I’ve been asked to chair a selection committee to interview four finalists to fill a vacant position in our department. I’m happy to take this on but I’m not sure about the process and how to discern the right person. Your ideas?
Your selection committee will be performing what is commonly termed a panel interview. It is generally a good system because it allows the input of a number of people each of whom will record their individual observations.
Your role as chair will be important because you will be giving leadership to the process, before, during and after the interviews takes place. Preparation is essential and you’ll need to have sufficient time to organize the committee and its responsibilities.
I presume you are receiving some guidance from your HR department. Ensure that you have all the requisite documents such as the job specifications and job description to work from. You may also be provided with a recommended list of questions.
While your committee is not completely independent, it is critical that you have the autonomy you need to successfully carry out the assigned task. Early interference from a department head, for example, should be discouraged.
You may be surprised to learn that you and your committee colleagues will be constrained as to the type of questions you may ask; in fact, human rights legislation requires you cannot ask candidates about their marital status, ethnic background, religion, or political affiliation, for example.
In addition, it is essential that everyone be treated identically. Asking female applicants about their flexibility to work evenings, for instance, and not asking the same question of male applicants will be seen as discriminatory.
Once you have developed an approved set of questions – which clearly acknowledge the requirements of the position – arrange a suitable time to meet with the selection committee to go over the process. It will be best to rotate the questions so they can be posed systematically to candidates.
Encourage members to exercise some freedom in their deliberations but remind them that the most articulate or most attractive candidate may not necessarily be the best choice for the position.
On interview day, schedule enough time for each interview but also allow sufficient breaks so that candidates can arrive and depart without scrutiny from others. The binary rule of the appeal of the first and last interviewee should be recognized – the order of interviews may be significant.
Chairing a selection committee is an important responsibility. Strive to be as organized as possible and ensure that committee members are committed to the enterprise. Make candidates feel welcome and encourage a conversational style which allows for a natural response to various questions.
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