When an organisation wants to fill a vacant position, interviews are a very common part of the recruitment process. They’re a good tool for meeting applicants, having a conversation with them and discovering the real person behind the CV.
They’re also a powerful way to start humanising your organisation and building relationships with the people you want to recruit. After finding your ideal new employee, you want them to like you enough to accept the offer.
To find the best person for the job, it’s important to ask the right questions, listen carefully and take effective notes. You want to end the process knowing you’ve hired the right candidate – and be able to prove that fact to others.
We’ve put together our top tips for interviewers to select the best candidates and for them to see you as their best career move.
1. Prepare for this specific interview
You expect an interviewee to research the organisation and role, and be prepared to answer questions about themselves. They rightly expect the same commitment from you. You may have run interviews before, but each one should be viewed as their own thing.
When interviewing someone, you need to know the job description, the key responsibilities, necessary levels of experience and required skills. This means, you need to know all of this for the interview. If you weren’t the one to write the job description, make sure you speak to the person who did (and any other relevant people).
Read through the interviewee’s application, so you know exactly who they are and their experience. Write out the questions and prepare a sheet for notes (more on this coming up); check everything’s ready for any tasks they’ll need to do; ensure you’ve got the meeting room booked or sent the correct link for the virtual meeting; and make absolutely sure you’re on time.
If you’re running the interview jointly with one or more people, coordinate what you’re each going to do. Decide who’s going to ask which questions, who’s going to introduce themselves first and who will answer questions on which topic. The more professional and ready you look, the more you’ll impress your candidates.
2. Link the questions directly to the role
While it’s obvious that you should ask good questions in an interview, what makes a question ‘good’ is a bit less obvious. You should always adopt a competency-based approach to interview questions. This maximises your chances of hiring the right person and makes it easy to prove your decision-making method was fair. Questions should all be about the competencies and attributes described in the job description, and it’s vitally important each candidate for a role should be asked the same set of pre-written questions.
As an example, if you’re trying to recruit a programmer, you could ask them to tell you about their experience in using the specific programming languages you use. You may want to group questions by theme, so when asking about programming experience, this can break down into a question about website design, another about databases and a third about skills they still need to learn. The next group of questions could then be about their technical writing skills, with another set of questions to break this down.
You can also ask more general questions about organisational culture and fit – such as how they handle high-pressure environments. These aren’t necessarily linked specifically to the role, but can help you decide whether this is the right person to join the team. It’s important to make sure these questions are competency-based drawing upon the candidate’s past experience. Avoid hypothetical questions because you can’t evaluate the answer in an objective way.
3. Really listen to the answers
Asking the right questions only goes halfway, you also need to carefully listen to the answers. Active listening is an often-underappreciated skill, and one which ensures you take all the right information from the candidates’ answers.
When your interviewee is talking, give them time and space to actually talk. One of the biggest mistakes people make is speaking before the other person has finished – cutting them off and losing the end of the point. This will frustrate them, as they don’t get to make the full case for themselves, and will embarrass you when you realise you don’t have all the information you wanted.
Another common mistake is putting more energy and focus into what they’re going to say next than listening to the person currently speaking. In an interview, you can’t afford to do this. Luckily, with your pre-written questions, you don’t need to. If a spontaneous follow-up question pops into your head, and you’re afraid you’ll forget it or it will distract you, jot it down to refer to later. While the interviewee is talking, put all your concentration into hearing their points and recognising whether they’ve said enough to convince you they meet all the job requirements.
4. Recording the evidence
Making effective notes is an absolutely crucial part of the interview process. You’ll likely be meeting multiple people, and you need to be able to make an informed and objective decision. You can’t risk forgetting something important or mixing up who said what. It’s important to record what a candidate says, without putting it into your own words.
One approach to note taking, following on from competency-based questions, is to have your questions written down with a second column next to each one to record answers. Make sure you record not just what they say about their experiences and skills, but also the words they use to describe their evidence. Always use their own words and avoid adding any of your own interpretations or judgements – evaluation and decision-making happens after the interview (which we’ll explore in a further point).
It’s not always easy to listen and write notes at the same time. If you’re interviewing with another person, one of you can take notes while the other asks the questions. If you’re on your own, you can experiment with your own version of shorthand or shorter-form notes, which you can expand on immediately after the interview. Also, while you shouldn’t interrupt the interviewee, you can ask them to repeat something if you didn’t manage to get it all down, or between questions you can allow yourself an extra moment to finish writing before moving on. Note-taking is a skill that improves with practice!
It’s important to remember that after an interview, people have the right to see the notes you made about them, and that organisations are legally required to create a completely fair recruitment process which can stand up to scrutiny. So, if someone questions your judgement, you should be able to show that you made clear and objective notes – you don’t want to be accused of bias, unconscious or otherwise!
5. Answer their questions too
An interview isn’t just for candidates to show off to a potential recruiter. It’s an opportunity for you to sell your organisation to them, while they decide whether they want to join that team.
Once you’ve asked all your questions, you should give them the opportunity to ask you some. Typical questions from candidates may revolve around organisational culture, work/life balance, progression opportunities and pay, but they should be free to ask anything they feel would help them make an informed decision.
In your answers – and really, at all stages of your conversation – be positive about the company, its culture and the role. This needs to be balanced with the real sense of what working there is like, but part of your task is to make the job look appealing. Additionally, be careful to use phrases like “the successful candidate will,” rather than “you will.” You don’t want to appear to be making an offer prematurely!
You may not have all the information, or authority, to answer every question. With issues like salary, speak to the right person before the interview to find out what’s being offered and whether there’s any flexibility. Not having answers can feel like a red flag to potential recruits, but being able to confidently tell them you’ll put them in touch with the right person, or you’ll email them with the answer if they get through to the next stage, can turn this around.
6. End on a positive note
How you end an interview is just as important as any other part, as it sets the long-term impression they’ll be left with. Treat everyone politely and with respect; you want candidates to want to come back. Even candidates that are ultimately unsuccessful should be left feeling treated well – people talk, and you don’t want your organisation’s reputation to suffer.
After they’ve asked all their questions, wrap up by discussing the next steps of the process. If this is the final interview, tell them when they can expect to hear whether they’ve been successful. If they’ve been given a task to do, make sure they have all the instructions, including any deadlines and contact details. If there’s going to be another round of interviews, tell them that.
Finally, there’s a certain etiquette to follow at the end. Always thank them for coming. In person, walk them to the front door of the office. Don’t leave them to get lost in the hallway! If the interview was virtual, thank them for attending, say goodbye and then be the one to end the call.
Your first act after the candidate leaves should be to review your notes and make sure they are clear.
7. Evaluating each candidate
Your method of evaluation should be completely objective and the same for every candidate. This is easy when you’ve been asking them the same set of competency-based questions.
Each area of questioning should have been linked to either an ‘Essential’ or a ‘Desirable’ skill, and each given a quantifiable weighting based on its importance (with the total adding up to 100%). For example, in a finance role, it may be essential that they have previous experience overseeing payroll, but only desirable for them to have used the same software you use, as they can learn.
To analyse their answers, give their skills and experience in each area a score (usually out of 10). This gets divided by the total score for the section and then multiplied by the weighting.
Let’s see how this works in action:
Let’s say you’ve weighted a section at 25% of the total interview, in which (based on their experience and evidence given) a candidate got 7/10. To calculate their score for this section:
1. Divide the section score (7) by the total available for that section (10)
2. Multiply that by the weighting (25%)
So, 7÷10 x25 = 17.5
This means they got 17 out of 25 in this section.
To calculate their overall score for the interview, just add the totals from each section together. This offers a straightforward, objective and quantitative way of comparing multiple candidates.
Adhering strictly to the competency-based approach, the candidate with the highest overall score is the person you should hire.
It’s unavoidable that interviews take time and effort, but by following these steps you can ensure it’s a positive experience for all involved. Careful preparation, well thought out questions, active listening and creating a welcoming atmosphere are all simple but effective steps for recruiting the best possible candidates.
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