How to conduct a successful job interview

Job interview

In this guide we look at how you can ensure your job interviews are more effective in locating the right candidate for the position and your company.

Key points:

  • Review your present interview procedures
  • Decide the criteria against which candidates will be assessed
  • Plan an interview structure and brief any interviewers of the process
  • Keep interview notes
  • Ensure that equal opportunities best practice guidelines are followed
  • Take time to consider the applicants following the interview, and consider whether second-round interviews will be needed

The interview is the most common method for selecting new employees. It is the culmination of a recruitment process, which may begin by examining curriculum vitae, application forms and covering letters, and may also, include aptitude, intelligence, skills or psychometric tests.

The guidelines

  • Ensure the interview panel have a shared understanding of what it is you are looking for. A job description is a good starting point for establishing clear criteria against which candidates can be assessed for their suitability.
  • Select two or more interviewers, this will help to ensure a balanced judgement is formed and will help protect your business against accusations of unfair treatment.
  • Make sure interviewers are appropriately briefed and prepared whatever the position, and that the interview room is properly prepared.
  • Aim to interview a pool of at least three candidates whom you would be happy to appoint.
  • If none of the candidates meet your requirements, it is better to continue searching than appoint ‘the best of a poor bunch’.
  • Ensure that you are not interrupted during the interviews and that mobile phones are turned off.
  • Structure the interview to ensure that any factual information is gathered, relevant experience and skills are explored, key competencies are evaluated and future aspirations discussed.
  • Do not interview in a way that discriminates. Avoid personal questions that aren’t necessary. Don’t ask a woman for example any questions that you wouldn’t also ask a man, for example, do you have children or who will look after the children while you’re at work?

Specific questions

Have a list of specific questions to ask based around the candidate’s application form or CV. Focus on any gaps in education or employment, or facts that are unclear. Ensure questions are open-ended (i.e. the applicant can’t just answer ‘yes’ or ‘no’) and competency-based. These could include:

  • “Tell me about yourself.” You want to hear them talk and to see what they emphasise or leave out
  • “How would you describe your career to date?” This can give a good indication of levels of self-confidence.
  • “What are/were your main responsibilities in your current/previous job?” This may give you an indication of the candidate’s suitability for your position.
  • “What are your strengths?” This should tell you what they are good at and how that will help you.
  • “What are your weaknesses?” This will also tell you if they can take criticism and learn from their mistakes.
  • “Where do you see yourself in five years time?” This should determine the candidate’s aspirations.
  • “Tell me how you have used external relationships to add value (or win business) to the company in the past.” This will give you an indication of the level of their relationship building skills if appropriate.
  • Propose a situational question, testing the candidate’s ability to think on their feet evaluating how they might practically handle a likely work-scenario.

Key considerations

  • Body language and initial impressions are very important. You should assess how comfortable you felt with the candidate’s attitude and approach, and whether this fits with the way your company works.
  • Describe the job on offer and encourage questions. If no questions are asked, this usually means the candidate has limited interest in the position. Don’t oversell the company or the job.
  • Probe to find out how much they know about your firm and your business. If they have done some preparatory research this is a good sign.
  • If the candidate appears to be a serious contender for the position, go on to discuss the terms and conditions of the position – it’s no good offering them the job only to find they’re already paid £5,000 more than you’re offering!
  • As a guide try to keep interviews no shorter then 30 minutes but no longer than an hour. During this time, the candidate should have done at least 75% of the talking.
  • Carefully record what has been said at the interview and how the selection decision has been made using the same format for every candidate. Don’t write down anything that could be used against you subsequently at an Employment Tribunal (e.g. anything that could be interpreted as discriminatory).
  • Even with the most impressive of candidates, it is not a good idea to make job offers on the spot. An oral offer of employment is binding, reflection and discussion with colleagues is a better option. There is no harm, however, in finding out at the end of the interview if the candidate is still interested in the job, and what sort of notice period they would have to give if offered the position.

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