Conducting job interviews can be as challenging as taking them, so make sure that you prepare well, and follow some of this guidance to make sure you bring out the best in your candidates, and get the best person possible to fill your company’s vacant role.

How to conduct an Interview

1.

Prepare your questions

The best interviews are “competency based”. This means you focus on how candidates approach tasks, and you select the ones that behave in the way you want them to. It is the easiest way to fairly compare candidates from different backgrounds, as you are looking at the way they break down tasks and you can make sure they actually provide evidence for what they say.

An interview usually comprises of five or six questions, and wherever possible you should use an open format such as :

  • “Can you tell me about a time when you…?”; or
  • “Please would you describe a task where you…?”.

You should ask every candidate the same core questions, to make it easier to compare them after the interview are completed.

You should avoid hypothetical questions such as “What would you do if…?” as they will elicit hypothetical answers – and candidates will tell you what they think you want to hear, not what they would actually do.

2.

Prepare the room

You’ll need to prepare a quiet room for the interviews. Put a sign on the door saying “Do not disturb”. Make sure you have enough chairs for everyone who will be present: It is a good idea to use fixed chairs rather than swivelling office chairs as these can be distracting for the candidate.  Try to avoid putting a barrier between the interviewer and the candidate, so move tables to one side. Put the candidate’s chair with its back to the door so they are not distracted by what is going on in the office.

Make sure you have:

  • sufficient copies of your interview questions
  • some blank paper
  • Plenty of pens
  • Jug of water for the candidate – with a clean glass.

Let your colleagues in the office know that interviews are taking place, and ensure that someone is available to greet the candidates and direct them to a waiting area.

3.

Conducting the interview

The first thing you should do when the candidate arrives is to make sure they are comfortable, seat them and introduce everyone in the room. Explain to them that you will be noting down their responses so are not ignoring them if looking down, and that this is their opportunity – so  just ask if they want anything repeating or explaining.

It’s worth letting them know roughly how long the interview will take, and how many questions you will be asking so they can mentally prepare. As an opening gambit, it is usually best to ask them to “tell me about yourself and why you applied for this role” – this allows nervous candidates to get everything off their chest which they want to say to you, so they can then focus on delivering the answers to your ‘real’ questions.

Within the interview, you should try to keep the candidate at ease, by breaking down long questions into smaller chunks, and using “active listening” skills – periodically make eye contact, nod, or make affirmative noises so they understand you are listening – but make sure they do most of the talking.

It is important to record what the interviewee says in response to your questions in order to compare the candidates later. You do not need to record their responses verbatim, but make sure you capture sufficient bullet points to remind you of their answers, and highlight any particularly good (or bad) points. Remember that you may have to disclose your notes, so make sure anything you write is fair, proportionate and not libellous!

4.

What else to ask (and what not to ask!)

It is important to make sure that the candidate has provided evidence for what they say: everyone will tell you they are a hard-working team player – your job as an interviewer is to persuade yourself that they actually are, from the real-life examples they give you in response to your questions. A good way of doing this is by using probing questions to develop the responses the interviewee has given you.

It is a good test because it proves that the example is real. Once they have told you about a time when they did a certain task, you can ask how long it took, what the outcome was, who else helped them with it. A candidate giving a hypothetical or made-up answer will quickly begin to flounder when asked about specifics, whereas more nervous candidates will respond well to this additional probing and can often surprise you with the depth of their experience.

You must make sure you do not break the law when interviewing – anything relating to the “protected characteristics” under the Equality Act 2010 is a definite no-no – for example you cannot ask a woman if she plans to have children, or ask a wheelchair user whether their disability will result in them having poor attendance. The employment service ACAS is a good place to search for advice on this subject, as is your firm’s HR professional if you have one.

5.

Marking the answers

At the end of the interview, when you have thanked the candidate for their time, you must select the best person for the job. Before you start marking it is a good idea to go through the questions and create a marking guide – that is where you specify in advance what you think the best answer to each question might be, remembering to focus on behaviours not actions. At this stage you may also wish to set some ground rules – for example a minimum pass mark (for each question or for the full interview when tallied together) and a “weighted question” which will be assigned double marks in the event of two candidates being tied at the end.

You can then objectively compare each candidate’s responses to the marking guide and assign them a mark. It is a good idea to set a scale of 1-5 or 1-7 and mark each question (rather than candidate) one by one so you can demonstrate fairness later.

6.

After The Interview

It is good practice to offer all candidates a feedback session over the phone or in person, and your notes will be useful for this. They may also be disclosable to the interviewees under your company policy so make sure they are legible, and it is often worth adding a paragraph at the end, consisting of balanced feedback on the candidate’s performance that you can use later if you need to..

This brief guidance is just a starting point. The more interviews you conduct, the better you will get and it is important to get feedback from other panel members, and to regularly brush up on your skills by sitting in on interviews to learn best practice. Interviewing is an art, not a science, and the best practitioners know that practice makes perfect.