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Five Tips to Improve Interviewing Skills for Lab Managers

Use interviews to hire staff with attitudes that succeed in your lab

Scott D. Hanton, PhD

Scott Hanton is the editorial director of Lab Manager. He spent 30 years as a research chemist, lab manager, and business leader at Air Products and Intertek. He earned...

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Hiring is one of the most important decisions that lab managers make. As business author and advisor Jim Collins said in the book “Good to Great,” a key to success is getting the right people on the bus and in the right seats. Building the right staff will help deliver success for the lab. Here are five tips to improve your ability to interview job candidates:

Understand what is critical for the role

Focus the interviews on the critical parts of the position. Many times, labs focus on specific technical skills and deprioritize how new staff will interact with the team. Take some advice from the late Herb Kelleher, former CEO at Southwest Airlines, who said, “Hire for attitude, train for skills.” You can readily teach the technical skills, but you can’t fundamentally change people. Use the interview to optimize the fit with the people, the lab’s culture, and the role.

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Conduct effective phone screen interviews

Use phone screen interviews to review the details of the resume and probe the individual’s attitude towards the experiences they have had. Ensure they have the required technical experience, inquire about their level of education, and have them explain any career gaps. Ideas to explore attitude are to ask about their motivation for your role, explore previous job changes, and note the quality of the questions they ask.

Face-to-face interview strategy

Typical interviews are short for what they need to accomplish. Develop questions to probe the things that are the most important to your lab and its culture. This might include topics like teamwork, creativity, safety, and quality. Be ready to shift from evaluating a person to selling them on the role if a specific candidate really shines. The candidate needs sufficient information to accept a job offer if one comes their way.

Develop a list of effective interview questions

It is beneficial to probe the things that are important for the role and in building the lab’s culture. It is often helpful to have questions in three different categories:

  • Behavioral questions start with, “Tell me a time that….” These questions create a scenario that is important to the lab and allows the candidate to explain how they have behaved.
  • Individual questions are about the candidate. Ask about what makes them proud, what they love about their work, or what makes them the right person for the position.
  • Value-based questions examine what candidates think are important about things like teamwork, creativity, leadership, and safety.

Select the best candidate

The recruiting process is focused on selecting the best available candidate. The first step is to ensure that at least one candidate exceeds the minimum level of expectations. If none of the interviewees meet your requirements, the best course of action is to start over. Most of the time, settling for an uninspiring candidate will work out poorly for both the lab and the individual. The next step is to pick the best candidates. This is often done by comparing their responses to questions, approach to the interview, and the engagement with the interviewers.

Interviewing is an important skill for all hiring managers. Being able to bring in new talent confidently and purposefully will help the team and the lab grow and thrive.

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