidate’s answers will speak directly to the competencies the question was designed to shed light on. And that can be unrealistic, as candidates may respond in a way that doesn’t answer the question, but provides important insight into another question or competency.

For example, in a social work interview you might ask the candidate to tell you about a time they worked well as part of a team. While your aim may be to find out about their working style and ability to collaborate or compromise, they may provide an answer that outlines their initiative or creativity – skills that you may value highly for the role, but not giving a good answer to the question.

Despite providing useful insights into the candidates’ other abilities, such a response might result in low rating.

2. Overall interview rating

This approach – where the interviewers assess the interview as a whole without rating answers to individual questions – ideally offers an interviewer maximum control over the assessment process, but still ensures the candidate’s performance is still quantified.

Here’s a typical rating scale:

Outstanding: The candidate is exceptional and recognised as far superior to others.

Very good: The candidate exceeds position requirements.

Good: The candidate is competent and meets the standards of the position.

Improvement needed: The candidate doesn’t meet the standards needed to do the job.

Unsatisfactory: The candidate is generally unacceptable.

However, this approach has a drawback: scores can tend to cluster around the middle, meaning that it can become tough to differentiate applicants from one another.

There are also no clear criteria on which to base a score, meaning the process is quite subjective – and that means more margin for error.

Finally, this approach allows a lot of room for ‘gut reactions’ to affect the ultimate decision. But study after study shows that our gut reactions or instincts about people are full of ‘unconscious biases’ which means they’re often wrong.

3. Per-competency rating

For all the above reasons, rating a candidate against the competencies that form a role’s key selection criteria is probably the best way to assess a candidate’s performance in an interview – particularly when used in conjunction with the overall interview method above.

Take this example from a social work position description:

“Proven ability to communicate effectively, both in writing and orally, with a wide range of people.”

You can measure this competency by asking a range of questions that invite the candidate to share examples of their previous experience using communication, such as, ‘Tell me about a time you successfully communicated with a client who was causing you difficulties’, or ‘Tell us about a time when you had to tell your manager about an issue you were having in the workplace’.

Then, use a scale to rate the candidate’s skills and experience. A typical scale might be:

5: Superior skills in this competency; could teach others

4: Good skills in this competency; above-average ability

3: Adequate skills in this competency; no additional training is needed

2: Marginal skills in this competency; training needed to bring skills to required standard

1: Not competent in this area; needs substantial development

Since not all criteria are created equal, the next step is to give each of the competencies/selection criteria a weighting – often a number out of 5. This means the most important criteria play a more significant role in the candidate’s final score, and the less important criteria contribute less. If there are multiple interviewers, each interviewer may want to assign their own weighting to each criterion.

Some example weightings:

5 = Vital
4 = Very Important
3 = Important
2 = An Asset
1 = Somewhat Beneficial

Finally, multiply the ratings for each competency by the weighting to give a total score for that for that competency, and then add these to arrive at a final score that can be compared to other candidates.

So a scorecard for an (example) residential youth support worker’s interview might look like this:

It’s not hard to do! So if you’re still rating your interviews based on one of the other approaches – or based on your ‘gut feeling’ – then you’re probably at high risk of a bad hire.

Image: Guillermo Viciano/Flickr.

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