Interviewing Toolkit

The information below is to assist with conducting interviews and reference checks. Before interviews are conducted, candidates for classified staff positions must be approved by Human Resources, and candidates for faculty and professional staff positions must be approved by the Civil Rights and Title IX Compliance office. This process is detailed in the Search Chair/Coordinator Reference Guide. 

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Fax: 360-650-2810


Interviewing Toolkit

Phone Screenings

Phone screenings are not a requirement of the interview process, but can be very helpful in narrowing down which candidates you want to interview. Phone screenings do not require approval.


  • Be as prepared and enthusiastic over the phone as you would be for a face-to-face interview.
  • A phone screening should be no more than 30 minutes. 
  • Prepare questions that will help you effectively screen your candidates.
  • Find a quiet room where there will not be extra noise so your candidate can truly hear and understand your questions.
  • Limit the number of search committee members on the phone screen as it can get confusing if there are several people asking questions and responding. 

Make an Appointment

Schedule a time with your candidate to ensure they are in a space where they are able to speak freely and without distractions. 

Be Prepared

This will be your candidate's first impression of your department and the university. Being prepared lets the candidate know that you are organized and value their time. Have anything you might need ready when conducting your phone screening, such as copies of the candidate's resume and cover letter, the job posting, and a list of questions. 

Introduce Yourself

Let your candidate know who you are and your relationship to the position. Introduce any other members of your search committee that may be involved in your phone screen and their relation to the position. Thank the candidate for their time. 

Discuss Your Position

It is important for you and your candidate to discuss the position in detail, and that you do not just read them a summary of your open position. Think of things that might be important to share with the candidate. The phone screening is not only a time for you to decide if you want to move forward in interviewing a candidate, but it is a time for the candidate to confirm they are still interested in the position. 

Take Good Notes

Good note taking should be a part of any hiring process. Notes from your phone screenings can be shared with your search committee to help decide which candidates you would like to interview. Notes should only include information the candidate provided to you during your conversation, and should not be editorialized in any way. 

Next Steps

Let the candidate know the next steps in the hiring process and when they can expect to hear back about the position. 


    Know What You’re Looking For

    Reiterate to your search committee the needs of the department and the position. It is natural to gravitate toward people who are most like you – which might not be the right type of person for the position.

    Make an Appointment

    Schedule a time with your candidate so they have time to prepare. Let your candidate know what to expect at the interview, such as the length of time you will be meeting and who will be present. It is important to schedule enough time so your candidate does feel rushed through the process, and so that both the search committee and the candidate have adequate time to ask questions that may arise. 

    Provide a Welcoming Environment

    You will want to conduct your interview in a room that is reasonably private and comfortable. You can also show your candidate the workstation and department layout so they have an idea of where they would be working. 

    Review your Candidates Materials

    Reread your candidate’s cover letter and resume before you begin the interview.

    Have a Schedule

    Set up a general structure for the interview. This way you can ensure you have enough time to hit all of the key areas you want addressed. Having a schedule will also help you begin and end on time. 

    Prepare Questions

    You will want to develop questions based off your position and its needs. In the next section of this toolkit there are sample questions to help you begin. Customize these questions so they are specific to the position and to your department. One way to ensure equity in your hiring process is to use the same set of questions in each interview. This is required for all interviews conducted at Western. If your candidate answers a question that requires follow up or additional questioning, you can utilize different follow-up questions in the interview.

    Be Prepared

    Be prepared for questions that your candidate may ask such as things about benefits, compensation, office environment, and more. 

    Take Notes

    These are the notes you will be using to help determine where your candidates rank. Notes should only include information received during the interview. 

    Next Steps

    Let the candidate know the next steps in the hiring process, and when can expect to hear back from you regarding the position.


    Once a candidate has accepted your offer, it is very important to let the other candidates you interviewed know that you are moving forward with another candidate. You will also need to send out email communications to any candidate who applied for your search, even if they were not interviewed. This can be down through bulk emails in the PageUp system.  


    Interview Questions

    The following questions should be customized so they are specific to the open position and your department. It is easy for candidates to look up typical interview questions and "desirable" interview answers online. You goal in drafting interview questions is to encourage your candidate to answer candidly, and not to provide you with a prewritten response that they have memorized. 

    General Questions: 

    • Why should we hire you? OR Why do you want this position?  
    • What part of this job would be the most challenging?
    • What are your greatest strengths? Weaknesses in regards to the skills necessary for the position?
    • What do you find are the most difficult decisions to make?
    • How would your references describe you?
    • Describe the responsibilities and duties of your current position.
    • What was the biggest challenge of your present job?
    • What was it about your last or previous job that interests you?
    • What is it about this position that interests you? 
    • What type of environment do you work best in?
    • What immediate contributions can you make to this position?
    • What kind of supervisor gets you to put forth your best performance?
    • What kind of feedback works best for you and why?
    • What are some things you wish to avoid in your next job?
    • What would you expect to get out of this job?
    • Why do you want to work for the university?
    • What do you consider to be your major accomplishments in your current (or previous) position?
    • What is your concept of an ideal work environment? 
    • What inspires or motivates you to do your best?
    • What are your long-range/short-range goals?
    • What experience do you have working (or supervising) people of diverse backgrounds?
    • What factors are crucial within an organization and must be present for you to work most effectively?

    Questions for Supervisors and Managers

    • Can you please tell us about a specific decision that if you had the opportunity, you would have changed or approached in a different way? (This question is especially important for managers and leadership. If the candidate does not indicate that they would change any decisions, then that should be a warning. Also, many times managers will describe a personnel decision. Look carefully at how the candidate describes this situation. Does the candidate break the confidence of the individuals involved in the description of the personnel decision?)
    • If I were to interview the people who have reported to you in the past, how would they describe your management style?
    • If I were to interview your reporting staff members, how would they describe your strengths and weaknesses as a manager and supervisor?
    • Give me an example from your past work experiences about a time when you had an underperforming employee reporting to you. How did you address the situation? Did the employee’s performance improve? If not, what did you do next?
    • Rate your management skills on a scale of 1 to 10 with 10 representing excellent management skills. Provide three examples from your past work experiences that demonstrate your selected number is accurate.
    • Tell me about a specific work environment or culture and its management style in which you have experienced the most success.
    • Tell me about a time when you had a reporting employee who performed very well. The employee exceeded goals and sought more responsibility. Could you tell me how you specifically handled this situation day-to-day and over time.
    • Could you tell me three specific components of your philosophy of management that demonstrate what you value and add, as an individual, to an organization’s culture and work environment.
    • What factors are crucial within an organization and must be present for you to work most effectively?
    • Tell me about a time when you reorganized a department or significantly changed employee work assignments. How did you approach the task? How did the affected employees respond to your actions?
    • One of the jobs of a manager or supervisor is to manage performance and perform periodic performance reviews. Tell me how you have managed employee performance in the past. Describe the process you have used for performance feedback.
    • When you have entered a new workplace in the past, as a manager or supervisor, could you tell me about a specific situation how you have gone about meeting and developing relationships with your new coworkers, supervisors, and reporting staff.
    • As a manager or supervisor, one of your jobs is to provide direction and leadership for a work unit. Could you tell me about a specific situation when you have accomplished this in the past.
    • How would you describe your management style?
    • How many people did/do you supervisor in your present/previous position?
    • How do you think your subordinates perceive(d) you?
    • What would you look for when hiring people?
    • What experiences have you had in leadership positions?
    • What is your management philosophy?
    • How do you motivate staff?

    Behavior Based Questions  

    These questions can help reveal a candidate’s strengths and weaknesses, and show how your candidate responded in a real life situation. Previous experiences are great predictors of how a candidate will handle future situations. Determine the types of situations that occur in your office and use those scenarios to craft behavioral questions. These questions often begin, "Tell me a time when..."  

    • Describe a high-pressure situation you had to handle at work. Tell me what happened, who was involved, and what you did in terms of problem solving.
    • People differ in their preference for jobs that have well laid out tasks and responsibilities or ones in which work changes frequently. Tell me about a time when you were successful in dealing with an unstructured work environment.
    • Many situations at work require fast thinking and speed in making decisions. Give me an example of a situation in which you were especially skillful in making a decision quickly.
    • What types of experiences have you had in talking with customers or clients? Specifically, tell me about a time when you had to communicate under difficult circumstances.
    • Some situations require us to express ideas or opinions in a very tactful and careful way. Tell me about a time when you were successful with this particular skill.
    • The word “communication” means different things to different people at different times. Tell me what this word means to you by giving me an example of a time when you were able to be warm and amiable as a communicator.
    • At times, we are all required to deal with difficult people. An even more demanding factor is to be of service to a difficult person. When have you been successful with this type of situation at work?
    • Having a good solution for a problem often entails more than just being intelligent. Often, exercise of good judgment is needed to complement logic in choosing a practical solution. Describe when you used good judgment in solving a problem.
    • Tell me about a time when you showed high enthusiasm and energy in order to create positive motivation in others. Give me a specific example.
    • Getting the job done may necessitate unusual persistence or dedication to results especially when faced with obstacles or distractions. Tell me about a time in which you were able to be very persistent in order to reach goals. Be specific.

    Prohibited Interview Questions 

    Washington State law (RCW 49.60 and WAC 162-12) prohibits questions in interviews and reference checks that unnecessarily reveal protected status. Below are examples of inquiries that may not be made to job applicants or their references. 

    Volunteered Information 

    If an applicant volunteers any protected characteristic information, or if the search committee receives such information about the applicant from a reference or other third party, that information must not be considered by the search committee in evaluating the applicant. Even if an applicant volunteers protected characteristic information, search committee members should not ask the applicant questions about the topic. Instead, search committee members are encouraged to answer applicants’ questions, and to connect applicants with groups not involved in the evaluation (e.g., Disability Services in Human Resources, the Equal Opportunity Office, the Minority Employee Council or the LGBT Advocacy Council) for additional information.

    Reminder Regarding Note Taking 

    If taking notes about applicants during the screening process, avoid including words or comments that cover any of the protected characteristics listed below. Notes should only include job-related information.

    Subject  Inquiries & What WWU Does
    Age Not allowed: Any inquiry that implies a preference for persons under 40 years of age.

    Not allowed: Inquiries about arrests or convictions

    What WWU does: Human Resources conducts background checks for all staff and faculty positions and will inform hiring authorities if there is a justified concern.


    Not allowed: Inquiries about citizenship.

    What WWU does: HR will require the selected candidate to verify identity and eligibility to work in the U.S. via Form I-9. Offers should be contingent on obtaining this verification. Position announcements inform potential applicants that they must be eligible to work in the U.S. before beginning work at WWU. 


    Not allowed: Inquiries about the nature, severity, or extent of a disability or whether the applicant requires reasonable accommodation. Whether the applicant has applied for or received worker’s compensation. Also, any inquiry that is not job-related or consistent with business necessity.

    Allowed: Inquiries about whether an interviewee is able to perform the essential functions of the job with or without reasonable accommodation. If an accommodation for an interview or the job is requested, please contact HR Disability Services. 


    Not allowed: Inquiries about spouse or partner, or their employment or salary, children, child care arrangements, or dependents.

    Allowed: Inquiries about whether the applicant can meet a specific work schedule. The search chair may inform faculty and professional staff candidates of the WWU partner accommodation policy.

    Height/Weight Not allowed: Any inquiry about interviewees’ height or weight characteristics.
    Martial Status  Not allowed: Any inquiry that would reveal whether an applicant is single, married, partnered, engaged, divorced, widowed, etc. 

    Not allowed: Inquiries about type or condition of military discharge.

    Allowed: Inquiries concerning education, training, or work experience in the U.S. armed forces if noted in application materials and relevant to job qualifications.


    Not allowed: Inquiries into original name that has been changed by court order or marriage. Inquiries about a name that would divulge marital status, lineage, ancestry, national origin or descent, or sex, gender, or gender identity.

    Allowed: Inquiries about whether an applicant has worked under a different name and if yes, what name. Name by which the applicant is known to references if different from the current name.

    National Origin

    Not allowed: Inquiries into applicant's or applicant’s family’s lineage, ancestry, national origin, descent, birthplace, or mother tongue.

    Allowed: Inquiries into the applicant’s ability to read, write and speak foreign languages only if those are qualifications for the position.


    Not allowed: Requiring applicants to list all organizations, clubs, societies, and lodges to which they belong.

    Allowed: Inquiring about membership in job-related organizations. 


    Not allowed: All questions as to pregnancy and medical history concerning pregnancy and related matters.

    Allowed: Inquiries related to the duration of stay on the job or anticipated absences which are made to ALL interviewees.


    Not allowed: Any inquiry concerning race or color of skin, hair, eyes, etc.

    What WWU does: For affirmative action purposes, applicants are voluntarily asked to self-identify their race in EASE. This information is kept separate from the remainder of the application. 


    Not allowed: Any inquiry regarding marital status, the identity of one’s spouse or partner, or their occupation.

    Allowed: Administrators may ask for names of a finalist’s relatives already employed by WWU for administrative purposes. 

    Religion and/or Creed  Not allowed: Inquiries about an applicant's religious preference, denomination, or affiliations, including church, synagogue, parish, pastor, rabbi, or religious holidays observed. 

    Not allowed: Names or relationships of persons with whom the applicant resides or whether the applicant owns or rents a home.

    What WWU does: WWU is allowed to obtain contact information. 

    Sex, Gender, Gender Identity 

    Not allowed: Any inquiry regarding an applicant’s sex, gender, or gender identity.

    Allowed: After approval from the Equal Opportunity Office, inquiring as to applicants’ gender in rare instances where gender is a “bona fide occupational qualification.”

    Sexual Orientation  Not allowed: Any inquiry that would reveal an applicant’s sexual orientation.

    This information is also available in a printable version: 

    • Pay attention to how your candidate answers your questions. Do they appear comfortable responding to each of the situations you describe? If not, the candidate may not be experienced as a manager and may be misrepresenting their credentials.
    • How a candidate responds to questions about conflict is especially important in management and leadership roles. Ask the candidate to elaborate upon their experiences and to provide you with examples. Aversion to such questions may indicate a weakness in conflict resolution or interpersonal management.
    • Beware of a candidate who persistently says the right things, but is unable to provide examples from previous work experience.