Interview style: one on one or group?

Special to The Times

Dear Karen: I’m hiring for several positions at my firm. I’d like to save time by doing group interviews, at which all of my managers meet with the prospect, instead of separate one-on-one interviews. Any advice?

Answer: Group interviews can save you time, but they also have drawbacks. Most job applicants find that interviewing, even one on one, is stressful. When you put them into a group interview, the stress level goes up, and that extra dose of anxiety can greatly reduce the quality of the interview. Also, unless they’re well-planned, group interviews can be confusing for both the interviewees and the interviewers as each person tries to track the various questions, answers and discussions among the participants.

David Weiman, a Philadelphia-based management psychologist, suggested ways to make group interviews less intimidating: “Include just two or three managers and try to keep the interview to about a half-hour.”


Better yet, instead of doing group interviews, find ways to make your one-on-one interviews more efficient. “Prepare the interview questions in advance and in writing. Make sure that each person who interviews the applicant knows which questions they’ll be responsible for asking,” Weiman said.

He also recommended giving applicants questions they can respond to in writing. “This will save interview time, give you a writing sample and provide data that all of the interviewers can read.” When you are comparing notes after an interview, ask each of your managers to condense their impressions into three areas: strengths, weaknesses and a recommendation on whether to hire or not.

Learn to write business letters

Dear Karen: I’m looking for a resource that would help me compose a letter to my clients informing them of my small company’s relocation. Are there books or websites with advice on business correspondence?

Answer: There are myriad books and Web resources devoted to business communication, but be aware that simply plugging words into a template can make your correspondence sound stiff and full of cliches. When corresponding with your clients about something as important as your relocation, you want to come across as warm, welcoming and human -- not like a computer program.

Free business letter templates are available at Microsoft’s Office Online site (

“Remarkably, these letters are often just as good as the letters you’ll find in books or on professional websites,” said Denise Kotula, a West Hollywood marketing consultant.


She also recommended, where you can enter “business letter templates” into the search engine and get several hundred links that offer business communication services.

Two books top Kotula’s business template list: “Streetwise Business Letters” by John Woods comes with more than 2,800 downloadable templates, as does “Entrepreneur Magazine’s Ultimate Book of Business Letters” by Cheryl Kimball and Joni Van Gelder. “They have a better selection of reader-friendly letters than most books,” Kotula said.

But instead of relying on templates, why not learn to write a good business letter yourself? Picking up some writing skills will also help you modify templates -- if you still need to rely on them -- to make them friendlier and less formal. Kotula suggested “Business Writing for Dummies” and “Strategic Business Letters and E-Mail,” both by Sheryl Lindsell-Roberts.

Got a question about running or starting a small enterprise? E-mail it to karen.e.klein@ or mail it to In Box, Los Angeles Times, 202 W. 1st St., Los Angeles, CA 90012.