Chapter 6

Impassioned Supervision

Impassioned Supervision

Interviewing Skills

Impassioned Supervision


Your goal is to be an effective supervisor, not a perfect one.

This section is about supervisory skills, not managerial skills. What is the difference between supervisors and managers?

Supervisors are generally responsible for the work performed by front-line staff. A major portion of their work is, therefore, supervising their staff. Supervisors may also be involved in planning and coordinating work within their area.

Managers are usually involved in planning and coordinating their department and organization's activities. Many managers also supervise the work done by one or more front-line supervisors, therefore, their supervisory skills are important to maintain and improve.

In reviewing your supervisory skills remember that:

You already have or are developing supervisory skills.

You need to learn skills and procedures your organization and/or immediate manager requires or encourages you to use with your own staff.

This section examines skills and procedures that you may already have and those skills you may want to develop or enhance. The objective of this section is to prepare new supervisors for the work ahead while also providing a general review for experienced supervisors.

The wide range of skills and abilities a supervisor acquires over time cannot be condensed into a single section. We will touch on many aspects of the supervisor's role but it will be necessary for you to examine those areas you would like to learn more about and use the Resources listed at the end of this, and other sections in this book, to find the information you need.

Sometimes the particular skills or procedures in this section will not be consistent with policies and procedures of your organization, for example, suggestions around performance appraisals or discipline. Each organization has its own policies, for instance, those dealing with legal issues, union concerns, hiring and dismissals. Know what these are in your own organization. Make sure that you review and compare the information in this section with the policies and procedures of your organization. Use only those ideas and skills from this section that will enhance your supervisory skills within your organization's policies and procedures.

Also find out if your organization has internal educational programs to help you understand which policies and procedures affect your work as a supervisor. As well, check to see if your organization recommends any external programs to help you become the best supervisor you can be.

Perhaps one of the best ways to learn supervisory skills is to observe a good supervisor at work. If you find a good role model, you can increase your effectiveness as a supervisor while reducing the amount of mistakes you might make.

Why Do You Want to Be a Supervisor?

It is important to take the time to understand your reasons for wanting to be a supervisor. If you are clear on why you chose this position, and if you find that your job does meet your professional and personal expectations, you may find it easier to deal with the unexpected tasks that accompany your supervisory role. You will know when it is time for another career change if you review your personal goals regularly.

Why did you accept the position? Was it for the increased wages and benefits? Was it because you wanted greater responsibility? Was it because you wanted to learn new skills while improving old ones? Was it because you like to have control and give direction to others? Was it because you saw supervision as a stepping stone to further career moves?

Write out your reasons for choosing to be a supervisor.

Whenever people begin a new position as a supervisor they experience hopes, fears, dreams and anxieties about the change. Write out some of your own hopes, fears, dreams and anxieties about your new job.

Often people's fears and anxieties reflect their lack of supervisory skills, uncertainty with a role, fear of not meeting expectations, fear of not being able to cope with a possible lack of support or fear of failure and success.

When you review your own list consider using some of the following ideas to reduce some of your fears and anxieties:

Open communication with your managers, peers and/or staff, (ask questions, request feedback, listen to constructive criticisms).

Use internal and external educational resources and programs to improve or develop your own supervisory skills, including books, articles, speakers, conferences, etc.

Make sure you get support and constructive feedback from your managers, peers and staff.

Enjoy the small, positive steps you make each day and week; savor the words of praise and remember how far you have come, as well as how much you still need to learn.

Keep a list of your achievements and try to use similar strategies in more difficult situations.

Allow yourself to be human. Apologize to managers, peers, and staff when you make a mistake while accepting the fact that your own manager and staff will make mistakes too.

Note: The first point above is about open communication with your managers, peers and/or staff. Open communication, in this section, means giving people the information they need to do their jobs well. Ideally you would like to be completely open and honest with everyone you work with but realistically there is information that others do not need to know. In fact, there are times when open communication can be harmful. For example if you share all of your ideas and possible plans with your staff and you or your organization changes your mind, your staff may feel resentful or skeptical of your other ideas and plans.

Pick the right amount of necessary information to give to people. Knowing what to say and when takes practice. Over time you will know who needs what kind of information and who to trust with more sensitive information.

What Makes a Good Supervisor?

Everyone has a different definition of what a good supervisor is. It is a good idea to examine the qualities of a good supervisor to help you identify your strengths and needs in your present supervisory position.

The following is just a brief list of what some people think a good supervisor is. Remember we are looking for good supervisors; not perfect ones. No one can be all things to all people, so use this list as a guide to help you define how you can be a good supervisor.

A good supervisor can have some or most of the following:

Personal Characteristics

A supervisor's character has certain built-in features that can help them achieve excellence. These characteristics are different from skills and knowledge because they reflect a supervisor's attitude toward people and toward their work. These characteristics include:

A genuine interest in and respect for people -- their staff, their manager, their colleagues and their clients. This includes showing their own integrity and credibility and also:

Listening to their staff for ideas, criticisms, and opportunities.

Helping their staff learn as much as they can for their personal and professional growth.

A willingness to back up their staff when necessary so that staff members are willing to try new things, take calculated risks to improve the overall performance of your area, department and organization.

A willingness to admit their mistakes. They do not try to appear perfect. They show something of themselves as a person.

Skills and Abilities

Everyone has certain natural skills and abilities. A supervisor needs a wide variety of skills and abilities that can be learned, including:

A supervision style that is predictable, fair and firm.

An ability to help set specific goals and objectives with their staff and to help them achieve those goals through constant praise, constructive suggestions and regular performance evaluations.

The ability to handle stress well and to teach their staff how to manage their own stresses.

An ability to juggle a wide assortment of demands and requests, along with an ability to make quick, sound judgments on setting priorities.

An ability to match their own leadership style to the specifics of a situation and to the characteristics of their staff. For example, some supervisors may like to lead by giving specific instructions to their staff while the staff members may want more room to make some decisions on their own. In a situation like this, the supervisor may want to change their leadership style enough to give their staff the support they need to take some risks and learn from their successes and failures.

Knowledge of the Work and Organization

Give yourself an organizational overview.

An understanding of the organization's mission statement, and how this statement has everyday meaning to the work done.

An understanding of the power structures and operational systems in place.

Knowledge of the specific work done by staff members in their area or department.

Recognition of the leadership skills of their staff to encourage them to develop professionally and at their own pace.

Think about other characteristics of a good supervisor.

My favorite boss was a man with unquestionable ethics who had a strong belief in sharing decisions about departmental direction while letting his staff individually determine the methods. Since most people on my team were not interested in writing and I was, he delegated writing projects to me. Although he is an accomplished writer himself, he allowed me to design the finished project and draft the content in my own way. When it came time to edit the draft, he provided excellent feedback without changing my writing style—a very difficult task for one writer to do for another. In this way, Michael brought out my best and helped me to grow in my chosen field. He did the same with the other staff who grew within this protected and challenging environment.

Another gift to us was information. As a director, he was privy to information but always shared as much as he could. Confidential information remained confidential but all the information about the department and organization was shared. We were never in the dark about our future while colleagues in other departments were. When we asked him a question, we always got an honest answer which sometimes included, “I don’t know but when I do, I will tell you”, or “I can’t answer that right now”, which meant it was confidential.

When difficulties arose within the team or the organization, Michael encouraged us to go deeper within ourselves to use our leadership and communication skills to our best. We resolved difficulty amongst ourselves and we continued to find humor, interest and energy to get our work done with pride and satisfaction.

Harry van Bommel

Exercise #1

Looking over the previous two lists, what characteristics do you have already? (If you are comfortable with your colleagues or staff, ask them which characteristics they believe you have.)

Poor/1     Fair/2     Good/3     Excellent/4

Personal characteristics:

Interest in people    Poor/1     Fair/2     Good/3     Excellent/4

Listening    Poor/1     Fair/2     Good/3     Excellent/4

Promote learning    Poor/1     Fair/2     Good/3     Excellent/4

Support staff with risks    Poor/1     Fair/2     Good/3     Excellent/4

Able to admit mistakes    Poor/1     Fair/2     Good/3     Excellent/4

Skills and abilities:

Predictable, fair, firm    Poor/1     Fair/2     Good/3     Excellent/4

Able to set clear objectives for self    Poor/1     Fair/2     Good/3     Excellent/4

Able to set clear objectives for staff    Poor/1     Fair/2     Good/3     Excellent/4

Able to manage causes of stress for self    Poor/1     Fair/2     Good/3     Excellent/4

Able to teach stress management to others    Poor/1     Fair/2     Good/3     Excellent/4

Able to balance and set priorities    Poor/1     Fair/2     Good/3     Excellent/4

Able to match leadership style to staff & situation    Poor/1     Fair/2     Good/3     Excellent/4

Knowledge of the work and organization:

Mission statement    Poor/1     Fair/2     Good/3     Excellent/4

Understand power and systems    Poor/1     Fair/2     Good/3     Excellent/4

Understand staff's work    Poor/1     Fair/2     Good/3     Excellent/4

Recognize and encourage staff's leadership skills.    Poor/1     Fair/2     Good/3     Excellent/4

What skills, abilities and knowledge do you want to develop or improve upon in the next 3 months, 6 months, 12 months, 2 years and 3 years?

What is your plan of action to achieve these personal goals?

If you don't know what you can do to achieve these goals, who can you ask? What resources are available?

Exercise #2

What Does a Supervisor Do?

Just as good supervisors have different characteristics, different supervisors have different responsibilities. There are also various levels of supervisors just as there are levels of managers.

You may have some, or all, of the following duties. Look at your job description and check with your manager and other supervisors to see which of the duties apply to you. Put a check mark beside the duties you will have.

___Reporting to your manager

___Dividing and scheduling the work

___Hiring and firing staff with varying degrees of involvement

___Evaluating your staff's performance

___Chairing meetings

___Ensuring the safety of the work environment

___Teaching or training your staff

___Checking the quality of the work performed

___Understanding and applying your organization's policies and procedures

___Providing information in the budgetary process

___Resolving conflicts in your area

___Maintaining good relations with others in the community and in other organizations

___Contributing to front-line staff duties during times of staff shortages

___Helping staff solve work problems

___Acting consistently with union contracts

___Maintaining records, statistics, files

___Working with other supervisors when necessary or helpful

Just Beginning

Your Approach

From the beginning, it is important to give a clear message to the staff who will be working with you. From the start:

Tell people what your standards are; for example, you may have personal standards around such things as:


Minimal amount of gossip within your area, department and organization



Independent behavior

Remember that some of your standards may give mixed messages to your staff. For example, you may prefer people to be orderly and conservative in staff meetings but you also want to encourage creative, independent work. Perhaps you will need to change some of your standards to meet the personal and professional needs of your staff.

The secret is to be clear about what you expect and clear when you revise these standards. People want a supervisor who is predictable, fair and firm.

Model your standards. If you expect your staff to do certain things, do them yourself. Do not use the command "Do as I say, not as I do!"

Praise people's behavior and actions when they meet your standards. Be specific in your praise and make an active effort to catch people doing things well so that you can build confidence and rapport. Do not praise routine skills that a person does consistently well as your praise may be seen as insensitive or as patronizing.

Reward people's behavior and actions when they support your standards. Find out what your staff finds rewarding and try to supply those rewards when appropriate. If you value creativity and independent work, reward a staff member during difficult parts of a project or when the work is done. A simple "thank you" is sometimes enough but at other times a tangible expression of respect and thanks is necessary. This can be as simple as a longer lunch, a day-off after lots of overtime, some of your home baking, etc.

What to Do First?

When you accept the position of supervisor you may or may not have a lot of time to prepare. You may be expected to fill in temporarily for a supervisor (an "acting supervisor" position) or you may have been planning this career move for some time.

Regardless of the circumstances there will be certain expectations of what you will need to do in the first few days and weeks as a supervisor. These expectations include what your immediate managers want you to accomplish, what you want to do yourself, and what your staff expect you to do.

It will not be possible to accomplish everything at once. Sometimes you may be given a "breaking-in period" during which you can spend time meeting your staff, going through the previous supervisor's files to determine what is important and what is less important, visiting other supervisors to get their ideas, and more.

At other times you may be thrown into an emergency situation where your front-line expertise is demanded immediately along with skills in directing and supervising other staff (perhaps people you used to work with at the same level).

What do you do first?

Let's look at two possible situations. The first situation allows you time to prepare and organize your new position. The second situation is when you are put in charge with very little time to prepare.

Note: Even if you are already a supervisor, it is useful to review the following pages for knowledge and/or skills you may want, or need, to enhance.

Situation One--A Breaking-In Period

When you join the ranks of supervisors it is important for you to know how decisions are made, who reports to whom, and what you can and cannot do yourself. The following checklist will help you sort out some of the information you will need to collect and understand. The steps are not necessarily in order of importance. Review the items and number them according to what you think should be done first, second, third, etc.:

___Get a copy of the organization's chart or similar document to know who officially reports to whom in the organization. Find out where you fit in this organization's structure and whom your immediate manager reports to.

___Get to know the names and positions of people who report directly to you. What do they do? If there are job descriptions and past performance appraisals, where are they?

___Where is the informal power within that group (the "leader(s)" as determined by the group)?

___Understand clearly what your own manager expects from you, how they will help you in your work, what you can expect from them, what their position is within your organization, how that affects your work and how often you can expect to meet with them for direction, clarification, etc.

___Get to know some of the other supervisors to find out more about how your department and organization really works and how they can help you in your position. How do they manage their time? How do they set priorities? Which tasks occur daily, weekly, monthly?

___Collect copies of minutes of meetings that you will be expected to attend or chair. Who attends? What is the purpose of this meeting? Ask the person who is assisting you in this "breaking-in" period, how well each meeting works.

___After chairing all required meetings (including one-to-one supervision meetings) 2-3 times, ask the participants to assess the meeting: Do people feel they are productive? Do they meet their needs? Are they well run? Do people have suggestions for change? [Refer to "Effective Meetings" section.]

___Politics exists in all organizations and that is neither good nor bad. How people use or abuse power is what determines how effective an area, department and/or organization can be in reaching their goals. Understanding and participating in the politics permits people to effect change and to enhance the strength of the whole organization.

From a supervisor's standpoint it is important to understand if the real (informal) power within your area, department and organization is the same, or different, as the formalized power. You need to ask if certain people have more influence than others and how they use that influence? Where do you fit in within this unofficial power structure? Again, using power can be both positive and negative. For example, some secretaries literally control the day-to-day work within an area for which supervisors and managers may be very grateful.

What systems are in place within your area, department and in the whole organization that you need to know more about, and where can you find the information you need, e.g.,:

Management and supervisory systems for performance appraisals, hiring and firing, discipline, etc.

The budgetary cycle and your role in collecting important information and in helping to decide priorities for your area.

The policies and procedures for your area and department.

Negotiating systems in dealing with union/non-union staff.

Situation Two--No Breaking-In Period

You may not be given the opportunity at the beginning of your supervisory work to collect all of the information suggested in the previous situation. At some time, however, you will need to make the effort to collect this kind of information if you want to be a successful supervisor.

In the meantime you have been given the challenge of supervising within your old area or in a new one. What to do first? Depending on your circumstances you may be able to do some or all of the following. Remember that supervisors often have to adapt what they would like to do with what they are permitted to do.

___Speak to your own manager and get clear, concise instructions about what they expect from you in the first few days and weeks on the job. Write down the specifics because you will soon be overwhelmed with information and demands on your time. Include how often you will report to her, her standards, her time lines and if they are flexible.

___Spend some time going through your office or work area to find out what has been done in the past, what is necessary to get done immediately and what can wait. Check to see if there are important phone calls or letters that must be answered within the first day or two. Set them aside until you have met with your staff.

___If you do not know the staff, set the tone of your future working relationship by meeting with them individually and/or together. Tell them as clearly as you can what you expect in the short-term. Tell them you will need time to sit down and review what has been going on in the past few months before you can be very specific about how you would like things to change or stay the same.

___Spend some extra time with some of the senior staff members in your area to get an idea of what is going on. Remember that people naturally will try to take the best advantage of a new supervisor to set up new rules and procedures before you understand what was done in the past. Listen to people's ideas and suggestions but do not commit to any firm action until you have had time to settle in.

___If there are immediate projects or tasks that need to get done, provide leadership by being present with your staff the first few days. Be visible. Let them know your interest in them and their work. Let them learn about your own expertise and what they can expect from you. Find reasons to give specific praise of their work. Do not give general or superficial compliments.

___During a break in the day, check the phone messages that need answering today. If you have time check the letters and memos that need a response and jot down some quick points you want to include in your answer. Return to this task at the end of the day or delegate the work, if possible, to a secretary, colleague or staff member who knows how to answer the letters and memos on your behalf.

At the end of your staff's work shift, spend some time in your own work area to understand more fully what the previous supervisor did, how they did it, etc. Spend time going through the files, understanding who the main clients/ clients are, what other areas and departments you work most closely with, who works in those areas that you know, etc.

Learn more about time management. For example, begin to write several "to do" lists:

To do tomorrow and within one week: e.g., get to know the staff, understand what pressing projects and tasks need to be done immediately.

To do within the first few weeks such as items listed in Situation 1: The Break-in Period.

To do within the first few months.

When time permits, review the items listed under "Situation One". Decide the priority in which you will approach each item.

Exercise #3

List the resources that you can go to or use in your organization to help you with your work, e.g., manager, colleague, library, courses, journals, etc.

Coping Strategies

One of the greatest challenges to a supervisor is to cope with the many demands on your time. Being a supervisor involves maintaining a careful balance between:

Managing last minute crises.

Reporting information to your manager.

Receiving information from your staff.

Supporting your staff.

Preparing administrative work.

Meeting your manager's priorities.

Working on your personal goals.

The following suggestions may assist you in achieving this balance.

Be clear on your own goals and priorities. No matter what, set aside a few minutes to work on these. They provide you with your reasons for coping with the other issues.

Use to do lists.

If you cannot satisfactorily perform 3 or 4 things at once:

Delegate one of them to a staff member, secretary, or peer who can handle the challenge.

Adjust the time line for one of the tasks.

Cancel a meeting (not too often because people will begin to think meetings are not important).

Ask your manager for assistance (this is often seen as a conscientious judgment rather than a failure).

Use a Dictaphone to produce a report.

Take a good look at your expectations of staff members and the types of performance you are actually rewarding. For example do you expect independence in certain decisions by your staff, yet you make most decisions yourself? Your mixed message really tells people that you value and reward "safe" steps and decisions made by your staff. If you truly value independence, you must reward risk-taking, new ideas, trying and not succeeding the first time.

Can you make some changes?

Learn to say "no" more assertively when necessary. Too often, new supervisors try to accomplish too much in too little time. It may be necessary to say "No, I don't have time for that this month" without feeling anger or guilt.

Lighten up! Change a staff meeting into a luncheon; bring in a cartoon -- a few minutes of humor can bring stressful situations into proper focus. A more relaxed staff team will also be more supportive of you.

Exercise #4

Write out your own coping mechanisms based on your present circumstances.

The 1-2-3 Basics of Supervision

Many of the books in the resource section describe the basic concept of supervising people. In all of these books, the basics come down to:

1.Set goals (what you want to get done) and objectives (how you will achieve your goals through an action plan) with the person you are supervising. Working together builds commitment and rapport and makes it clear what is expected of both of you. Also decide on how you will know if the person is achieving their goals in the time period you have agreed on together.

2.Both the supervisor and their staff should tell each other when they are doing things well. Often it is assumed that only the supervisor should tell a front-line person what they are doing well or what they could do differently. When this becomes a two-way approach the spirit of the team improves dramatically.

Tell people what they do well must be specific. It is not good enough to say to someone that they are a good worker or that they are a pleasure to work with. Compliments and praise must be specific. Tell the person what they did well specifically and when they did that. This reinforcement will encourage them to repeat that behavior in similar situations.

3.When a supervisor needs to tell their staff that they have done something incorrectly they must also be specific. It is not good enough to tell someone that they have made yet another mistake or that they are incompetent.

Tell them what they did wrong specifically and when they did it. Never criticize the person, only the behavior or action. Offer constructive suggestions of what they could do differently.

Note: Never begin a criticism with a compliment, e.g., "You know Harry, you are an excellent worker BUT this morning I think you were wrong in how you handled Suzanne's order." If you begin a criticism with a compliment the person will always assume that all of your compliments will end in a criticism.

Instead, tell the person what they did that you found unacceptable or ineffective and how they might do it differently under similar circumstances. If the situation is appropriate you could end your comments with a compliment, e.g., "The way you handled Suzanne's order this morning Harry was unacceptable because you made her feel defensive. Next time you might try asking a few more questions about what is involved in the order before assuming you know the answer. Now I know you were pretty rushed this morning and you certainly don't make this mistake very often but I thought I'd just mention it. Keep up the good work Harry!"

A Supervision Process

Supervision happens in different ways within different organizations. However, in order to achieve the above basics of supervision, the following suggestions are useful.

1.Set specific supervision time with your staff. If possible, this should be a regular time slot that you can both rely on. Do not cancel supervision time without immediately rescheduling. If meetings are postponed or cancelled too often, your staff may think you do not feel supervision is as important as other aspects of your work.

2.Meet in a private room. Discourage all interruptions. Your staff will know how important you think supervision is by where and how you hold the meetings. Your staff should see supervision as their time with you and for that specific time they are the priority on your agenda.

3.Both you and your staff should come with a prepared agenda. The staff person may go through their agenda first, or you may combine agendas and agree on priorities.

4.Avoid saving discipline action for the regularly scheduled supervision time. Discipline is most effective when given immediately and in private. The supervision time should be used as a time of mutual learning. You receive updates on situations and your staff receives direction and feedback.

5.If a supervision time is to be used to complete formal performance appraisal or for any other purpose, let the staff know in advance. There should be no surprises in supervision. A staff person is more able to stretch, grow and adapt during a relaxed, predictable supervision time slot.

Open Communication


Open communication means:

Giving your staff enough information for them to do their job well.

Giving honest feedback (informally and formally) on a person's work performance.

Requesting and accepting honest and constructive feedback from staff on your own work performance.

Sharing Information

There is a lot of emphasis placed on "open communication" as part of a supervisor's role. The above definition is designed to encourage an honest and respectful sharing of information to ensure quality performance.

Supervisors must learn to Exercise great judgment, however, in deciding which information to share with which staff persons. Open communication does not mean that absolutely all information is made available to staff. At any given time, a supervisor is involved in future planning (as much as five years into the future), assessing current situations and weighing outcomes.

Management teams, in which supervisors may have some input, consider many possible plans, which may or may not work out. Supervisors who share each plan or problem with their staff will find themselves spending a lot of time justifying decisions over which they may not have much control. It is more useful to get ideas and suggestions from staff members when management plans are more clear and certain so that their input encourages them to be involved in real changes.

A few guidelines may provide some guidance until you can develop your own rules:

Decide what information is necessary for your staff to do a good job. Provide as much detailed information as you can. Answer all questions as clearly as you can. This is where open communication can be most effective.

Provide information about long range planning in global terms. For example, "The senior management team is developing a five-year plan for the organization. I'll let you know more when their plans become clearer."

Let your staff know who makes the final decision about how staff input influences planning. For example, "I will pass along your concerns to our department head who sits on the management team. The final decision on the plan, however, is made by the Board of Directors."

If you feel that additional information is necessary for your staff, try to give any sensitive information so that you:

Do not state it as a promise of action.

Give a tentative time line for a more definite answer to specific questions about policies.

Outline the process of decision-making.

Allow for further discussion if the plans are not satisfactory.

Do not give out: a detailed list of alternatives being reviewed by senior managers, information about plans that have little chance of being put into action, or details of conflict between managers/departments over alternatives.

Strike a balance between openness and friendliness and maintaining your supervisory status. Sharing personal information about yourself with your staff may confuse the lines of authority between you. Sharing of personal information requires a sensitive assessment of benefit and harm and the purpose of doing so.

Performance Appraisals

The real success of performance appraisals is when a supervisor and a staff member work together in establishing personal and professional goals for the staff member and in fact use the performance appraisal system as a learning tool. Although performance appraisals are used for various reasons, they work best when they are used as an opportunity for supervisors and staff members to learn from each other and to plan for a mutually successful future!

Appraising someone's performance is part of a complete appraisal system. It begins with setting specific performance objectives for the person being appraised based on their job description, meeting as often as necessary to review short-term objectives and revising longer-term objectives, providing regular informal feedback and suggestions, and meeting once every 6 or 12 months for a formal performance appraisal.

That said, it is important to recognize that people have had different histories with performance appraisals. In the past did your staff have positive or negative experiences with appraisals? What did they like about appraisals? What did they dislike?

Organizations have different ways of appraising someone's performance. The basic reasons for appraisals are similar however and include most, or all, of the following:

To answer the following questions for supervisors:

What is the person doing well? What could they do better? What can I do to provide appropriate support? Is this a good time to see about moving the person to another position? What else can I do to help them? What else can they do to help me?

To answer the following questions for the person being appraised:

What am I doing well? What could I do better? Is this a good time to see about moving me to another position? Do I need some help to do my job better? Do I need more time, clearer directions, more teamwork with others, new equipment, more training, etc.?

To evaluate a person's skills and ability in a systematic way and to use this data when it comes time to review salary and benefits, promotion possibilities, training development needs, transfers, demotions or dismissals.

To ensure that managers, supervisors and staff are qualified to continue in their positions while also giving the person being appraised a set of criteria by which to evaluate their own skills and needs.

To provide an opportunity for supervisors and their staff to compare notes about their mutual performances and to provide both of them an opportunity to set long and short-term goals and objectives for improving their mutual performances.

The performance that is being appraised should be based on:

Actual results of the person's work.

Specific behaviors that enhance or diminish the work of the individual as well as the work of the group.

The person's work or behaviors in relation to their job description and performance objectives.

What should not be appraised is a person's personality, gender, age, culture, religion, sexual preference or other discriminatory criteria. Personality is often used as a case for, or against, a person. While personality affects the work of people, it is only their behavior that can be changed or evaluated.

The Performance Cycle

The performance cycle is a systematic approach to helping a staff member to accomplish agreed upon goals and objectives within a certain time period. The cycle begins with defining the specific performance objectives for the staff member. This is followed with regular interim reviews between the supervisor and their staff. At the end of one cycle and the beginning of another one, the staff person's performance is appraised by an agreed upon method and new performance objectives are prepared.

The performance appraisal is only as good as the relationship between the supervisor and their staff. That relationship is dependent on how much a supervisor and their staff members respect and trust each other. This trust and respect takes time to build and is most likely to happen when a supervisor is predictable, honest, fair and firm.

For the actual appraisal to be effective it must be based on clearly defined objectives so that you can evaluate what the person does well and what they can do better. The appraisal includes the opportunity for setting other specific, achievable goals with the person and a method for evaluating the success or failure of achieving those goals.

Effective performance appraisals can be done regularly (monthly to quarterly when necessary) so that both the supervisor and person being evaluated are clear and consistent with each other about expectations and results. There should be no surprises during an appraisal if the supervisor and staff person have been meeting frequently.

Most appraisals fail when the supervisor and staff person are not clear about what they expect from each other. An appraisal is a two-way discussion that is built on the premise that the appraisal is a learning tool for both parties with the goal being maintaining or improving results and behavior.

In the extreme situations performance appraisals can be used as supportive evidence for a transfer or dismissal. Regardless of the end result the appraisal should be well organized and well documented to ensure clear and concise communication and a record of decisions made together.

Performance appraisal is an opportunity for clear communication. The supervisor should:

Encourage the person being appraised to do a self-appraisal of their strengths, accomplishments and needs; the person will only do a self-appraisal in any great detail if they trust the supervisor.

Encourage the person being appraised to do an appraisal of the supervisor's strengths and what the person would like the supervisor to continue to do or do differently to make the person more effective in their work. Trust will make this possible or very difficult, therefore, it is important for the supervisor to use the information as constructively.

Give the person specific feedback on their results and behavior so that the person can use that information to set personal long and short-term goals and objectives for improving their work.

Encourage the person being appraised to discuss differences of opinion about their results, behavior and goals.

Work out an objective, measurable method of evaluating the success or failure of achieving the person's goals and objectives. If the evaluation cannot be done through specific measurements, then agree upon the form of "observable" evaluation that is most objective.

A Performance Appraisal Process

Supervisors often do not like to do performance appraisals because they are time consuming and because it involves criticizing someone's work performance. When performance appraisals are part of the everyday working within an area, department and organization then it becomes an ongoing process of effective, efficient teamwork.

The process is generally as follows.


The supervisor sets an appointment with the person, chooses a private and comfortable room or location and presents the process as mutually beneficial. The supervisor shows interest in the person they are appraising and has an attitude that says performance appraisals are a two-way street that is very important for the person, for the supervisor and for the organization.

Goal Setting

The supervisor and staff person sit down together (preferably without a desk separating them), evaluate the job description and revise it when necessary, set short and long-term goals and objectives based on work priorities and developmental needs, and how you will measure the success or failure of those objectives. This process may require more than one meeting.

Goal setting is most effective when:

The performance, based on the goals, is observable and measurable. Both the supervisor and staff will be able to clearly say whether the goal has been met.

Each goal is given a time frame.

The goals must be achievable. They fall within the staff person's job description, abilities and time available.

The goals are limited to the 3-6 most important ones.

The goals meet long-term plans as well as current priorities. The staff person must understand this relationship.

The goals carry a high priority for the staff person and the supervisor. The rewards for achievement must be significant: increase in pay, a promotion, able to keep the job, official recognition, a high profile project, etc.

Regular Meetings

The supervisor and staff person meet regularly at first to identify how the process is going and what modifications, if any, need to be made.

Short-Term Reviews

Within a short time (6-8 weeks), the supervisor reviews the short-term performance with the person. They share information and suggestions of how to improve the performances of both of them and how the measurements of these performances need to be maintained or changed.


When both are comfortable with the process, they may decide to decrease the number of formal performance appraisals to quarterly, semi-annually or annually with regular supervision sessions in between for less formal goal setting and appraisals.

In our setting we have a team or peer appraisal in which everyone is asked to comment on the person’s practice, after which the supervisor and employee meet privately to complete the evaluation. It can seem threatening at the time but it is amazingly consistent in its outcome. It isn’t acceptable to only comment on what is good about the person’s practice. The commentator is also encouraged to share what they would like to see done differently.

Michèle Chaban

Difficulties with a Staff Member

Regardless of how well people work for you there will be times when you will have difficulties with someone you supervise. Difficulties are caused by poor communications, misunderstandings, differences in beliefs, but also by problems with attendance, punctuality, power struggles, etc. They are not usually just the staff member's problem or fault. You must recognize your own role in the difficulties and the role of other staff members.

An effective supervisor deals with difficulties immediately. Below are some suggestions on how to build upon some of your resolving conflict skills. Also refer to the "Resolving Conflicts" section.

In extreme situations it may be necessary to ask that person to transfer or leave after you have exhausted other ways of dealing with the conflicts. These extreme situations require the assistance of your own manager and/or the Human Resource Department.

Some suggestions:

Diagnose what is actually going on. Are the difficulties based on lack of knowledge, skills or resources? Is there a personal problem? Has the working environment changed?

Go to your immediate manager and/or the Human Resources Department for ideas and suggestions. The situation may involve previous history that you do not know about or involve sensitive legal matters. If you are not sure what to do get some advice until you become more confident in your ability to handle similar situations on your own.

Look at how the working environment, co-workers, your role and other issues affect the person's behavior.

Restrict yourself to looking at specific behaviors rather than a person's attitude, or personality. Use the job description to help you focus on behavior rather than personality.

Do not criticize the person or blame them for mistakes but rather look at specific incidents and behaviors and work together on ways to avoid or minimize similar events.

If the person does not agree that anything is wrong, explain specifically how their work or behavior is affecting you and/or others within your area or department.

Try to find out why the person changed the way they work or behave. Bring these out in the open with the sole purpose of helping the person understand how their changed behavior may be affecting your work, the other staff members, and overall work performance in your area.

If the person's behavior has changed because of difficulties outside of work, recommend internal support programs (e.g., Employee Assistance Programs) or external programs (e.g., Alcoholics Anonymous, counseling agencies, etc.). Find out what your organization recommends before you decide what the person may need.

Whatever the cause of the changes or behavior, help the person understand the natural consequences of their actions. For example, they may have to be disciplined according to the organization's policies and procedures unless the behavior changes.

Find out what motivates the person and see if you can incorporate some of that into their work. Nothing changes a person's productivity and behavior as effectively as believing you are helping them achieve their personal and professional goals.

With the help of the person involved, if possible, try to determine what behaviors are causing the problems.

Re-state clearly your expectations of work performance, how the person is not meeting this and how this can be changed. Agree on specific changes and a time to re-evaluate. You should take brief, clear notes and give a copy to the staff person of your notes. In this way everyone is using the same information based on mutually agreed upon decisions.

Your Power as a Supervisor

We all use our power and influence to encourage, force, or persuade people to do what we want them to do. As a supervisor, you can use your power and influence to help your staff meet their personal and professional goals. Power can be both positive and negative. How you use your supervisory powers will directly affect how hard people are willing to work with you and how much they trust you.

As a supervisor, you may have several sources of power:

Power from your supervisory position involves your ability to reward people and your ability to punish people.

Power from your influence involves your expertise and your staff.

Power from your supervisory position is power used legitimately because of the responsibility you hold in your position of supervisor. People respect this power most when you use it together with clear expectations of what you want your staff to do.

Power based on your ability to reward people is power that you can use to recognize and acknowledge the valuable work done by your staff. Others can see this power as harmful if you only reward staff members you like.

Power based on your ability to punish people is a power that can hurt a supervisor when it is used too often. People prefer to receive constructive criticism over punishment. Punishing people also discourages a team spirit and discourages people from taking initiative and risks that can benefit members of the team. Sometimes, however, "punishing" someone by transferring or firing them can improve the overall team's performance. It is important to speak directly to the rest of the staff to give them accurate information and to reduce the amount of gossip.

Power from your influence is power people give you based on the respect and trust they have in your skills, knowledge, experience and other qualities as a person. This respect and trust is what builds your power as a supervisor over the long term and builds your reputation in the organization at large.

Power based on your expertise is power that comes from people recognizing your expertise in certain situations, with certain information or with certain machinery. Your power is most respected when you also accept responsibility for decisions you make based on your expertise.

Power based on friendship and comradeship is a power that can bind a team together when everyone is included. This power can hurt a team, however, when it excludes certain people. Your purpose is to supervise your staff; not to become their friends.

Exercise #5

This exercise helps you identify what sources of power you use most often and under what circumstances.

1.What sources of power do you use most often?

2.Under what circumstances do you use these sources of powers the most?

3.What sources of power do you use least often and why?

4.How can you use these sources of powers more effectively to encourage your staff to meet their personal and professional goals within your area, department and/or organization?

Decision Making

Different circumstances will allow you, as a supervisor, to help direct decisions made within your area of responsibility. For example, in an emergency you may not spend a lot of time asking people for their ideas and recommendations about what to do. You will probably have to give specific instructions to your staff and expect them to carry them out quickly and without too many questions.

There are several ways to make decisions within your area, and the methods that you choose may depend on the people on your staff and the circumstances.

Here are the main ways that people make decisions.

You Decide

The head of a group usually makes authoritarian decisions. This is true when the leader has a certain unique and acknowledged expertise. The person may also make decisions about minor issues to save the group time.

In emergency situations, authoritarian decisions are made to give immediate, non-negotiable directions. In this form of decision making the underlying rule is "Do it my way immediately and without question."

You Ask for Advice

Consulting your staff for their ideas to help you come to a decision is an excellent way to avoid needless errors and to help your staff feel part of the decision making process. It is important that staff understand that they have input into the final decision, but that the decision making rests with you.

You Ask for a Vote

Democratically asking people how they vote on a certain policy, procedure or new idea gives people a way to actively participate in making decisions. Voting can also split people within your staff if the viewpoints are sufficiently different. When you decide to take a decision to a vote, it is essential that you be prepared to go either way. If you are not, simply ask for advice.

Unfortunately, in some areas of health care a “pseudo democracy” has emerged wherein major decisions about downsizing and reorganization are put to a vote. This may result in more personal hurt and systems damage than is necessary. The effect on the systems has yet to be determined.

This form of decision-making is not usually advisable because it often results in more conflicts between staff members and can split groups. It is useful for minor decisions when little is at stake and little commitment to the results is required.

You Work to Get Agreement

Getting consensus amongst your staff may be time consuming but it can encourage people to see several viewpoints to an important issue and also encourages them to work together once the decision has been made. This approach is helpful in assisting staff to accommodate change. You may say that the decision to change is out of their hands, but as a group you all have the power to direct that change.

This form of decision-making is useful when you want active participation and you can live with a decision that may differ from your preferred outcome. As part of the team, however, you must be part of the consensus. Consensus is more positive than a vote in that it does not create a “win-lose” situation.

No One Decides

Some decisions are made by external forces when you and/or your staff do not make decisions. For example, if there are discussions on reallocating resources within your organization and your area or department does not make the necessary decisions, someone else will make them for you. In this situation a group response to the change can be made to diminish hurt feelings.

Exercise #6

Some questions for you to think about:

1.Which style of decision-making is most comfortable for you and why?

2.Under what circumstances in your workplace do you think you would use the different styles listed above?


Delegating is an essential supervisory skill. It forms the basis for the overall organization of your work. Delegating work is also an art. You need to match tasks carefully to your staff's job description, abilities and temperament/working style.

People require different degrees of instructions to help them accomplish the task you have set for them. For example:

Some people need very specific instruction about how to do a task.

Other people need to know what has to be done but you leave them to decide on how they will do it.

How you delegate work will depend on how comfortable people are with the assignment, how much added responsibility you give them, and how you intend to acknowledge their work when it is successfully accomplished.

If one of your staff members wants to do the task but is hesitant about their abilities, spend a little more time in the beginning stages telling them how they are doing it right or how they might try another approach to make the work easier. Spend time reinforcing their efforts, even if they are making mistakes. Help build their self-esteem so that down the road they will need less and less of your time to accomplish other assignments.

If you are delegating tasks to relatively new staff, begin with tasks that you know will be successful. Build the person's self-confidence through increasing the responsibilities of tasks, as they become more comfortable. Success is a great motivator. Failure can be costly from the organization's perspective as well as for the person's self-confidence.

When you delegate a difficult or risky assignment, give your staff the support they need if they fail. Failure can damage a person's initiative and self-esteem. Failure, with your support, can provide them with a real opportunity to learn and improve their skills. The consequence of their failure rests with your leadership style!

So What's Next?

Learning supervisory skills never stops because supervisors always work with people and we can never learn enough about how to do this well. People are not always predictable. Everyone is different. Situations can be similar, but they cannot be the same. You will always continue to learn new skills and develop old ones whether you stay at your present level or move up to further supervisory roles.

Take a few minutes now to list some of the areas you would like to improve after having read this section. Look at the other sections in this book to see if any of them can help you accomplish some of your learning goals. Also remember your own manager, your colleagues, your staff, your library and friends. They can all help you continue to learn.


The keys to successful supervision are managing your time effectively, assessing your skills and weaknesses accurately, recognizing and dealing with your own stresses, and learning some of the skills required to direct, co-operate and evaluate your staff.

There is no such thing as a perfect supervisor. However, when you ask yourself who you think was the best supervisor you ever had you will probably agree with most people who answer:

A person who was predictable, fair and firm; you knew where you stood with him or her.

A person who was respectful and trustworthy.

A person who listened to your ideas and allowed you to try new things.

A person who rewarded success with specific praise.

A person who let you take risks and make mistakes and gave you advice and information on how to avoid or minimize similar risks and mistakes.

A person who took the time to find out what your personal and professional goals are and tried to help you accomplish them.

A person who helped you identify specific goals and objectives at work, told you how you would be evaluated and worked with you to ensure success whenever possible.

A person who understood that giving you more and more responsibilities and power was the best way to increase their own power within the organization.

A person who shared the successes and failures with their staff.

There are probably many other things you expect from a good supervisor and you can accomplish all of them!


The following resources are only a few of the many useful resources that you can find in your local libraries, within your own organization, and in your local bookstores. Look for other books but also for journal articles, magazine reports, films, videos and audiocassettes. Also keep in mind how much you can learn from experts in the field, including people within your own organization!

Bittel, L.R. (1990). What every supervisor should know: The complete guide to supervising management. (6th ed.). Toronto: McGraw-Hill.

Burley-Allen, M. (1995). Listening: The forgotten skill. Toronto: Wiley and Sons.

Imundo, L.V. (1991). The effective supervisor's handbook. (2nd ed.) New York: Amacon.

Lepsinger, R. (1997). The art and science of 360 degree feedback. San Francisco: Pfeiffer.

Nelson, B. (1994). 1001 ways to reward employees. New York: Workman.

Patronis-Jones, R., & Beck, S. (Eds.). (1995). Decision making in nursing. Albany, NY: Delmar Publishing.

Russo, J.E. & Schoemaker, P.J.H. (1990). Decision traps: Ten barriers to brilliant decision-making and how to overcome them. Saint Louis, MO: Fireside.

Schechter, H. (2000). Conquering chaos at work: Strategies for managing disorganization and the people who cause it. Saint Louis, MO: Fireside.

Interviewing Skills


Interviewing skills, like all communication skills, depend on understanding who your audience is (the candidates), and what the purpose of the interview is (to inform interviewees about the position and to get enough information from them to help you make a hiring decision).

The interviewing process has historically been the most subjective form of making hiring decisions. The process is easily open to bias and has had little success in predicting the suitability of a candidate for a job. This can change.

When an interview is well planned and consistent for every candidate interviewed, interviewers can compare and analyze the information they collect during the interview with information they have received from application forms, resumes, covering letters and Resources.

Organizations have different policies and procedures for interviewing and hiring people. As a first step, find out what your responsibilities are as a member of your organization's interviewing and hiring process. You have experts (most likely in your Human Resources Department) who are qualified to advise you about proper interviewing techniques. Find out who these people are and ask them to help you improve your skills.

You may find that your area or department also has samples of job fact sheets, a job description model, forms to request a position be filled, series of questions used by "x" department in their interviews, and a reference check form. Do not reinvent the wheel if other people have made the effort to design these forms. Borrow them and modify them to meet your specific hiring needs.

The other role of interviewers is to be the ambassador for your organization and your own department. Whether a candidate is successful or not in getting the job they should leave the interview feeling like they were fairly treated and that the organization would be a good place to work. These candidates will talk to other people about their experience and any positive comments could lead to other people applying to your organization for career opportunities.

Defining an Interview

A job interview is not a conversation, nor an interrogation. It is a methodical process for giving and receiving critical information.

The interviewer needs to be aware of her specific responsibility in the process, as well as the responsibilities of her various colleagues. She has to collect information about the candidate to add to any written information the candidate has presented (e.g., application forms, resumes, covering letters, Resources). The interview provides an opportunity for interviewers to evaluate the suitability of each candidate through standard and consistent interviews of all candidates.

Candidates need to collect information as well. They need to understand what the job description is, the expectations of the organization for the position, the salary and benefits package, and what flexibility there is within the job to allow them to "make the job their own", i.e. take personal initiatives to try new things, improve the area they may work in, and try to achieve personal growth and satisfaction.

The definition, then, of a good interview is when all parties can collect and evaluate the information they need to make a reasonable decision in an environment of mutual respect.

Planning the Interview

There are several steps in the interviewing process: planning, information gathering, the interview, and decision making. Let's begin with planning the interview.

Roles and Responsibilities

Find out what your specific roles and responsibilities are in the interview process and who assumes the other responsibilities. Specifically, find out:

If your organization has a recruiter and what are their responsibilities?

Who completes a request to fill a vacant or new position and who is it sent to?

Who plans and coordinates the process?

Who gathers and screens the information (e.g., resumes, Resources checks)?

Who writes or revises the job description?

Who designs the interview questionnaire?

Who posts the positions internally and externally?

Who looks after the mechanics of scheduling the interview, booking a room, etc.?

Who conducts the interviews (a single person or a selection committee)?

If there is a selection committee, who determines who sits on this committee?

Who is permitted to discuss wages and benefits?

Who presents information about union contracts?

Who organizes second and third interviews (if applicable)?

Who makes the final decision (you or are you only allowed to give your opinion)?

Who else has input into the final decision?

Who offers the job?

Who prepares the paper work for adding the successful candidate to your organization's staff?

Who evaluates the success of the process and recommends modifications if necessary?

The Job Description

If your responsibility includes writing or updating the job description find out if there is a job description, if it needs updating or if you need to write a new one. A job description must define the specific knowledge, skills and other characteristics you want the successful candidate to have. This description should include:

1.Specific competencies, e.g., specific language requirements, education, professional credentials.

2.Specific working conditions that may prevent some candidates from fulfilling your needs (e.g., strength requirements).

3.Major duties.

4.Expected job results.

For each of the above job requirements write out a series of job-related questions that will help you collect specific information about each candidate's competencies, accomplishments, activities, and performance.

Interview Questionnaire

If your responsibilities include designing the interview questionnaire, keep the following tips in mind:

Write basic questions to clarify the specific knowledge you want the person to have.

Write situational questions to indicate specific skills and ability to apply knowledge.

You may want some questions on what motivates a candidate:

What are they most proud of?

What successes and failures have they had and what did they learn from that?

What they like and dislike about past jobs?

What do they look for in a good supervisor?

How flexible and adaptable are they to change?

What are their short and long-term career goals?

Types of Questions

There are several types of questions that lead to different types of answers:

Open-ended questions  Questions that often begin with Why, How, Tell me, What, are open-ended because they cannot be answered with a one or two word answer. These are great questions to encourage people to talk openly, and at some length, about things that interest them, e.g., "What has been your greatest professional challenge and why?", "Tell me more about how you would deal with changes in your shift hours?"

Closed-ended questions  By definition, these questions are easily answered with a yes or no, or a one or two word answer. For example, many questions beginning with Is, Did, Do, Who are often answered very briefly. These types of questions are excellent to get specific factual answers or to help make someone feel comfortable at the beginning of an interview, e.g., "Did you find our department easy to find?", "Would you like a cup of coffee before we begin?", "How many people do you work with in your present job?"

Presenting choices  These questions provide people with alternative answers that they can choose from. These questions can be tricky if candidates can read into your question what they perceive is your bias. They can be very helpful if you are clearing up or summarizing a point made by the candidate, e.g., "So you would prefer a supervisor who gives direction versus one who spends a lot of time trying to build consensus, is that right?"

Case study/hypothetical situations  If appropriate, you may want to give actual case studies or hypothetical situations to ask each candidate what they would do under similar circumstances. This will help you understand how the candidates judge situations, solve problems and make decisions.

Non-job related questions  Questions that are not specifically job related can lead to muddy legal waters. An opened-ended question about how someone's family, volunteer work, extra-curricular activities at school, has affected their abilities and job satisfaction is permissible. It gives the candidate the opportunity to choose what information they want to give to you. For example, "I see on your resume that you are involved with The Red Cross as a volunteer. What do you find rewarding about volunteer work?"

Will candidate do the job? So often an interview concentrates on a candidate’s present knowledge and skills with the assumption that if they are qualified they will actually do the job required of them. In fact, many qualified people are tired of doing the same things they have done in the past. It is important during an interview to make sure that (a) the person is qualified for the job, and (b) they will actually do the job. A clear understanding by a successful candidate of what is expected in the job will help that person fulfill those expectations during their probation period. If they do not meet the expectations you will have clear grounds for ending their employment before the probationary period is over rather than going through a lengthy dismissal procedure after the probation is over.

One of my favorite questions to ask in an interview is, “Which of your skills would you prefer not to use in this job?” We sometimes forget that although someone is qualified to perform a certain task, they may not want to do it anymore. For example, a nurse may have extensive experience in providing grief support to families who have just had a loved one die. However, the nurse no longer wants to provide that kind of support given her personal history with loss. Unless we ask people what they no longer want to do, we will continually be surprised that competent people are not performing up to expectations.

Harry van Bommel

Union and Legal Issues

Understand the union and non-union issues involved for this position and what specific legal guidelines relate to your role in the organization.

The interview process has legal restrictions to ensure equitable treatment of all candidates. An interviewer must be aware of these restrictions when asking for information from the candidates.

Each legal jurisdiction has its own set of regulations. The following list describes areas of discrimination. Each jurisdiction has its own list that may, or may not, include all of the following. An interviewer must understand what areas of discrimination are covered in their jurisdiction to avoid possible lawsuits by unsuccessful candidates.

agealcohol dependence



drug dependenceethnic origin

family statusharassment

languagemarital status

mental disabilitymilitary service

pardoned offencephysical disability

place of originplace of residence

political beliefpregnancy or childbirth

racerecord of criminal conviction


sexual orientationsocial origin

source of income

People involved in interviewing candidates may only ask straightforward and job-related questions. In describing the job the interviewer must state any special job conditions to all candidates (e.g., strength requirements, clothing, language requirements, etc.) to avoid possible litigation by unsuccessful candidates on the grounds of discrimination.

Find out what laws and regulations apply to your organization. Speak with the people within your organization that understand the regulations and ask them to review your interviewing questions and procedures to make sure they fall within the required practices set out in law.

Exercise #1

Roles and Responsibilities

Answer the questions below to make sure that you know the interviewing and hiring process in your organization.

Who completes a request to fill a vacant or new position and whom is it sent to?

Who plans and coordinates the process?

Who gathers and screens the information (e.g., resumes, Resources checks)?

Who writes or revises the job description?

Who designs the interview questionnaire?

Who posts the positions?

Who looks after the mechanics of scheduling the interview, booking a room, etc.?

Who conducts the interviews (a single person or a selection committee)?

Who determines who sits on this committee?

Who is permitted to discuss wages and benefits?

Who presents information about union contracts?

Who organizes any second or third interviews?

Who makes the final decision?

Who offers the job?

Who prepares the paper work for adding the successful candidate to your organization's staff?

Exercise #2

The Interview Questionnaire

Develop questions based on points presented under "Planning the Interview" that will allow you to receive the information you need to make a good hiring decision.

Job related questions (to discover knowledge, specific skills or competencies and if they coincide with the job description).

Attitude towards their work and whether they will actually do the work they are qualified to do.


What is the candidate most proud of.

What motivates the candidate.

Which of the candidate's skills do they not want to use in this position? (For example, someone with excellent typing skills may no longer enjoy typing and would prefer not to use this skill in this new position. Usually you do not find out which skills a candidate would prefer not to use until after they have started the job. They do not usually offer this information during an interview.)

Gathering Information


If your responsibilities include reviewing and screening resumes, check for some of the following points. Keep in mind that all of the following points are not important all the time.

Appearance: is it neat, organized, complete?

Cover letter: is it concise, clear and well written?

Academic achievements: do they match your requirements?

Experience: is it related to your requirements?

Specific skills and abilities: do they match your requirements?

Reference Checks

Reference checks should be short and to the point. You must keep in mind any human rights and hiring laws and regulations when you ask specific questions about a candidate. Your purpose is to get information on a candidate's performance; not their personality.

The types of questions you may generally ask are:

How long was the candidate employed? (Checks your candidate's reliability and honesty in describing their employment history.)

What did the candidate do at that position? (Verifies if the candidate's background will meet your needs.)

What were the candidate's strengths at that position?

Are there any specific areas that the candidate would benefit from further learning? (You must ask the candidate this question first and use the reference check as a way to verify the candidate’s strengths and areas requiring development.)

Telephone Checks

Telephone reference checks are often done at the preliminary screening process or after the first interview to verify a candidate's answers. Often a candidate will not list their Resources until after a first interview. Generally speaking, a reference can only verify a candidate's own information and most organization's are now very hesitant to provide any information beyond that in fear of law suits from past employees.

The types of questions you may ask during a telephone reference check are listed above.

Reference Letters

Reference letters may accompany a resume or may be requested after a first interview. Note:

What is the position of the person writing the letter and their relation to the candidate?

How long did the candidate work for the person writing the letter?

What specific information is detailed regarding the person's work performance?

What is not said in the letter, e.g., no mention of the candidate's work performance, their strengths, or their specific abilities and knowledge required for your organization's position?

The Interview

The Environment

Create a relaxed environment so that both you and the candidate are comfortable enough to give and receive the kind of information you need.

Some specific tips:

Review the candidate's applications, resumes, and other documentation before the interview.

Ensure that distractions are minimal by forwarding your phone, and make sure that you will not be interrupted.

Block off enough time for each interview.

Avoid too formal a presentation of information and questions.

The room should be well lit, clean and private.

The environment should reflect the organization.

Managing the Interview

Team Interviewing

If you are part of a selection committee, one person on the committee should act as the meeting Chair and each person's role must be clearly defined before the interview. Each person should be clear about whether or not they will be asking questions, taking notes, etc. Immediately after each interview, the committee should compare notes and exchange impressions.

Note: If you are part of a selection committee the following suggestions about the interview structure need to be modified.

Controlling the Interview

It is very important to recognize that interviewers must control the interview from start to finish. You set the climate and professional mood of the interview and you encourage people to be honest and open by setting that kind of example yourself. Choose your words carefully so that they are clear and inoffensive; courteous and not patronizing. The best questions you can ask are those that lead to clear answers versus questions that reflect the answer you would like to hear. For example, "What characteristics in people do you think lead to developing an effective team?" versus "Would you agree that it is important for people in a team to have high self-esteem while also recognizing the value of other members on that team?" The second question has the preferred answer within it.


Things to Look For

You may want to record your impressions about some of the following qualities as they relate to a candidate's job performance:

Communication skills especially ability to listen


Are they a "go getter" or a methodical "doer" (and which does the position require?)

Stability (do they move from job to job without apparent reason)


Flexibility and adaptability to change


Diligence and perseverance

Leadership skills and potential

Self-confidence and high self-esteem

Ability to participate as an equal participant in a team

Body Language

It is important to understand that interviews are intimidating situations for most candidates. To help put people at ease so that you can get the kind of information you need to make good decisions you can move from behind your desk and sit beside the candidate. Keep a comfortable distance from the candidate (about 1-2 yards) just as you would when you have a conversation with a colleague from another department.

Opening Remarks

The Beginning

Greet each candidate as you would like to be greeted in similar circumstances. Put them at ease. Give them an outline of how the interview will proceed. If it is appropriate, give the candidates a list of the questions you will ask them (1/2 hour before the interview). Try to find out what their first impressions are of the workplace, what their needs and expectations are, and why they are interested in the organization.


Many interviewers and candidates try to use humor to "break the ice". This can be very helpful as long as one does not use humor to ridicule or complain, or use sexist, racist humor.

Note on First Impressions

It is fair to say that most of us make a judgment about a candidate's abilities and personality within the first few minutes of an interview. Rather than pretend that this does not happen, it is more useful to take that first impression and use the questions you have prepared to actively discover whether or not you were right.

Describe the Job

Give the candidates a job description with special emphasis on:

Duties and responsibilities.

Expected results.

How this job relates to the overall organization.

The benefits to the successful candidate if they accept the job.

Give the candidates whatever literature exists that describes the organization and your department.


Ask each candidate the same questions in the same way and in the same order. This will permit a fair comparison of the candidates.

Concentrate on listening and a person's body language.

Avoid personal bias, hasty conclusions and judgments.

Get sufficient and specific information.

Determine a candidate's reasons for their behavior.

Take notes without fanfare.

Review the types of questions you can ask from the "Planning the Interview" section.


The proper use of silence is one of the most powerful communication tools available to an interviewer. Most of us are embarrassed by silence and therefore fill the void within seconds of asking a question using the excuse that we want to make the question clearer. Rather, after you have asked a question, keep silent for up to 60 seconds (a very long time when no one is speaking!) to give the candidate:

An opportunity to decide how much they want to say.

How they want to say it in a clear and concise way.

Candidate's Role

Ensure enough time to permit candidates to ask questions about the job. Encourage them to understand the specific details and requirements of this position.

Ending the Interview

At the end of the interview, explain to the candidates how the recruitment process continues from this point, e.g., how long it will take before the candidates will hear from you or Human Resources. If appropriate, let them know how the interview went and your initial reaction.

Decision Making


There are few differences between people we might consider winners and losers for specific jobs. Their appearance, personality, ability to communicate, intelligence, education, achievements, ability to succeed in interviews are often very similar. What is different is what motivates people to achieve personal and professional success and satisfaction, as they define it. The duty of an interviewer is to discover if a candidate's personal motivation is compatible with the requirements of the position and compatible with the other members of the working team.

Your Notes

Immediately after the interview, review and add to your notes regarding any observations, impressions and further questions you may want to ask at a follow-up interview.

Use a rating scale (e.g., 1-5 or 1-7) to help you evaluate a candidate's job competencies in key areas. This is especially helpful if you have a large number of candidates to compare or if you have a difficult choice to make.

Input versus Decision

In different situations you may be asked to either: (a) provide your input into a hiring decision without having any decision-making power yourself or (b) make the final hiring decision.


If your role is input, offer the person(s) who are making the decision your written summary notes, your personal opinions of the candidate, any specific observations, and any concerns you may still have.

When you are only permitted to give input into the hiring decision you must recognize that you may disagree with the final decision.


If your role is to decide who to hire for a position:

1.Listen and evaluate any input you get from other people involved in the hiring process.

2.Compare the job description with the notes and other information you have on each candidate.

3.Reflect on how each candidate might work with other members in your areas.

4.If appropriate, discuss this hiring decision with your supervisor or manager, especially if you are unsure of who to hire. Speaking with your superior will ensure you get support with your final decision.

A few years ago, I was on the selection committee for a new clinic that was due to open shortly. We were looking for a dynamic experienced nurse who could assess and teach clients dealing with a specific health problem. During the process of reviewing applications, we were amazed to see that the quality of what was submitted ranged from neatly typed and formatted cover letters with resumes to hand-written scrawls on notepaper. Needless to say, the applicants who had made the effort to present professional looking applications were the only ones interviewed for the new position.

Beverley Powell-Vinden

Exercise #3

Review the questions you designed in Exercise #2. Based on what you have learned in the past few sections add, delete or revise your questions. Once you have customized the questions to your specific needs and the specific job description, have some of your colleagues review your list for recommended changes. If there are union or legal issues involved, have your questions reviewed by the people responsible for these issues within your organization.


Interviews are a great opportunity to exchange information with candidates and to promote your organization.

Use the expertise within your organization to find out about interviewing policies and procedures.

The key points to remember are that you must plan the interview well in advance with a standard list of questions that you consistently ask in the same way and in the same order. This ensures fairness to all candidates and helps ensure compliance with the human rights legislation related to your organization.

It is very important to keep accurate notes during the interview to allow you to make the best decision you can. Often decisions are made several days or weeks after your interviews and your notes will be invaluable. These notes can also be used to support your decision in cases where an unsuccessful candidate requests specific reasons on how you made your decision.

The types of questions you ask and how you ask them can encourage candidates to answer honestly and openly. The way in which you control the interview environment will reflect on your abilities and on the organization. Make sure that the environment is professional and comfortable.

Most interviewers and candidates are somewhat nervous during an interview. You have the power as the interviewer to make this experience informative and enjoyable. Have some fun!


The following resources are only a few of the many useful resources that you can find in your local libraries, within your own organization, and in your local bookstores. Look for other books but also for journal articles (in Personnel, Hospital Quarterly, and others), magazine reports, films, videos and audiocassettes. Also keep in mind how much you can learn from experts in the field, including people within your own organization!

Cormier, LS. (1997). Interviewing and helping skills for health professionals. Sudburt, MA: Jones & Bartlett.

Edenborough, R. (1997). Effective interviewing: A handbook of skills, techniques and applications. Kogan Page.

Simon, H. (1999). Essential managers: Resumes. London, UK: DK Publishing.

Newell, R. (1994). Interviewing skills for nurses and other health professionals: A structured approach. New York: Routledge.

Sayer, J.E., & Hoehn, L.P. (1994). Interviewing: Skills and applications. Scottsdale, AZ: Gorsuch Scarisbrick.

Yate, M.J. (1991). Knock 'em dead with great answers to tough interview questions. Holbrook, MA: Adams.

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Copyright © 2000 Harry van Bommel

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