Hire Right!

Here’s how to conduct an effective interview.

By Erika Brandt and Melinda Mullenix

Hiring the ‘right’ candidate isn’t as easy as advertising a position, reviewing a few resumes, or asking a few questions during an interview. A lot of work, preparation and practice are needed to perfect the art of finding the ‘right’ candidate.

The cost of a ‘bad’ hire is said to be around $50,000-$60,000/a hire on average. A much larger sum can be attributed to manager and executive level positions. This cost figures in advertising rates, time of recruiting staff, training, etc. But, it should be noted that this figure does not include some of the less tangible figures such as loss of productivity, customer satisfaction and employee morale, which can all be impacted by the void of an employee in a particular role.

“Conducting an effective interview continues to be of the utmost importance, particularly in a job market filled with qualified applicants,” says Melinda Mullenix, HR Services Manager for AgCareers.com. “Your impact during the interview process may make the difference when a top candidate is considering your organization’s offer versus your competitor’s. Remember that top candidates will continue to have options regardless of the marketplace ups and downs. The more prepared you are for the interview, the more respect you will earn from these top candidates.”

Eric Spell, President of AgCareers.com adds, “In an employer’s market like we have now, an employer may take the position that they are going to use this economic climate as an opportunity to “hire higher”—meaning replace subpar performers with “A” players. While this is a good idea, such employers need to be careful that they do not offend existing “A” players in the process. This strategy needs to be carefully executed and not jeopardize existing strong employer brand.”

Here’s a look at the overall interview process and tips to conducting an effective interview.


Obviously the ultimate goal of the hiring process is to locate a person that when hired will succeed in the position. Effective selection begins with a targeted group of candidates. To narrow down your applicant pool, begin with a detailed job description of the position for which you are hiring. Create a list of the qualifications and character traits necessary for the candidate to possess that are critical for success in the role. Perform pre-screening interviews with candidates that meet these qualifications.

Prior to pre-screening or phone interviews, be sure to review each resume carefully and look for ‘red flags,’ like gaps in employment. During pre-screening, be sure to address these issues and seek clarification from the candidate. This process also helps further narrow down your applicant pool. Throughout the process, stay organized and track communication and interview notes in one location.

This will help with legal liability, but just as important, it helps you maintain consistency and keep your thoughts organized. After conducting several interviews, conversations can begin to run together.


Mullenix suggests that preparation consists of answers to the following six questions:

  • Who will be on the interview team?

  • What type of interview will be conducted – formal, informal or a combination?

  • Where will the interviews take place?

  • How will you use the interview time?

  • What questions will be asked in the interview?

  • How will you summarize and report the evaluations?

When selecting those that will assist you with the interviewing process, a human resources representative and either a supervisor or a co-worker with similar responsibilities is the best option. Be sure that all interviewers are properly trained. Conduct interviews in a location that is private and without distractions. You want the candidate to be comfortable. Also, be sure your receptionist is aware that interviews are taking place so he/she can greet guests accordingly. Schedule ample time for each interview and allow time after each candidate to make notes.


Most interviews are scheduled for 30 to 60 minutes, however longer interviews can also be conducted. When setting up the interview, be up front with the candidate on the length of the interview as well as how the candidate will be interviewed. For example, if you plan to have the candidate meet individually with three people, let him/her know that and provide the candidate with the names and titles of these people.

Make the candidate as comfortable as possible, and this is important. Trying to intimidate a candidate will not get you where you need to go. Begin by introducing yourself and ask “break the ice” questions, such as, “How did you find out about this job opportunity?” or “Did you have any problems finding our office?” Then move into general work-related questions, like, “Tell me about your job experience as it relates to this position,” or “Tell me about your current (last) position and your role there.” This will provide a natural progression into behavioral-based questions, which you will have developed beforehand.


The most common questions for interviews are behavioralbased. The principle behind this type of question is that past performance predicts future behavior or performance. Therefore, questions are centered on asking about a situation,what was done, and the outcome. Behavior-based questions might begin with phrases like, “Tell me about a time when….” or “Give me an example of….” The remaining part of the question can be derived from using core competencies or those critical qualifications for success. For example, maybe you are looking for a farm manager that will have 10 to 15 employees reporting to them. An excellent behavioral-based question to better understand their management ability might be, “Give me an example of a time that you had to confront a difficult mployee. What did you do? And, how did the situation turn out?” The key to developing questions that will result in a good understanding of the candidate’s ability is to focus on knowledge related to job expectations. Use the questioning period to reflect on whether or not the candidate will be a good job fit as well as a good organizational fit. Don’t be afraid to ask probing or follow-up questions like “Can you expand on that?” or“Give me a similar situation and what you have done differently since this learning experience?” Avoid questions that can be answered with a simple yes or no; leading questions; interrogating questions; and illegal questions. Illegal questions can typically be avoided if you stick to questions that are directly related to the job. Illegal questions include topics like age, gender, race, nationality, disabilities, sexual orientation, religion, or marital status.

At the end of the interview, invite the candidate to ask questions. The types of questions the candidate asks or if they ask any at all will give you even further insight into their priorities and interest level in the job and organization. To close the interview, thank the candidate and remind them of the selection process and time frame. Take this opportunity to ‘sell’ the candidate on the company and job, particularly if you were impressed. You want all candidates to leave with a positive impression and respect for your organization.


Review your notes for each candidate and ensure that you have complete responses to determine core competencies or if a follow-up conversation is needed. Have each interviewer use a standard scale to measure the candidate’s strength in each core competency. Hold a discussion among the interviewers to review the applicants and ratings. If you have more than one top candidate following this discussion, a second interview or follow-up discussion may be necessary. Finally, conduct reference checks for your top candidates. Review the offer process and on-boarding steps with your human resource staff to devise a plan and offer the most qualified candidate the position. The last step following acceptance of the job by your top candidate is to notify all other candidates that the position has been filled.

Following this protocol will help lead you, your organization and the new employee to a favorable outcome.

Editor’s Note: Erika Brandt (pictured) is the Marketing and Communications Manager for AgCareers.com and Melinda Mullinix is Human Resource Services Manager for AgCareeres.com. For more information on how to better conduct an effective interview, contact AgCareers.com at agcareers@agcareers.com. AgCareers.com is the leading online job board and human resource service provider for agribusiness.