There’s no question that the continuous flood of government regulations, uncertain economic conditions in general, and the impact of legislation such as the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) resulted in layoffs and a weak hiring rate for many businesses in the recent past. But, as the economy has shown signs of improvement under the new administration, hiring has begun to expand in many, if not most, industries. If President Donald Trump and members of congress deliver on the promise of faster growth for the economy, it may well be reflected in a tightening labor market. That means that finding and hiring those star employees every company seeks will become even more difficult. In fact, in some areas of the economy, such as building and home construction, it’s already having a significant impact. This column focuses on providing you, as an employer, several effective and simple steps that can be taken to assist you in hiring the best candidates possible as job openings arise.

One of the most important steps in conducting effective interviews is the preparation before the interview is even conducted. Interviews can be a time-intensive process for businesses. If the wrong person is hired, then additional interviews may need to be conducted shortly after the process is completed. Interviews should only be conducted for people that meet the job requirements for your position and appear to be good candidates. These steps that occur before interviews are conducted are just as important as the interview.

Some large Fortune 500 companies have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars and countless hours creating hiring and interview procedures validated as “job-related and consistent with business necessity” by industrial psychologists. Most of those procedures are based on lengthy and detailed job analyses of the knowledge, skills and abilities needed for each position in the operation. They are intended to satisfy the requirements of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s Uniform Guidelines on Hiring Procedures, which are designed to prevent discrimination in hiring. The vast majority of employers have neither the financial resources nor the time to adopt such sophisticated programs. However, there are several fundamental elements of the more successful programs that can easily be implemented by employers seeking a better process for conducting job interviews. Those elements include:

Panel Interviews — The numerous benefits of panel interviews over individual interviews include multiple sets of eyes and ears on the applicant at one time, and more objective and consistent observations. They’re also more reliable because panel members are accountable to each other, can provide evidence to respond to claims of discriminatory questions, and, they’re widely recommended by experts and praised by courts as the fairest and most effective means of conducting interviews. A panel of three interviewers is ideal. Some employers even use an additional panel to further screen candidates found acceptable by the first panel. Remember that you may wish to discuss any requirements or necessary qualifications with individuals that are already in the position and work closely with the position to draft questions for the interview panel. They may be aware of tasks or skills that supervisors may miss.

Train the Interviewers — Those managers and supervisors whom comprise the panel or panels should be trained. Not only on the job-related questions that should be asked of all applicants, but — equally important — on questions and topics that could violate various workplace employment regulations. Of particular concern are questions that may impinge on Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as well as any state law protections.

Standard Questions — When each applicant is asked and evaluated on the same set of job-related questions, the process can be defended as both objective and consistent. Consistency is the key to all employment decisions and interviews are no different. It also makes comparison of candidates much easier. For example, if the job concerns someone’s ability to make sales on a given product, then you may ask them mock questions concerning their pitch.

Detailed Notes — Interview notes provide a record of what occurred. They’re quite beneficial in choosing the right candidate after conducting several interviews. Notes can also provide an excellent justification for a hiring decision that is legally challenged later. And interview notes may be clarified, expanded upon and made more useful at any time prior to a legal challenge. Employers should retain copies of interview notes used in the hiring process.

By utilizing these four relatively simple steps in conducting job interviews, you’ll only improve the level of candidates selected, and have a process that can help defend against failure-to-hire claims that are common. You’ll be able to demonstrate that your process is objective and consistently applied in hiring decisions.