Interviewing and Selection

What are some key points to remember relating to reference checks?

Reference checks are used to verify information, assess job-related competencies and identify applicants who have been dishonest.  They are also used to evaluate applicants’ abilities to communicate, work on a team and to help hiring officials decide between similarly rated applicants.

  • Take the time to do them.  Don’t be desperate and select a marginal employee just to fill a position.
  • Realize that applicants grant implied permission to check references when they apply for a job. 
  • Questions regarding behavior may be asked and answered with minimal risk of legal liability so long as an applicant’s rights are not knowingly violated.
  • Don’t ask about behavior outside the workplace, particularly about religious practices or other private matters.
  • Make sure to confirm you are talking to the real supervisor by asking questions that only a supervisor could answer such as “Describe the applicant’s job responsibilities”.
  • Ask questions about any documented performance or conduct issues, dependability, ability to get along with co-workers, and willingness to take direction.
  • It is OK to ask “Would you rehire this employee?”  The reference provider is allowed to offer their opinion.
  • Remember that reference providers will not volunteer conduct or performance problems if you don’t ask. 


What are some Red Flags to be aware of when completing reference checks?

  • Indications that some of the applicant’s claimed work history come as a surprise to the reference provider.
  • Hesitations or changes in the reference provider’s speaking pattern that indicate uncertainty or discomfort.
  • Voice tremors or “canned” responses that may indicate fabrications.
  • Reference provider does not know what the applicant does.
  • Reference provider takes a long time to answer, avoids the question or states “I’m not answering that question”.
  • Reference provider (if he/she was the candidate’s supervisor) refers you to Human Resources.


What are some key points to remember relating to Probationary Periods?

Probationary periods are used to determine if an appointment to the civil service should become final.  A probationer is still an applicant for an appointment and until the appointment is finalized, a probationer has limited job protections.   Agencies should use the Probationary Period to terminate probationers who fail to demonstrate the appropriate level of performance and conduct.  The majority of bad employees should have been terminated during their probationary period.

A Merit Systems Protection Board study found that over half of supervisors surveyed would not rehire their probationers but did not intend to terminate a bad probationer.  It also found that many supervisors feel pressured to either keep a probationer that is not performing or lose the resource and have no one to do the work at all.  Keep in mind this period is an opportunity to identify situations where the match between the person and the employer or position is not sufficient to serve the Government’s needs. 

  • In the Federal government, Probationary Periods are 1 year in length.
  • Prior time counts towards probation.
  • Employee has “status” in the federal government on day 366.
  • An employee only serves one Probationary Period in the Federal career.   
  • If a new employee is not conforming during the Probationary Period, in all likelihood, it will only get worse. 
  • Probationers are not required to be placed on a Performance Improvement Plan (Opportunity To Improve). 
  • Probationers are not entitled to a Letter of Warning or Reprimand.
  • The agency’s only obligation is to notify the probationer in writing of it’s conclusions regarding the probationer’s inadequacies and the effective date of the removal.
  • A probationer who is terminated because he/she was found to be a less than advantageous match should be seen as a sign that the supervisor did something right.
  • The Probationary Period is effective only if action is taken to prevent less than fully successful individuals from becoming Federal employees; with all the rights that such an appointment entails.
  • Without this assessment and action, the Probationary Period becomes meaningless.
  • Once an appointment is finalized, the probationer becomes an employee who is given protection under the Federal Government’s Merit System.  The employee receives “status” and is entitled to due rights such as Progressive Discipline, right to receive a proposal and decision notice, Grievance rights, the right to review evidence against them and appeal rights.


What are some important interviewing tips to remember?

Private sector organizations estimate that a poor selection can cost as much as three times the employee’s annual salary.  Realize that the good employee will take up 5% cent of your time; the bad employee will take up 85% of it so make sure to interview and make the right selection.

  • Do a structured interview - have a standard set of questions for all candidates.
  • Make sure all questions and scenarios used (including situations with Behavioral Interviewing) are related to the Position Description and the major duties of the job you are hiring for.  Examples of Behavioral Interviewing are below.
  • Ask open ended questions which require the candidate to give more than just yes / no answers.
  • If you ask for samples from one applicant you must ask for samples from all.
  • Don’t ask questions regarding health, family, politics or religion.
  • If you are concerned about an applicant being able to perform certain aspects of the job, explain the duties and ask if they can perform these functions with or without a reasonable accommodation.
  • Verify questionable information during the reference check.
  • Keep in mind, a good candidate is also evaluating you and the agency during the interview.  If you do not display professionalism you might lose a top candidate.
  • Red Flags during the interview include when the candidate:
    • Starts acting erratic
    • Uses four letter words
    • Expresses priorities other then the interview
    • Has long delays before answering questions
    • Brings their children to the interview
    • Bad mouths prior employer or Agency


Samples of Recommended Interview Questions:

  • Why did you decide to apply for this position?
  • What are some of your biggest strengths? areas for improvement?
  • What kind of work environment do you prefer?
  • Tell me about several of your most important or proudest accomplishments.
  • What motivates you?
  • Being innovative and proactive is important to this position.  Can you provide some examples of your experience with both?
  • Tell me about yourself.
  • Do you prefer to work independently or as part of a team?
  • What appeals to you about this position or this organization?
  • What are some things you’d like to avoid in a job; and why?
  • What does being a professional mean to you?
  • What kinds of things do you feel most confident doing?  Least confident?
  • Tell me about a time when you had work problems or stresses that were difficult for you.  How did you resolve it?  (Note:  This kind of question is an example of “Behavioral Interviewing”.  You can substitute the underlined words with any topic area you choose.  Another example of this is: Tell me about a time you demonstrated outstanding or exemplary leadership in a situation.  What was going on and what was the result?

Click here for a table that provides sample questions that should and should not be asked during an interview pertaining to specific subject areas --> DOCUMENT