An interview is a formal meeting where an employer gathers information about a candidate through a structured series of questions. These questions can be used to determine how well the candidate would fit your company and the role. An interview usually comes as the last step (or second-to-last step) in a hiring process, following CV screening and psychometric testing.
How to Hold an Interview
An interview is your opportunity to find the perfect candidate for your team. To ensure you get the most out of this process, we recommend planning the interview format, asking open-ended questions, and taking notes about what the candidate says.
You may need one or two rounds of interviews after initially screening candidates. However, remember that you might risk losing interviewees if you have more than this. It’s also important to consider the legalities, so read on to understand how to conduct an effective interview.
Planning the Interview
A good interview starts with preparation. Make sure you have a suitable, private room to conduct your interviews, such as an office or meeting room. You may need to book this room ahead of time to ensure it’s free for your interview. Make sure the room is clean and tidy and that a glass of water is on hand for your candidate—first impressions count. Research has shown that 67% of candidates would be willing to turn down a job offer after a poor interview, so make sure you present yourself and your company as friendly and professional.
Interviews can be stressful for the interviewer as well as for the candidate. Preparing a structured interview template will make you feel confident and will give the candidate a better experience. We also recommend preparing a marking scheme for the interview to ensure consistency.
When devising your questions, first familiarize yourself with the job specification and key competencies. Take an inventory of the qualities you hope to see and tailor your questions appropriately. If you’re looking for a strong personality—for example, for a retail position—technical questions about the candidate’s experience may not be as important. However, if you’re hiring a consultant oncologist, personality or culture-based interview questions may take a back seat.
It’s also good practice to familiarize yourself with your candidate’s CV before the interview so you know a little bit about their background. You should look for any aspects of their previous jobs that might line up with the skills and experience you’re looking for. Use this information to focus your interview questions to give the candidate the best opportunity to succeed. An example could be, “I can see you’re a manager at [company name] right now. How do you think your team would describe your management style?”
Opening the Interview
There’s no right way to start an interview, but introducing yourself and your role and offering a handshake can go a long way in helping the candidate relax. Try breaking the ice by asking the candidate what they were doing earlier or by inquiring how their journey was. Acknowledging that interviews can be stressful might also make the candidate feel more comfortable.
From here, you should explain the format the interview will follow and briefly cover the scope of the role. You can also talk a little bit about your history with the company and what you enjoy about working there, in order to make the candidate feel more relaxed and to make the interview feel conversational. Once you’ve broken down the initial barriers with some brief small talk, you can begin the interview.
It’s recommended to ask more general, open-ended questions related to experience and personality at the start of the interview, followed by situational or technical questions about the role. This gives the candidate the best chance of success. Here are some examples of general questions you can ask:
- Can you tell me a little bit about your professional background?
- What do you know about the company?
- What has attracted you to this role?
- What do you believe to be your greatest strength?
- What do you believe to be your greatest weakness?
Based on these questions, you might want to ask follow-up questions if you need more information. You should also be prepared to rephrase your questions if the candidate is confused by them. For example, you could ask, “Can you tell me about a time you showed great time-management skills?” or “When was the last time you had to work to a tight deadline?” Although they seem like different questions, they assess the same competency.
It’s good practice to allow the candidate to ask any questions they may have at the end of the interview. These might relate to the salary, the working hours, or the benefits they would be eligible for. It might be helpful to construct an FAQ document for your own reference so that you can feel comfortable during this portion of the interview. If a candidate asks you a question you weren’t expecting, simply let them know you aren’t sure of the answer but will follow up with your HR department or manager. Assure the candidate that you’ll be in touch via email or a phone call after the interview.
It may also be beneficial for you to have a note-taker present at the interview. Their job is to take thorough, detailed notes of the meeting so that you can focus on the candidate in front of you. You should also take brief notes to score the candidate’s answers, but the interview will progress more smoothly if you don’t have to worry about missing any important details.
How Do You Decide Between Candidates?
When making a decision, your pre-prepared marking scheme will be invaluable. For example, you might have decided to score the candidates out of 3, as follows:
- A score of 1 (or zero) might suggest the employee did not have a strong example or did not answer the question.
- A score of 2 indicates an acceptable answer where there is room for improvement.
- A score of 3 suggests an excellent response with situational examples.
Once you have marked each of their answers, you add up their scores and select the candidate who received the highest.
Of course, there are exceptions where you’ll need to exercise managerial discretion. For example, if someone scored highly across the board but arrived half an hour late, they are unlikely to be selected even despite their excellent score.
Legalities of Interviewing
From an HR perspective, there are a few things you need to consider when interviewing. If you do not conduct a fair interview process—for example, by asking illegal questions or disfavoring a protected group—you may leave yourself open to legal action. It’s wise to design a fair process from the outset to mitigate these risks further down the line.
Unconscious bias, or implicit attitudes, describes biases we hold in our subconscious minds that we may not be aware of. Everyone has unconscious bias—it is a product of the society we live in. This can translate to an interview setting, resulting in certain candidates being unfairly disfavored. As a hiring manager, it’s your responsibility to make sure your candidates are not negatively affected by your implicit attitudes.
You can mitigate this risk by preparing a structured interview template based on the job description and by having a second person interview the candidate alongside you. You should both make your own notes, allocate your own scores, and compare them at the end. The candidate’s final score will be an average of the two scores.
If your scores differ widely throughout the interview, be prepared to discuss them. Why did your colleague think the candidate scored so well or so poorly? There may be something they saw that you didn’t.
It’s also recommended that all members of an interview panel take an unconscious bias quiz to ensure that nobody unknowingly discriminates against any candidates. For example, while you might consciously believe that sexism is wrong, your unconscious associations may cause you to unknowingly favor women when hiring for a caregiving role, or to favor men for a role requiring technical knowledge. Being aware of your implicit attitudes will help ensure all candidates receive an equal chance at interview.
Indirect discrimination is where a policy or process disproportionately disfavors a specific group of people. For example, suppose you ask candidates to take a written test as part of your recruitment process but do not allow extra time for those with learning difficulties. In that case, your hiring process may be discriminatory. You can avoid this by asking candidates at the screening stage if they wish to request any reasonable adjustments to enable them to participate in the interview.
Illegal interview questions are outlined by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and are defined as any questions that relate to a candidate’s protected characteristics. These are age, sex, race, religion, sexual orientation, gender reassignment, veteran status, nationality, or pregnancy. Asking, “What are your childcare plans if you get this job?” is discriminatory. However, “Are you able to travel for work?” is a fair question.
Be aware that the candidate has a right to ask for a copy of any notes taken about them during the interview process. Therefore, you should take care not to write down anything that you wouldn’t like the candidate to see. You may take notes about what the candidate said, their question scores, and justifications for their scores. Notes should be clear and legible and kept safely in a file for up to a year after the interview. After this point, you should destroy them to comply with US privacy laws.
Interviewing can be stressful but exciting for both the candidate and the interviewer. To get the right fit for your organization, ensure that you ask questions directly related to your job specification. If you plan thoroughly, listen carefully, and observe the legalities, you will develop your interviewing skills and find the perfect candidate for the role.
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