A guide to interviewing candidates

With a shortlist of promising candidates in hand, a thorough interview process is the next step. Before getting started it is important to define a structure, a series of interview questions and a list of the position’s key performance indicators (KPIs). Consistency is important so ensure that every candidate is asked the same questions to compare ‘apples to apples’. We recommend that you prepare an interview form specific to the role and base your questions around the job description, which should also include KPIs. The KPIs are the targets, tasks or actions that will allow you to measure the employee’s performance in their role.

We recommend arranging interviews for at least two or three of the shortlisted candidates, with a minimum of two interviews per candidate to sufficiently assess personal fit and technical capability. To obtain a broader appraisal of the candidate’s suitability it may be helpful to include a second interviewer, either cooperatively or separately. Following the initial interview, it is a good idea to introduce the best candidate to the team and to seek their feedback prior to making an offer.

Believe it or not, both sides in any interview may experience a similar fear of rejection. The interviewer wants to secure the best candidate and the candidate usually wants to secure the best job. Consequently many candidates (even the good ones) can be quite nervous – especially if they are very keen on the role. Unless they are given an opportunity to ‘warm up’, you may not obtain the same results as you might from a full and relaxed exchange. Adopting a relaxed and friendly atmosphere helps to encourage the interviewee to open up and talk about their feelings, opinions or desires. In this way you get to find out more about their interests and personal details.

We recommend following a five stage format that includes:

  • Stage 1 – Welcome and introduction
  • Stage 2 – Fully explain the role and responsibilities as you see it
  • Stage 3 – Have the candidate explain how well they fit the requirements
  • Stage 4 – Determine how interested both sides are in progressing further
  • Stage 5 – Wind down and close
Stage 1

The process starts with a welcome to the company and may even include a very telling question like, “what do you know about us?”. This can be followed by a brief explanation of the stages that will follow. Most interviewers enjoy telling visitors about their organisation and this helps generate enthusiasm for the interview.

Stage 2

The interviewer explains the role as he or she sees it, going into as much detail as is necessary. By encouraging questions be asked at any time, the interviewer gains a subtle understanding of how well the interviewee pays attention, comprehends relayed information, engages in the exchange, interacts, asks pertinent questions and above all, shows an interest and understanding of the demands of the role and the environment. The focus of the candidate’s questions can also give subtle clues as to the candidate’s motivation. For example their questions may be focused on technology, working colleagues or opportunities to progress within the organisation. Be prepared for questions about you. An interviewee may well ask you to describe your management style.

Stage 3

The interviewee then has their chance to shine and explain how well they believe they can do the job. By all means ask questions and drill down to gain a full understanding of their skills and most importantly where they have used them and for how long. Overall, a combination of open and closed questions will help to build a complete profile of the interviewee, covering experience, skills, personality and commitment. In stage 3, if a prompt is required to get the candidate on track, an open, behavioural (experience-based) questions, such as “can you walk me through what you have been doing in your last role on a daily basis?” works well. This helps to relax the candidate by getting them to talk freely about a subject they should be comfortable with. It will also reveal their ability to communicate coherently and professionally. Beware of asking hypothetical (situational) questions since they can result in hypothetical answers. It may be more prudent to ask “tell me about a time when this happened to you” questions that demonstrate previous experience of such situations. However, following it up with “what would you do differently if it happened now” provides an insight as to how well the candidate learns from such experiences.

Beyond experience and skills, it is also crucial to understand the candidate’s motivators, career goals and commitment to work. Behavioural or situational questions like “what have you enjoyed most in your recent work?”, “what gets you out of bed to go to work in the morning?”, and “if you had two job offers at the same salary, what factors would cause you to select one over the other?” will enable you to assess whether the interviewee will last the distance and what is needed to keep a highly skilled candidate motivated. If the candidate is currently working, a direct but revealing question could well be just a simple “what brings you here?” . Most candidates will try and avoid criticising their current or recent employer but their answers do reveal a lot about their motivation.

Stage 4

This is usually the point where most interviews break down. Neither side knows how the other feels. A good candidate will express an interest in the role and joining the organisation. Some have been offered on the spot at this stage. It’s also a good time for either side to come clean and state if they are not interested in progressing further. In most cases the interviewer has others to see and the interviewee has other irons in the fire so the conversation may be guarded and somewhat cat and mouse. Most interviewers will be non-committal at this stage as some reflection is required before making a decision. Feedback I hear from interviews usually indicates that when the interviewer talks about the next interview stage with the interviewee then things are looking promising.

Stage 5

This is often the most telling part of the interview. A simple winding down question from the interviewer like “what do you like to do in your spare time” can get to the heart of the candidate’s personality. It’s one way of getting to the passion that really drives the candidate. It may involve their family, children, hobbies, sports or a business venture. I have heard of interviews in which stage 5 lasted as long as the previous four stages. At this stage of the interview, some interviewers have a stock question designed to assess how each candidate deals with a problem. The internet is full of “questions people ask at interviews”, most of which are myths. Much will depend on whether the candidate has heard the question before. Nevertheless good candidates can be put off by bad questions and it should always be remembered that the purpose on an interview is to ascertain the suitability of a candidate for a role and vice versa.

The closing part of the interview can be an opportunity to sell the role if the interviewer believes the candidate is suitable. As explained above, a good interview is a collaborative exchange of information; both parties should come out feeling better informed to make a decision. In a competitive market, talented and / or passive candidates often need encouragement to leave their current role. In our experience salary is rarely the overriding issue. Candidates are more likely to seek other jobs for reasons of lack of opportunity to learn, develop or progress or often because their work environment has changed sufficiently to provide the impetus to seek pastures new.

However when all is said and done, the interviewer will be most impressed by the interviewee who expresses a desire to work for the organisation and the interviewee will be most impressed by the interviewer who makes them feel wanted.