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The purpose of interviews is to gather enough information from candidates to determine who will best fit the position. The applicants also will be interviewing your organization to determine if the position is right for them.

Multiple interviews increase the chances that you'll hire the right person for the job. A three-step process is fairly typical:

  • Phone screen
  • First round of formal interviews
  • Final round of interviews with top candidates

Fair-Employment Laws

Federal laws prohibit any organization with more than 15 employees from making hiring decisions based on race, color, religion, sex or national origin. State and many local laws may also prohibit you from making a hiring decision based on marital status, handicaps, pregnancy, criminal record, sexual orientation and financial affairs.

Anti-discrimination laws recognize that in certain very limited circumstances, an employer may have a legitimate reason to seek an employee of a particular gender, religion or ethnicity even though such a preference would ordinarily be illegal. These are called bona fide occupational qualification (BFOQ) exceptions. Religion, sex or national origin can be a BFOQ only if it's a reasonably necessary qualification for the normal operation of a business or enterprise – and it almost never is. Race can never be a BFOQ.

Download a PDF (28K) of impermissible interview questions and permissible alternatives.

Behavioral Interviewing

Behavioral interviewing relates past performance as a predictor of future behavior. The candidate is asked about what he has done in previous positions that is directly related to the requirements of the position for which he is interviewing.

Behavioral interview questions begin with a lead-in phrase that tells the candidate to provide specific examples:

  • “Can you give me an example of …”
  • “Describe a situation when you were called upon to …”
  • “Tell me about an example of a time when you …”
  • “How have you handled …”
  • “Explain your role in …”

Download a PDF (28K) for sample behavioral questions based on competencies, including decision-making and initiative.

Phone Interviews

The purpose of the phone interview is to narrow down the list of initial candidates and to determine if a face-to-face interview should be scheduled.

  • Explain why you are calling and determine an appropriate time for the phone interview.
  • Request salary requirements. If the candidate's requirement is not within yours, it's appropriate to tell him and politely end the phone interview.
  • Ask five to eight behavioral interview questions.
  • Briefly describe the position.
  • Ask if the candidate has any questions.
  • Inquire about the candidate’s interest level in the position.
  • Discuss any travel or relocation issues.
  • Explain the next steps in the interview process.

Download and print an MS Word (156K) candidate interview form for phone interviews.

Formal Interviews

After phone interviews have been conducted, you need to select the top candidates for face-to-face interviews.

Download a PDF (28K) of guidelines for a formal interview, including what must done before, during and after the meeting.

Top Candidate Interviews

If there are two or more top candidates for the position, a final round of interviews will help you clarify certain points and gather additional information:

  • Ask more detailed behavioral questions.
  • Solicit any additional questions.
  • Discuss candidate interest, availability and compensation package.
  • Alert the candidate of the reference checking step to follow and obtain her permission to contact the current employer
  • Close the interview and tell the candidate when you will have a final decision.

This is also a great opportunity for the hiring manager to see each candidate again, for colleagues and other staff members to meet the candidates, and for all involved to reach consensus.

Reference Checks and Background Checks

Reference checks and background checks are two methods for obtaining additional information on candidates’ past performance and background. Before contacting references or conducting a background check, you must obtain written authorization and signed permission from the candidate.

Download, save, customize and print this MS Word (32K) sample authorization form.

Reference Checks 

Companies and individuals may choose not to provide professional references due to legal concerns. A potential employer is unlikely to obtain negative references because candidates generally provide only the names of contacts who will provide positive comments.

If you do receive negative feedback, this does not necessarily mean the person will perform poorly. You should check to determine whether the assessment of the candidate applies only to the previous employer or whether it has more universal application. Usually, one can make this determination by talking with additional references and eliciting similar assessments.

In addition, a positive reference does not guarantee that the candidate will perform well. This is particularly true when past and future positions differ with regard to management level, degree of accountability, and organizational culture.

Reference checks should be done consistently for all candidates. Ask each candidate to provide a list of four to six business references to be contacted: past employers, supervisors, association leaders, members, subordinates and colleagues. Develop a list of job-related questions to ask references, including specific examples of performance and any areas of concern about the candidate.

Sample questions:

  • What are her strengths and weaknesses?
  • What did she accomplish that made a difference to your organization?
  • What was the biggest challenge that she faced and overcame?
  • How would you characterize her interaction with co-workers?
  • Tell me about her management style. How did she handle conflicts with staff or performance concerns?
  • How would you compare her work to others who had the same position?
  • Did her actions or decisions ever reflect questionable ethics or business practices?
  • Would you consider her for rehire?

Background Checks

Background checks can be used to reduce the risk of theft, discipline problems, workplace violence and hiding of information. Employers can contract with firms that specialize in background investigation to conduct background checks on employment candidates. The following items can be obtained through a background check:

  • Credit checks (Note: Discuss this with your attorney, because most states require you to inform the candidate if the decision not to hire is based on the credit check.)
  • Criminal record checks
  • Department of Motor Vehicle checks
  • Education verifications
  • Social Security traces
  • Public record searches

Select Pre-Employment Testing

Pre-employment testing can be used to help determine job fit by looking at candidates’ skills, knowledge and capabilities based on set objectives. However, because the predictive ability of tests is limited, employers are cautioned to use testing as an additional component toward making a decision, not as the exclusive decision-maker.

Types of Testing

There are a variety of assessment tools available to employers. Tests can be delivered by paper, Internet, phone and/or interviews:

  • Cognitive tests measure learning and ability to think and perform.
  • Interest tests measure less visible characteristics of job performance, such as motivation, problem solving, leadership and interpersonal skills. Testing includes work interests, culture fit, talent measures and value inventory.
  • Personality tests determine personality characteristics and how the candidate will likely behave on the job.
  • Specialized tests measure specific skills, knowledge and abilities associated with the job.
  • Physical and security-related tests include pre-employment physical exams, drug tests and written honesty/integrity tests.

Employers must ensure that the testing method is job-related and certified as valid and reliable. When choosing a vendor, ask if the testing is EEOC certified and if the testing has been legally challenged.


This material was developed for use by State and Local Association Executives. Some of the information may not be applicable to other audiences. This guide is intended to provide accurate and authoritative information with regard to the subject matter covered. Although every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy and completeness of this information, the authors and editors of this guide cannot be responsible for any errors or omissions. This guide is not a substitute for legal or technical advice. Associations that need legal or technical advice should obtain opinions from their own legal or technical advisors.

Consulting Services Available from NAR Human Resources

Fee-based consulting services are available from NAR's Human Resources Department. For more information, contact Carole Kaptur, Director of Strategic Association Management at, 312-329-8311.

HR Toolkit for Association PresidentsThis section of the HR Toolkit is of use to AEs and association leadership alike.
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